Different Types of Skating Disciplines

When you hear someone say, “I’m going out with my buddies to skate”, what comes to mind? Depending on the sort of skaters you’ve seen all your life, you’ll think they’re going to ice skate. Or inline skate. Or roller skate. Or, inline skate. Or skateboard. Or longboard. Or speed skate. Or whatever.

In this post, I describe different types of skating disciplines to clear up any confusion you may have relating to skating in general.

1. Ice Skating: Skating on Ice

Ice skating means moving on ice with a pair of bladed skates in an indoor or outdoor rink, on a frozen pond, or on a frozen lake. There are different types of ice skates, and each kind is best suited to a specific ice skating sport. The four kinds include ice hockey skates, ice figure skates, ice dancing skates, and speed ice skates. 

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey skates are used for playing ice hockey. These ice skate boots offer lots of stiffness which immensely supports striding on the ice. But you’re still going to need to do various ankle-strengthening exercises to firm up your ankles for hockey.

The outer shell is super tough and designed to take impacts from hard puck shots really well. This protective shell also protects hockey players from swing impacts from other players’ hockey sticks. Additionally, the hard exterior protects the skater’s feet from other skaters’ blades.

Hockey skates have a deeper curve or a pointier rocker compared to figure skates. That is, the blades of ice hockey skates aren’t as flat as those of figure skates. That’s why many coaches advise beginners to learn ice skating on figure skates rather than ice hockey skates. But whether hockey skates or figure skates are better for beginners is purely a matter of personal preference.

Also Read: Best Ice Skates for Beginners. And if you have wide feet, you’ll want to check out Best Ice Skates for Wide Feet.

But not every hockey skate is meant for playing hockey. Some hockey skates aren’t tough enough for competitive hockey. These ones are for recreational ice skating, the kind you see folks wearing while skating casually outdoors.

Recreational hockey skates are also the type of ice skate used for skating in frozen pools or lakes. You also see this skate type a lot in rinks. The vast majority of rental ice skates are recreational or fitness skates.  And they’re not meant for any kind of overly demanding ice skating….because they suck at performance, and they tend to fall apart not many months after purchase. Plus, they don’t always fit great.

Figure Skating

Ice figure skating is a complex art form that involves basically cutting figures on the ice. The ice skater in this kind of ice skating is pretty much an artist, someone dedicated to a truly aesthetic art form.

Figure skaters are certainly a competitive lot. However, they’re more concerned about becoming a better figure cutter than a more competitive ice skater.

When it comes to boot design, figure skates have a less supportive boot than ice hockey skates. And in terms of blade design, figure skates have a flatter curve.

And because figure skates are flatter than ice hockey skates, they offer somewhat more stability. That’s why many experienced skaters and coaches suggest that beginner ice skaters learn on figure skates.

But there are many out there that believe hockey skates are the better bet for beginners because they provide more ankle support.

One hard-to-miss difference between figure skates and hockey skates is that figure skates have a toe pick while hockey skates don’t.

A toe-pick is a jagged metallic feature at the front of a figure skate. This little component helps greatly when it comes to doing jumps, spins, and other complex ice skating maneuvers.

Freestyle Figure Skating

Freestyle may mean different things in different contexts, but it’s not a confusing term to most ice skaters. Sometimes freestyle means any kind of jumps and spins done by a skater. It’s a kind of distinct figure skating style.

Freestyle ice skating may also mean singles skating. If someone opts to do jumps and spins rather than ice dancing, they’re skating freestyle. And when someone says they’re free skating (or free skating), they’re basically skating freestyle.

Usually, freestyle ice skating happens during special freestyle sessions. However, some ice rinks may allow skaters to skate freestyle on pubic skate sessions.

For the most part, freestyle ice skating sessions entail performing rather complex jumps and spins on the ice. These sessions are an opportunity for seasoned skaters rather than beginners to practice their routines and advanced ice skating skills.

Synchronized Ice Skating

What’s synchronized ice skating? It’s a team sport comprising 8 to 20 skaters that pull in the same direction to perform choreographed moves. Think of it as a kind of precision skating.

