Should I remove my heel brake or not?

I recently received this question from a student using the Skatefresh Beginner Online Course.

I think so many wish they’d asked this question but  “heel brake shaming” is still so prevalent it’s probably why they didn’t ask.

“I want to become very skilled at urban skating for personal reasons. I live in an area with very steep slopes so I haven’t ventured on an urban skate yet. I want to have a very solid stop and be comfortable going up and down curbs first.

I have been practicing the heel brake since day one and I feel like I can brake almost as well as I would on a bike up to medium speeds, but I am worried the heel brake could be a liability on curbs, other obstacles and crossovers. On the other hand, my stepping plough stop is improving but is nowhere near the level of my heel brake yet, and my T-stop is practically not existent. 

Do you think I should just go out and start practicing curbs with the heel brake? Maybe I’m overplaying the liability of it in my head, or do you think I should wait until I have one or two stops that can be 80% (or more) as efficient as the heel brake (for emergency stopping) so I can remove it before I go urban skating? If so, what stops would be the most utilitarian in your opinion?”

– Abraham (35) Canada

Here’s my reply to “Should I remove my heel brake”:

It’s great to see you working through different options and scenarios and thinking critically.
You are right, the Stepping Plough stop and T-stop will never have the stopping power of the Heel Brake. How I wish the skating community worldwide KNEW this as you do. It is perhaps the most important knowledge available and yet most skaters just don’t know this. 

Unfortunately the heel brake has been thoroughly misunderstood for decades and the dangerous custom of shaming heel brake users or telling them to remove it continues. 
Nothing could be worse for the beginner or intermediate level skater than removing the heel brake BEFORE they have several other stopping methods under their belts they can rely on in all situations AND on downhill slopes.

I recommend keeping the heel brake on until you have at least 2-4 other stopping methods which stop you from your highest speeds and on all the slopes you regularly encounter.

The stopping methods that skaters can choose from (in order of difficulty) include;

  • Heel Brake Stop Plough
  • Stepping Plough
  • T-Stop
  • Turn / Lunge Stop
  • Powerslide (from forwards entry)
  • Soul Slide
  • Magic Stop
  • Powerstop
  • Combinations of 2-3 of the above in sequences that work for you.

The heel brake is such an awesome option and works on super steep hills (if the brake is far enough in front of the support skate). I definitely would recommend keeping the heel brake on especially if you live in a hilly location, until you have the other methods proficient & reliable.

Slopes are the most dangerous hazard for inline skaters and things can get out of control very quickly and become very serious. I won’t scare you with the accident stories that people tell me about but so many times serious accidents happen because a non-heel brake method didn’t work on a downhill slope. 

There is no reason why the heel brake should get in the way or be a liability on curbs or obstacles. You can scissor off a curb with a bit of speed and the heel brake wont catch (whether it’s on the front or back skate in a scissor). Only if you’re going too slow when you roll off a curb could it catch (but this would be troublesome even without a heel brake on, so it’s the low speed rolling off the curb that’s the issue, not the heel brake).  

The issue of the heel brake ‘clipping’ the other skate during a forward crossover is often cited as another reason to remove it.

Should I remove my heel brake
Crossover Clipping

However, if this was true then no heel brake wearing skater would be able to do crossovers without clipping and that’s just not the case. If the heel brake clips the other skate during a crossover it is a sign that the knee bend on the crossover is insufficient and that the skater isn’t creating the correct ‘half circle’ shape of the crossing over skate in the air. This ensures there is adequate clearance for the brake.

Should I remove my heel brake
Should I remove my heel brake

Also, beginners and advanced beginners using the heel brake are usually not ready for learning crossovers yet, which is an intermediate level move requiring outside edge balance control as a pre-requisite.

So YES, keep your brake on and start practicing and perfecting curbs, and skating in some flatter areas of your hilly city if that’s possible. When you haven’t used your heel brake for 3 months of your normal skating, then you are probably safe to remove it because you’ve used other methods during that time. But notice if and when you choose the heel brake over any of your other methods and applaud yourself for always putting your safety first in front of the opinions of others.
You do have an additional challenge living somewhere particularly hilly and steep slopes are the most difficult of obstacles to master, but your heel brake should allow you to navigate most slopes, whereas taking it off too soon could put you at serious risk of injury.

I hope this helps and well done for asking such a useful and needed question.