Figure skates and hockey skates differ from one another in several ways, including the shape and features of the blade and the composition of the boot. These differences adapt each skate to its particular sport. Understanding the differences can help recreational skaters decide which type of skate is right for them.
Figure skates are designed with a long, gently curved blade, toe picks, and leather boots that provide support and the give necessary for deep knee bends. These features facilitate the jumps, spins and long sweeping curves that characterize the sport. Hockey skates, on the other hand, have a shorter, more steeply curved blade, no toepicks and a stiff boot usually made of rigid synthetics such as plastic. The characteristics of a hockey skate are designed to let hockey players gain speed, turn and stop quickly on the ice.
The blades of figure skates and hockey skates differ. A figure skate's blade is usually longer than the blade on a hockey skate. It is attached to the boot by a pair of metal plates known as the toe and heel plates. A figure skate blade is curved from front to back, with the strongest curve occurring just beneath the ball of the foot. This curve is known as the "rocker" and it allows the skater to skate in long curves on the ice and to spin on the rocker. Figure skates also have a noticeable toe pick in front, which is used for jumps. Hockey skate blades, on the other hand, have no toepick. They are attached to the boot by a long, solid piece of plastic known as a tuuk. The blade is more strongly curved than a figure skate blade and the rocker is set closer to the middle of the foot. This configuration makes it difficult to spin in hockey skates, but makes it easier to skate quickly, turn and stop.
Figure skates and hockey skates come in different types. Figure skates can be designed for freestyle, synchronized skating or ice dancing. The blade for freestyle skaters is longer than the blade for synchronized skating or ice dancing, where the tail of the blade is short to prevent skaters from stepping on one another's blades by mistake. Ice dancing boots may also be cut lower in the top to allow for deeper knee bends. Hockey skates can be designed for forwards, defensemen, and goalies. Skates for forwards are usually lighter to allow for fast footwork, while skates for defensemen are stiffer to allow these players to use their feet to block the puck. Hockey players can also buy detachable pads for playing defense. Goalie skates are designed with a lower boot and wider blades, which make it easier for the goalie to move side to side and to use the feet to block shots.
Both hockey and figure skates can be purchased in sizes from children through adults, in both men's and women's styles. The correct size for both is the smallest size that still allows the toes to lie flat inside the boot. Wearing skates that are too big results in poor skating form and may cause injury. Women's hockey skates are sized differently from men's. Women's hockey skates are usually narrower to conform to the shape of the average woman's foot. Women's figure skates are also sized differently from men's, but men's and women's figure skates are usually produced in the same standard widths. Advanced skaters may order special widths from skate manufacturers, including "split widths" in which the ball of the boot and the heel are two separate widths.
First-time skaters are usually advised to start in figure skates. The shape of a figure skate blade distributes the skater's weight more evenly over the foot and encourages proper balance on the ice. However, first-time skaters may be tempted to use the toepick incorrectly. The toepick should not be used to push off or to stop the skater. Because of their more steeply curved blades, hockey skates are not recommended for first-time skaters unless the skater is comfortable on inline roller skates. These skaters may be more comfortable on hockey skates because the distribution of weight is similar to that on inline roller skates, and the skater will likely understand the need to push and stop with the length of the blade.