In this kind of ice skating, teamwork is crucial. Three aspects matter most when it comes to synchronized ice skating. These aspects include speed, step sequences, and formations on the ice.

Synchronized ice skating features multiple required elements. The competition elements that characterize synchronized ice skating include:

  • Block element
  • Line element
  • Intersection element
  • Circle element
  • Move element
  • Wheel element
  • Pair element
  • Group lift element
  • Combined element
  • No hold element
  • Creative element
  • Synchronized spin
  • Move element

Let’s look at each of these synchronized ice skating elements.

1. Block Element

In the block element, ice skaters arrange themselves in a couple of parallel lines, and. Each of these blocks can move in a circular pattern, move across the ice, or move diagonally. Another move is where a block pivots around some point.

By the way, each block must have at least 3 lines each of which stays straight. Skaters stand at an even distance throughout each line.

Change of configuration and step sequences, pivoting, and change of axis often make synchronized ice skating pretty challenging.

2. Line Element

Just like a block, a line can glide across the ice, advance diagonally down the ice, or move in a circular pattern. Pivot around a point also happens in the line element.  The variations of line elements include straight lines, diagonal lines, and parallel lines.

Change of holds, change of axis, change of position, and pivoting are different ways line elements become harder to perform.

3. Circle Element

In a circle element, skaters stand at equal distances from each other. No pulling or tugging happens (or is allowed).

Each circle must have at least 4 ice skaters. And each element may travel, interlock, rotate, weave, change configuration, or change rotational direction. Additionally, ice skaters may exchange places or positions with one another.

4. Intersection Element

An intersection element comprises four distinct phases namely preparation, approach, pi (point of intersection), and exit. This type of ice skating fosters creativity and can be performed in multiple ways. At the pi, ice skaters pass each other through gliding, free skating, or a rotational turn.

5. Group Lift Element

A group lift is an element where two or more ice skaters lift one skater.  Each team performs between 1 and 4 group lifts. Skaters may rotate or glide down the ice as they lift one of their own. When the lifted skater changes position or the group rotates both clockwise and counterclockwise, things can get pretty tough.

6. Pair Element

A pair element has several pairs of ice skaters moving as an organized unit. Each pair performs free skating moves, free skating elements, or other movements. But it’s as though it were one pair rather than multiple pairs. That is, each pair performs the exact same move as all the other pairs at the exact same time.

7. Combined Element

A combined element happens when at least two synchronized ice skating elements come together into a unified composite element. The elements teams may combine include the circle, intersection, line, pair, and wheel elements.

8. Move Element

Each team chooses a number of skaters each of whom performs any one of 1-4 different moves. The moves may include spirals, Ina Bauers, spread eagles, and other free skating movements.

9. Wheel Element

In a wheel element, ice skaters perform rotational moves around a common focal point. Skaters may perform the wheel element in various formations including parallel lines, two-spoke, and three-spoke formations.

Each wheel contains a minimum of three ice skaters in a spoke, and each wheel may rotate or travel.

The following instances can and do increase element performance difficulty:

Change of position, change of holds, change of configuration, change of positions, interlocking, traveling, and changing rotational direction.

10. No Hold Element

In a no-hold element, four lines travel on the short, long, or diagonal axis of the ice surface. Skaters in this element perform a step sequence including free skating moves, field moves, body movements, and turns. As the skaters perform these moves, they must keep the distances between themselves even.

In many ways, the no-hold element is similar to the block element. But there’s one difference between these two elements.

And the difference is……

While skaters in the no-hold element move in unison, they remain disconnected from one another throughout the performance.

As skaters in this element change places with each other or pivot, the performance gets a tad more challenging.

11. Creative Element

Compared to all the other elements discussed here, the creative element wins hands down in the fun department. In this element, teams can perform some form of ice skating dance, partner tricks, spirals, spread eagles, jumps, and jumps.

In the creative element, pretty much every move an ice skater can perform gets performed. While it’s a required element, creativity still thrives. Here, skaters have the freedom to show off their ice skating talent and shine all they want.

