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The perfect skating surface

March 20, 2011 General No Comments

By Wayne Anderson
In the ever-expanding world of roller hockey, we’re not only still looking for the perfect wheel and the perfect puck, we’re also looking for that perfect skating surface. Of the several different types of surfaces out there, each has advantages and disadvantages. And a critical part of evaluating a surface is taking into consideration the environment in which the surface will be set.

Is the rink outside or inside? In a climate-controlled environment? Is it partially covered? Is it a partial-use setting, as in an ice rink melted for summer? All these factors can make or break even the best surfaces if they are not designed for use in that specific environment.

What’s out there?

The most skated-on surface is probably asphalt, commonly called “blacktop.” Blacktop covers streets, parking lots and schoolyards across North America. Its major advantages are that it is fairly inexpensive, it holds up well even in harsh climates, and the wheels that come with most in-line skates work well on it.

The major disadvantage is that the surface is fairly rough. Because of that, a hockey ball is the most effective thing to use; few manufactured pucks actually work well on blacktop. Another disadvantage is that, being mainly an outdoor surface, blacktop softens up when Mother Nature turns up the heat.

Another frequently skated-on surface is smooth cement. If your summer roller rink is an ice rink in winter, you’re probably skating on this type of surface. It is not the same type of cement that your sidewalk is made of; it is smoother, looks polished, and is often painted. Because it is so smooth, most pucks work very well on this surface.

The major problem with smooth cement is that over time it tends to crack. Once cracked, it is almost impossible to repair it well enough to play roller hockey on. Therefore, it eventually needs to be overlaid with another roller surface.

One word of advice: Plastics

Over the last year, plastic tile has become a very popular surface for indoor use. With an interlocking tile system, large areas of play can be laid down and taken up fairly easily. Some of these systems go by the trade names Sport Court and Mateflex. The tiles come in various colors, so your lines and circle can be laid right down instead of taped or painted on the surface, and the puck slides extremely well on this type of surface. Also, plastic tile is considered a “safety floor,” which sits well with most insurance companies.

On the down side, this mainly-indoor surface is fickle, and reacts to any change in atmospheric conditions. If there is the slightest change in humidity, you might want to bring your blades rather than your wheels! Another negative—though easily overcome—is that most skaters will want to buy a special set of wheels designed for this surface. Hyper, Bullzeye and Labeda all make a “Sport Court” wheel. Plus, for rink operators, this type of surface system is fairly expensive.

The other surface that has gained popularity recently is a so-called “coating” surface, such as “Roll On” and some tennis court surfaces. There are several different types of these surfaces with textures ranging from gritty to smooth. The surface is fairly “grippy” for your wheels, but the puck action often seems to be slow. And, once again, the surface’s worst enemy is moisture; rain or high humidity will postpone any play until the surface has completely dried.

However, most roll on surfaces are non-porous—and that means water will sit on top, making it easy to squeegee or sponge away the problem. A tennis or outdoor basketball court material will probably be slightly porous, and present some of the wet-tile problems discussed earlier.

Flooring expert Bob Brooks recently told me of a new, scientifically-developed product called “Roller Ice” on which you can actually adjust the skid coefficient. Conversely, with standard “alathetic urethane” (roll-on) coatings, the skid coefficient is fixed, and you’re stuck with whatever you get. But on this new surface, which has excellent puck action and wheel grip, you can tailor the skid factor to your liking.

The nemesis remains

Roller Ice is also multi-layered, with an undercoating that can be colored and can contain lines, advertising, etc., and a top “ice” coating that really does look—and skate—like ice. Once again, however, the moisture nemesis must be addressed.

In the save-the-best-for-last department, we’ll look at a surface that has withstood the test of time: the hardwood floor. That’s right, good old Canadian (or Vermont, if you prefer) Maple. This traditional surface is probably the most forgiving, and the most adaptable, to the varying hardness (durometer rating) of wheels. The major disadvantage, and probably the only one, is cost. Prime lumber is expensive, and most new rinks cannot afford the price tag associated with this type of floors.

Even some existing roller rinks that are being retrofitted into hockey rinks and already have these floors in place face cost dilemmas: upkeep is expensive. However, if maintenance is done correctly, the floor can last forever. There are rinks out there with 50- or 60-year-old hardwood floors still going strong. And even the dreaded moisture monster doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with hardwood, although standing water (a leaky goalie water bottle) can present a small problem.

Whatever surface you do skate on, the most important thing is to skate safe. So until next month, keep on rolling!

Wayne Anderson is Managing Director of Huron Hockey’s roller hockey schools based in Matawan NJ.

This first appeared in the 04/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2011 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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