the scuffed toe

If you’ve been around derby for a long time or are just a beginner, you probably have seen or are beginning to see exactly what I’m talking about when I say “Scuffed Toe.” When, as a skater, you go to a knee and slide along, on one or both, inevitably, you then drag a toe along the skating surface.

Now the top of your brand-new skate boots has been marked!

If you have skated enough you have see the scuffed toes then you have also seen what skaters do to protect them. The knitted toe guards, the plastic toe guards, and my favorite, duct tape. All in the name to protect the integrity of the skate boot.

Skates are personal things, and they are really the one thing a skater just can’t swap out for another player’s. You can trade knee pads, wrist guards, helmets, but not easily, skates. They are precious things. They are very individual to how you skate. Do you want the trucks tighter or looser? What type of plates, wheels, bearings? So much thought goes into this.

For myself, I skate on a Riedell hockey skate boot. What that means, is that I have a hard toe and high ankle support with padding around heel and ankle. They look like work boots. But I’ve had these boots some twenty years. I love these boots. They are comfortable. And though hockey isn’t quite as hard on the toes as derby, I have still lost a lot of leather that covered the hard plastic shell over the years. I have also cracked the plastic on one boot and was using duct tape, usually red, to keep it all together. It really wasn’t the prettiest thing, but it worked and served its purpose. I didn’t care really. And yet, I cleaned my bearings and wheels often, changed laces out when they became worn. Why didn’t I protect my toes? To my mind, it just wasn’t integral to the act of skating.

That was fine for me for many years. Then I found myself skating on the converted tennis court rink – usually alone – so I wasn’t causing any more damage to my already damaged boot. However when someone did happen to come up and we get into a bout or scrimmage, that rough concrete of the tennis court ate at the leather of the boots. Scraping away at it, day after day, like a dog gnawing on a bone until it’s all gone. Then one day I became tired of skating alone, so I joined a derby team that skated out of a national guard armory.

There I found I was leaving a trail on the floor like the yellow brick road telling of where I’d been, only in red. This happened any time I went to a knee in a drill, or as a fall, and dragged a toe. And let me tell you, it was a pain in the ass to clean up or the team would be charged for it by the facility they used.

Not wanting to cause undue trouble for my team, I needed options. So started to do some research on what was out there. I noticed one of my teammates had knitted toe guards, in the design of Wonder Woman. I thought that was kinda cool, but I am in no way that crafty. Another had leather toe guards they had purchased of Batman and Robin. Again, cool, but I wasn’t sure I wanted leather over leather over plastic on my boot. These are a great way to show your own unique personality and creativity.

I found these online for around $20 to $35 from several different sites. The cheapest I found at $9. But those were very basic and very plain.

I grew up in a rink, pretty much a rink rat, but also a hockey player and so a little snobbish in my attitude toward skates. I hated, and still despise, the brown rental skates, which had the ugly plastic orange toe guards, that protected them from the vagueries of beginning skaters. That plastic toe guard was out of the question. Wasn’t going to do it. Nope, not going there. 

And yes, I know they have the jammers toe protectors, which are plastic, but those just wouldn’t fit on my style of boot anyway. Those run around $20. 

A friend of mine – not a skater – wanted to protect his hunting boots and he tried on them something called Tuff Toe. It cost him about $20 dollars and can be found at most stores. I liked the idea of that as you could get the color to match if that color happened to be brown or black. Lucky my boots were one of those two colors. It had to be dripped on and then left to set for a half hour. It was much better than the duct tape I had been using up to that point, but I hadn’t seen anyone else use it and wasn’t sure how long it would last or if I would need to reapply the stuff every six months or a year.

I was determined to find something. It had become my quest. Like searching for the magical sword that would end the reign of the evil wizard king. Except, not nearly so exciting.

Lastly, I called up our local LineX dealer.

They sprayed it on in one day and I picked it up in time to take them to national team tryouts (for hockey again). It cost me about $25 dollars, so it might be one of the more expensive options but it has lasted now over six months of constant use with very little wear and tear. It is very light, it looks good with the rest of the boot leather. So much better than it was. (but most everything looks better than duct tape toes.)

Peeling off the duct tape, it left strips of leather clinging to it, with large sections entirely missing, showing the hard plastic toe protector in an ugly yellow. And on one boot, the plastic had a large circular crack, a leftover from a particularly hard slap shot it blocked. It did its job and protected my precious toes. The LineX people had a little trouble covering that part, but they did a good job and I can barely tell where that crack is.

To sum up, if you are looking for some way to protect your boots, there are several options out there:

  • The knitted kit;
  • The leather protector;
  • The plastic throwback;
  • The goo for the few;
  • The finer liner;
  • The spray-on protection.

So think about what you want and get about saving your skates from unwanted damage and just the natural wear and tear that comes from being a roller derby player.

Like what we do? Consider chipping in a few bucks.