Typically, the creative element comes either at the end of the program or at the beginning. Skaters try to impress and mesmerize the audience with their skating skills, agility, flexibility, and creativity.

However, there’s no way to increase difficulty when performing the creative element.

12. Synchronized Spin

In a synchronized spin, the most important factor is unison. Skaters stay in closed block formation and perform a freestyle spin together. Unity and harmony remain a primary focus from entry, rise-up from the knee, rotation, and finally spin exit.

Whether skaters are doing a scratch spin or a layback spin, everything must happen flawlessly and smoothly. Also, each of the skaters participating has to perform at least three on-one-foot rotations.

Did I mention that synchronized ice skating isn’t an Olympic sport? Yes, it isn’t.

But that doesn’t mean this ice skating discipline isn’t competitive. In fact, there are 10 competition levels in synchronized ice skating with the Junior and Senior levels being the most competitive levels.

Speed Ice Skating

Speed ice skating is a competitive sport that focuses on speed and winning. In this ice sport, participants try to outperform each other in a race covering a certain distance.

There are three main types of speed ice skating namely short-track speed skating, long-track speed skating, and marathon ice speed skating. Governed by the International Skating Union, ice speed skating is today a recognized Olympic ice sport.

Participants in speed skating wear a speed-focused kind of skate called a speed skate. Speed skates have long almost-perfectly-flat blades that lack a groove unlike an ice hockey skate or a figure skate.

But how do speed skates glide super-fast yet they have most of the blade sitting on the ice? Shouldn’t more contact with the ice surface naturally mean more friction and less speed?

We all know that more friction means less speed, so you’re asking a really sensible question here. But here’s the physics that explains this seemingly strange phenomenon.

Most of the blade stays in contact with the ice surface. And this means that most of the push energy converts into forward motion. Makes perfect sense, huh?

Ice speed skating is similar to inline speed skating, except the latter takes place on ice-free surfaces. In fact, many skaters do ice speed skating when the season arrives and switch to inline skate speeding when the winter season ends.

But it doesn’t mean that transitioning from one sport to the other is a completely pain-free experience. There’s quite a bit of practicing to do before you can practice each discipline to pro-level status.

2. Inline Skating (AKA Rollerblading)

In this section, I discuss some and not all rollerblading disciplines. I suggest that you read the post behind this link for an in-depth exploration of all inline skating disciplines: Different Types of Inline Skating

  • Inline Roller Hockey Skating
  • Off-road Inline Skating
  • Speed inline skating
  • Recreational inline skating
  • Fitness recreational inline skating
  • Freestyle slalom skating
  • Inline figure skating (And yes, you can dance on inline skates)
  • Urban/freestyle inline skating
  • Aggressive inline skating

Inline skating is a form of roller skating where you glide around on wheels arranged linearly rather than side-by-side. Also known as rollerblading or simply blading, inline skating is pretty much like skating on the ice.

Humans invented rollerblading to give ice skaters a comparable sport to keep them busy outside the ice skating season.

With inline skating, you glide around on wheeled skates. Each skate rolls on 2 to 6 wheels. Generally the fewer and larger the wheels, the less stability and more speed.

Inline Roller Hockey Skating

Inline hockey skating is like ice hockey skating. There’s only one real difference between these two skating disciplines. With inline hockey skating you’re shooting on wheels while with ice hockey skating, you’re shooting on blades.

Related: Best Inline Skate Wheels for Outdoor Inline Hockey 

In fact, the skills you develop while practicing off-ice on rollerblades are almost 100 percent transferable to ice hockey skating. That’s likely because, in either type of skating, you’re relying on the exact same muscles.

Most ice hockey players find that practicing shooting on inline skates translates into better ice hockey skating. But as stated above, the skating skills involved aren’t 100 percent transferable.

Off-road Inline Skating

Off-road inline skating is a form of outdoor inline skating. But you’re not just skating smooth sidewalks, high-quality asphalt, or skateparks. In off-road riding, you skate large, soft wheels that conquer all kinds of cracks, twigs, small rocks, rough asphalt, and gravel.

