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Published on October 26th, 2011 | by Herr Triggore

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Blades or Quads? One Ref’s Journey

(This article is not intended to judge. This is an attempt to communicate my own personal journey toward deciding what skates were appropriate for me, and also to create an open, honest discussion among readers and skaters to offer opinions, ask questions, or even drive a strong organizational opinion if they choose to one way or the other.)

Prior to 2010, the last time I had skated on quads was 1986 in a newly-built skate rink in Eagle River, Alaska (now gone, where not even Google can find it). At the time, roller skating in Alaska was held at the same level of respect as being a male figure skater in a room full of hockey players; you had better be fast or you had better be tough.

Two and a half decades later, and more than a dozen of those spent off-and-on in hockey skates, I found myself wanting to help out with derby in an on-skates, officiating capacity. I knew learning the rules, adjusting to the speed of the sport, and position fundamentals would be areas I would need to focus on. There was some trepidation, but my expectation was that roller skating on quads wouldn’t be all that different from ice skates (yeah, wrong). In order to get started, I needed to get my gear: helmet, wrist/knee/elbow pads, and skates.

Now the dilemma: what type of skates should I get?

Ones that roll – that was the easy part. In my hours of watching derby both in-person and online through DNN and YouTube, I had seen a smattering of images that showed referees skating on either quads or inline blades; both a hockey-style and a speed-skating style. On some of the player bios I’d read while surfing the Internet, it seemed like many of the more competitive skaters also had competitive inline skating backgrounds (hello, Atomatrix!) so the idea of inline skates wouldn’t be foreign to their eyes. While I had skated on quads many years before, (and long before some of the current derby rock stars were even born…), the possible learning curve was a little daunting. I hadn’t spent much time on inline rollerblades, but the times I had, during roller hockey games, the feel and the motion had been more familiar to me.

I started to think about mechanics. My movement and stride will forever be linked to how I skate in hockey, for better or for worse. My stopping, or rather my desire to stop, would also be linked to hockey. I quickly realized that my ability to slide to a stop on skates (inline or quads) would require a lot more practice and effort, regardless of which footwear platform I chose.

Shit. Back to the drawing board.

I next went to the WFTDA rule set to see if there was prescriptive guidance for what was appropriate and acceptable. In the skating rules, the first item seemed pretty straightforward and directed at the athletes:

3.9.1 – Players must wear quad roller skates only. Players may not wear inline or any other type of skate
Aha! So there *is* prescriptive guidance. I’m sure there will be something in the Officials section which supports consistency or references the skater requirement. Right?

9.4.1 – Referees are permitted to wear inline skates, but are strongly encouraged to wear quad skates.
Ok, so there’s no mandate and therefore I still have the option to figure out what works best for me. I can take what’s most recently comfortable for me, or I can go back to my childhood and endure a learning curve that will expose me as needing to work harder in areas I’d generally prefer not to. Plus the investment in more equipment that I might be able to avoid with skates I have around the house buried under my ice hockey gear. The choice seemed perfectly obvious at that point for me.

I went out and bought quads.

There will be various schools of thought on this, and it would be interesting to see/hear other peoples’ opinions. I’ll tell you what convinced me that quads were the appropriate choice for me.

1) It’s a quad sport. Since derby began, the sport has involved wheels at all four corners. The women who pioneered the sport wore quads in those roller rinks of the day, and the women athletes who compete today roll in those same (now-) rickety rinks with updated gear, but the skates are still quads. The WFTDA rules even clearly state the expectation that “players must wear quad roller skates only.” And while refs aren’t players in the sport, it leads me to my next point, which is…

2) I wanted to show my respect for the athletes. For me personally, the decision to wear quads is very much to be respectful of the rules that the leagues have laid down in their charters for their competitors. This is their sport, and as an official I am here to serve the rules and the skaters of the leagues, not put myself above them. Does that mean that people that wear inlines are being disrespectful? No. What it means is that I feel that a way in which I can demonstrate my respect for them is to make sure I’m on a level playing field, and that I learn the same skating styles and fundamentals the skaters use. It will also make me a better, more accurate ref if I understand the mechanics of quad skating vs. inline.

3) I think it’s the unwritten desire of the governing body. 9.4.1 states it clearly even though it takes a politically soft approach. “…are permitted to wear inline skates, but are strongly encouraged to wear quad skates…” I’ve delivered similar messages to employees of mine for years on work-related topics. Generally, the message is clear: you can do what you want, but if you don’t do it the way I’m suggesting then you’re going to scar yourself in the court of public opinion. MY public opinion. At some point WFTDA may decide to mandate it in future rule sets, but today it is couched as a “strong suggestion.”

So that was my path. I know the path is different for others, but as I said earlier on, I would be interested in learning more about how other officials made their own particular decisions, and what they used to support the decisions they made. I’d also like to hear from skaters about how they view officials on quads vs. inlines, and whether or not it impacts their initial perception going into a bout.

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