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Published on October 12th, 2011 | by Mercy Less


Knee Falls: Who Said We Have To Do Them?

Over the course of the last month, as Atom Gear has released their new protective gear line, we’ve heard lots of buzz and murmurs in the derby community about the products – specifically about the knee pads.

We have heard from some people who think this is the most revolutionary product in the sport’s history, and from others that complain that you’d have to be an Oly skater to wear them (i.e. “these were not made for skaters who fall”). This week, Atom put this blog post up to answer your questions about the product, with photos that clearly demonstrate that a skater can fall in these pads. They’ve also created this video for product education purposes:

Editor’s Note: UPDATE: Atom has released an image of a second generation of the elite kneepad, clearly taking your feedback into development!

Here are the questions that have been on our minds, here at DNN/DerbyLife headquarters, and in conversations with different friends:

Who decided we have to fall on our knees in derby in the first place? Why? What criteria was used in this decision? Who tested this idea?

Our best guess is that some early coaches in Texas in the 2001-2003 era decided this is how it should be done. Evidence of this can be seen in Hell On Wheels. Back in the beginning, when our first few leagues came into existence, we made up all the training ourselves, and shared what we knew with each other. Our other best guess is that no sports medicine doctors, orthopedic doctors, or professional quad skaters were consulted in developing the original derby knee falls we all learned for ‘safety.’

I started skating derby in 2005, and never once questioned the falls taught to my league by more veteran sister leagues. At 228 pounds when I first started, I launched into double knee falls, rockstar slides, and every derby move that was taught to me with gusto, and all the power I had in my body. It only occurs to me years later, after 3 derby-related knee injuries that precipitated my retirement, that maybe a girl over 200 lbs has no business throwing her body at a wood floor knees first. In fact, maybe none of us, at any shape or size, should.

Have any of us ever stopped to ask why it is that professional skaters (artistic, speed, jam skaters) don’t wear giant pads, and still seem to skate forward, sideways and more without intense injuries from ‘falling wrong’? I know I never did. The subcultures our sport came from, and the lack of equipment for a newly invented sport made vert skateboarding pads a natural choice. Mimicking their falls and slides probably also made a lot of sense at the time.

So here we are, 10 years later, and what do we know about the physics of our sport, how it impacts our bodies, and why we teach some of the ‘safety’ drills and skills that we do? I don’t have answers, only questions. We’d like to hear from you. If you know how these falls were originally developed, we want to hear about it.

Until we know more, I am really excited to hear more about whether equipment developed for our sport specifically, with a woman’s knees in mind, works. I am even more curious to learn whether anyone has given any thought to changing the ways we fall, or the way we train our skaters to fall. Please share!

UPDATE: 7/6/12 Atom Wheels released this information regarding free knee cap replacements for their Elite Knee Pads today!

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Mercy Less

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  • Tawny Tawny

    Rugby might be a good example – also a contact sport with minimal (virtually none) padding.

    And yes, we do falling drills. Often. And we’re taught to (largely) fall on our shoulders if we can. Definitely avoid wrists – those snap easily.

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