Off-ride inline skating is in some ways similar to inline speed skating. In fact, some of the best inline skates for rough roads are speed skates. They’re really fast 3-wheel rollerblades that roll over obstacles with incredible ease.

You’re rolling around on really large elliptical wheels with a diameter of 125-150mm.

Recreational inline skating

Recreational inline skating is a pastime that kids, teens, and grown men and women enjoy outdoors. The main goal is to have fun or even socialize with others while doing tons of good to your health.

Recreational inline skating requires mostly soft boots that sit on either plastic or metal frames. The wheels aren’t as large as those of speed skates or off-road skates. Most recreational skates have wheels that stand 80mm to 90mm in diameter.

Beginner inline skaters mostly ride recreational or fitness skates. These skates prioritize comfort and stability while offering a decent level of ankle support.

Fitness Inline Skating

Fitness inline skating is a higher form of recreational skating. The main focus here is fitness and performance. The boots tend to be pricier than recreational ones, the wheels tend to be taller, and the boots tend to be stiffer and more supportive. Small wonder these skates are generally pricier than rec skates.

Inline Speed skating

Inline speed skating is a type of roller sport where participants race each other on rollerblades or inline skates.

Like ice speed skating, inline speed skating focuses on speed. The skater uses hard-shelled boots that sit on extremely sturdy aluminum frames.

The wheels are very large for speed and soft so they can grip surfaces better. And the bearings inside those wheels spin insanely fast. The vast majority of speed inline skates I have seen use ABEC 7 bearings. And ABEC 7 inline skate bearings are arguably the fastest inline skate bearings ever designed.

But is inline speed skating an Olympic sport yet? Yes, inline speed skating became an Olympic sport in 2018. Prior to this recognition, I used to wonder why inline speed skating hadn’t earned recognition at the Olympics while dressage and speedwalking had. It’s great that inline speed skating finally got the respect it deserves.

3. Roller Skating (Quad Skating)

Roller skating is like inline skating in that in both skating disciplines, you’re rolling around on a boot that sits above wheels.

Also Read: Best Rollerskates Ever

But there’s one key difference between inline skating and roller skating. In inline skating, there are 2-6 wheels lined up straight, one in front of another. But in roller skating (aka quad skating), each skate has four wheels, two at the front and two at the back.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between inline skates vs. roller skates, read this: Differences Between Roller Skating and Rollerblading.

Below is a list of different roller skating sub-disciplines:

  • Roller Derby
  • Rink Hockey Skating
  • Artistic Roller Skating
  • Roller Dancing
  • Jam Skating
  • Speed Roller Skating
  • Rhythm Roller Skating

Let’s look at each type briefly.

Roller Derby

What’s Roller Derby? It’s a competitive roller sport where two teams each having 15 participants compete for points. Each team scores a point when one of their skaters (a jammer) laps players of the opposing team.

Each team plays both defense and offense. To win the competition, each team strives to hinder the jammer from the other team while helping their own. The goal is to have your jammer lap as many skaters from the opposing team as possible.

In 2015, Roller Derby was one of four sports selected for consideration for inclusion as an Olympic sport. But, it’s not yet an Olympic sport.

Roller Derby is seemingly a women’s sport considering that WFTDA is the largest governing organization for the sport. WFTDA stands for Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

But there’s also a relatively large organization that supports men’s roller derby competitions. This is the MRDA, an acronym for Men’s Roller Derby Association. For kids under 18, there’s the Junior Roller Derby Association.

Artistic, rhythm, roller dance, and jam skating are indoor skating disciplines. In this post on roller dancing, I’ve described each type of indoor roller skating.

Rink Hockey Skating

It’s like inline hockey, except you’re shooting on quads.

Speed Roller Skating

Speed roller skating (quad speed skating) isn’t as common as inline speed skating. That said, roller speed skating is relatively popular, but it’s not yet an Olympic sport.

Like running shoes, roller speed skates provide a really close fit. Because they’re meant for racing, the boots don’t prioritize padding and comfort as much as they do lightweight frames. Plus, they have larger wheels than regular skates. Also, these skates have a low-cut design that allows for a wider range of movement.

