In the coming weeks, gifted figure skating athletes will dazzle us with their jumps, spins and other displays of ice rink artistry. But they couldn’t do any of it without those little blades at the bottom of their feet. Who crafts the footwear that allows these athletes to perform such sunning stunts?
One proud family-based manufacturer of such custom ice skates, Harlick Boots, has been around for over 80 years and is still going strong.
Way back in 1935, inspired by the artistry of ice skating talents like Sonja Henie, Russian custom footwear producer Louis Harlick made his first pair of custom skating boots. This was the start of Harlick Boots. As Harlick Boots states on their website:
“Ever since the 1860’s, when American Ballet-Master Jackson Haines treated Ice and Roller Skating as an art form and successfully took his Balletic Skating to several European capitals, skating had moved from a pleasant pastime to a year ‘round sport. By the turn of the century, ice skating was professional – and very popular with the public.
What hadn’t kept pace with skating’s popularity was the quality of the equipment being used. Sure, wooden skates and iron skates had given way to steel skates. But these blades – or rollers – were often strapped or clamped on to street shoes or boots used for other purposes. It was for that reason that skaters turned to professional custom footwear craftsmen, men like Louis Harlick, to design and build for them fully integrated Skating Boots that not only fit properly but were constructed to withstand the physical pressures and performance demands of Skating. That’s exactly what Harlick did for skaters such as Skippy and Merrill Baxter, Dick Button, Carol Heiss, Hayes and Andrew Jenkins, Richard Dwyer and many others including Olympic, World and National Champions.
As if Louis Harlick’s excellence and expertise weren’t enough, by the 1960s, he had reached out to the Henderson Brothers, Bob, Burt and Jack – Scotsmen with a family tradition as Custom Footwear Makers that went back to Edinburgh of the 1700’s! Five generations and over 300 years as Custom Footwear Craftsmen.
The 1960’s were a period of innovation and imagination in skating. There was a style revolution in the sport. The Henderson’s realized that the equipment was going to have to change to keep up with this newer style of skating.
One of the first changes made in the new design was making the boots much lower. Skaters were always complaining that the laces would work loose. The cause for this was immediately recognized. The old styling was designed for the boots to go all the way up past the calf of the leg where the leg muscles were the strongest, and as soon as one began to skate, the calf muscles would expand, making the lacing work loose. As soon as the new design was made and the height of the boot cut down three to four inches the problem was eliminated. This low cut design became so popular, all of the boot manufactured were copying the low cut design.
By listening to what the Coaches and Show Skater told them about their skating needs and problems, Harlick Skating Boots corrected those problems and changed the Boot to meet those needs. The Boot was streamlined, extra padding was added, especially in the ankle area, more stiffening was given to the ankle area also.
Through the years the skaters were very instrumental in making suggestions and the Henderson Brothers would work out the problems. They loved challenges, and never said, it can’t be done, to any request.
The innovations and improvements kept on coming. Sometimes in styling with dance scallops in the lacing area for flexibility, and dance backs for comfort in toe points. Sometimes in boot construction and materials. Leather soles and heels stitched and nailed to prevent separation, solid brass hooks for strength and security, imported Austrian sponge rubber for tongue and ankle padding and unique upper stitching procedures.”
Many people don’t realize what goes into making an ice skating boot for professional or Olympic competition. Not all boots can be made the same way because different skaters will be pushing different limits on the ice, and the boots have to be geared to accommodate them. Thanks to the efforts of family men like Harlick and the Henderson brothers and their descendants, those skaters will always know where to turn for the boots that they need to achieve greatness.
For more on Harlick ice skates, visit Harlick.com.
Image courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art