All these design features make speed quads good for long-distance skating, agility, maneuverability, and intense training sessions.

4. Outdoor Skating

Outdoor skating is basically riding either roller skates (quads) or inline skates (rollerblades) outdoors rather than indoors. We have:

Outdoor Inline Skating

This means skating on inline skates mostly on smooth surfaces outdoors. It includes both recreational inline skating and rough-road rollerblading. 

Outdoor Roller Skating

Many roller skates are ridden indoors on rinks. However, some roller skates are also rideable outdoors. Generally, roller skates for outdoor use have larger softer wheels than those for indoor roller skating. For outdoor use, you want wheels standing 65mm-70mm in diameter.

5. Skateboarding

Skateboarding is considered an extreme sport. While folks from all age groups enjoy this outdoor activity, it’s been traditionally a youth thing. It’s evolved from the 1950s when people had to make their own skateboards at home to what it is today.

Also Read: Best Skateboard for the Dollar

In this sport, you ride a board that rolls on four wheels. Two wheels are positioned at the front beneath the deck. And the other two wheels stay underneath the back of the board.

A skateboard’s wheels are arranged the same way quad skate wheels are arranged. The board features trucks, just as is the case with quads. In fact, the idea of using trucks to attach the wheels originated from the quad skating scene.

Now, there’s multiple skateboarding styles, and mastering each requires serious dedication and practice. Here’s a list of various skateboarding styles.

  • Park Skateboarding
  • Cruising
  • Street Skateboarding
  • Vert Skateboarding
  • Freestyle Skateboarding
  • Downhill Skateboarding
  • Off-road Skateboard

Let’s take a closer look at each skateboarding style.

Park Skateboarding

Park skateboarding is the skateboarding style you want if you hate getting into trouble with law enforcement. You’re skating in a public park, and you’re combining the elements of both street and vert skateboarding. You’re skating half-pipes, bowls, rails, ramps, pools, pyramids, and quarter pipes.

Parks are a pretty safe skating sport, but make sure to gear up. Plus, no one will ever haul your a** to court because you trespassed or damaged private property. Skaters are notorious for skating where they shouldn’t be, at least some of the time. Guilty here.

Street Skateboarding

Street skateboarding typically happens in urban environments. Skateboarders skate various found obstacles including stairs, handrails, benches, curbs, and other street fixtures. Street skateboarding also involves the performance of various skateboarding tricks including hardflips and kickflips.


When you cruise, you get into a comfortable skating position and remain that way for a long time period. You rarely stop to rest or spend time doing longboarding tricks. Speed, balance, and board control are three of the most critical things in cruising.

Cruising is more of a longboarding style than a skateboarding style. Cruisers, like longboards, feature wider decks than regular skateboards.

Also, cruisers and longboards have a longer wheelbase. That’s why cruisers and longboarders are faster than skateboards. It’s also why it’s easier to skate longer distances on them while maintaining great board control.

Vert Skateboarding/Skating Vert

The history of vert skateboarding goes back to the mid-1970s. During this period, surfboarders used backyard pools to practice a form of dry-land wave riding.

It was (and still is) an aerial skateboarding style where the skater went up the pool’s edges to “catch air.” Modern vert skating has you skating vert ramps, pools, and bowls.

Freestyle Skateboarding

A lot of the tricks you see on modern skateboarding grew out of surfboarding. In the 1950s, surfers started practicing on dry land some of their in-water board riding techniques.

Shove-its, ollies, and manuals were some of the skateboarding techniques that originated from surfing. Over time, these dry-land maneuvers have evolved into the rather intricate skateboarding tricks seen everywhere today.

Downhill Skateboarding

Downhill skateboarding is technically longboarding. It’s not uncommon for downhill skateboarders to reach insane speeds of up to 85 mph! So it’s a kind of extreme sport. You’re accelerating downhill on a longboard, not a regular skateboard.

Pro tip: make sure to wear a proper helmet, preferably a full-face helmet. Also, wear knee pads, wristguards, and elbow pads. Speed cracks bones.

Two skills are super important here: the ability to bomb hills at breakneck speed while retaining complete board control.

Successful downhill skateboarding requires you to apply a decent understanding of aerodynamics. One of the most common practices in downhill skateboarding is tucking. In tucking, you put the toes of your back foot on the back of the deck. Meanwhile, your riding foot stays at the front.

Drafting is another critical element to learn in downhill skateboarding. When drafting, you ride closely behind another downhill skateboarder so that you can benefit from reduced wind resistance. With the wind hitting you less forcefully, you bomb hills faster, eventually outrunning the guy ahead of you.

Off-road Skateboarding: Dirtboarding, All-terrain, And Mountain Skate Boarding

Off-road skateboarding happens outside skateparks and other smooth surfaces. You ride your skateboard over rough terrain and uneven surfaces such as gravel tracks, mountain bike trails, and BMX courses.

You’re having fun outdoors, and there’s zero paved surfaces to skate. You’re out there in nature. And you must find places there where you can ride your skateboard.

You need to buy or build a skateboard that can take the rigors of woodland skateboarding. Such a board would have a really sturdy deck made of weather-proof materials. And the wheels need to be relatively large for better clearance and soft for traction. I suggest using risers to raise your board higher off the ground.

6. Longboarding

Longboarding is a type of skateboarding. Here’s the main difference between a skateboard and a longboard: A longboard is usually longer than a skateboard, and its wheels are typically larger and softer. And while skateboarding mostly focuses on stunts and tricks and fun, longboarding mainly focuses on speed, which means it’s somewhat lower-impact.

Also Read: Best Longboards You Can Get Today

But longboarding isn’t completely devoid of tricks. In fact, freestyle longboarding is similar to skateboarding in many ways. You can do everything a park or technical skateboarder can do and more. You can even dance on a longboard or boardwalk and mesmerize every person you run into on the road. How cool.

Below is a list of different longboarding styles you can get into. I’ve described each style in this post: Different Types of Longboards.

  • Carving
  • Cruising
  • Freeride
  • Freestyle
  • Downhill
  • Push Longboarding

7. Rollerjoring

Rollerjoring is a type of inline skating where you partner with your lovely pooch to have fun outdoors. This isn’t about letting your furry friend do all the pulling as you stand back and see the stunning sites. It’s a team activity, a win-win situation for both of you.

You want to use a strong play partner, say a 30-pound-plus dog. You also have to teach your dog a couple of useful commands. Some of the commands include gee to turn right and haw for a left turn.

Easy should help both of you when riding downhill, and whoa should have the dog stop. And when you want to ride fast, simply give them the hike command. These friends are super intelligent, you know.

8. Roller Skiing

Roller skiing isn’t exactly skating, but it’s similar to two-wheel inline speed skating in some way.

Roller skiing has over the years evolved into a distinct sport. In this dry-land sport, you use snow skiing boots that attach to skis through bindings. And the skis have wheels on both ends.

However, the skis have shorter frames than regular snow skis. And you can actually use the ski poles you use for winter skiing. But you do need to remove the snow baskets from your poles if they have them because you need poles with a slightly sharper, tougher tip. A sharper pole end would be better suited for poling on pavements and other hard surfaces.

Different Types of Skating Disciplines

When it comes to skating, there are all kinds of disciplines and sub-disciplines to explore. I suggest you choose one or two skating activities you like and learn them. Whether your preferred sport would be skateboarding, rollerblading, ice skating, or longboarding, gear up and practice hard.

Once you pick a certain kind of skating style, learn how to do it and keep practicing. And you’ll get better and perhaps even make a career out of it.

I'm Kevin Kiarie, an expert slalom inline skater based out in Nairobi, but folks in my social circle prefer to call me Ras Nuh. As a certified inline skating coach, I teach kids, teens, and adults how to inline skate. I love it when someone who's never rolled on 8 urethane wheels comes to me and gets down the basics of blading after just one session. When I'm away from training and inspiring others, I'm busy raising kids and trying to listen to what my beautiful wife isn't saying! Oh, and I help organize Kenya National Inline Freestyle Skating Competitions from time to time. Follow me on Facebook Or follow me on Tiktok and here's my Youtube channel.