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Published on October 3rd, 2011 | by Hot Quad

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The Pursuit Of Derbyness: How To Be Prime Fresh Meat

So. You’ve just been to the amazing extravaganza of glitter and awesome that is roller derby and you know more than anything you’ve ever known in your life that you NEED to do this.

Congratulations, you’re fresh meat. Here are some tips to help you on your way.

Gauge Your Intensity.

Before you start on this road you’ll want to take stock of where you stand now. How much time do you realistically have to dedicate to this sport? What is your general level of fitness? How much skating experience do you have? Are you the kind of person who can persist for six months to a year before making a team? Do you really want to spend this much time with other women? These are only a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before you strap on your Riedells. Really knowing where you’re at will help you figure out what your expectations can reasonably be. Once you have a good idea of where you stand you’ll be able to set some short term and long term goals. Write them down. In six months you might just look back and find yourself amazed.

Find Derby in Your Community.

The range of derby options available to you is going to vary wildly depending on where you live. If you live in Seattle there’s derby going on somewhere every night of the week at every skill level skating with WFTDA, MADE, OSDA, flat, banked track and god knows what else. If you live in Kalispell, Montana you probably only have one choice. You may not be ready to skate with a league or team but it’s a good idea to know what you’re working toward. What are the minimum skill requirements? How do teams recruit and how long can you expect to be skating on your own before making a team? Are there training camps available and for what skill level?

Get Your Gear.

Here’s a news flash: You’ve just signed up for a very expensive hobby. The good news is that you can start getting used to wheels without hundreds of dollars in your back pocket up front (although you will need that money eventually, so start saving now). Buy essentials first. Do not skate without wrist guards. No matter how you fall your instinct will be to catch yourself with your palms and a broken wrist on your third night is likely to dampen your enthusiasm. I also highly recommend padded shorts with tailbone protection. You probably won’t see your favorite league players wear them but it takes some time to learn to fall forward and you don’t want to end up with one of these in the interim:

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Knee pads are last on the list before skates. I want to repeat that: If you are short on funds, buy pads before skates. Rentals do not suck more than a broken tailbone and you will fall in the worst ways now. If you can, try before you buy. Different brands fit differently and you’ll want to see what they feel like. Ask a lot of questions at the store or online. If you can’t think of any good questions ask stupid questions until something good occurs to you. Do not buy gear from somewhere you can’t talk to a real person.

Skate a Lot, But Not Too Much.

In case you hadn’t heard, derby is hard on your knees. Depending on your previous athletic experience you may need to ease into a lot of skating to give your knees adjustment time. You also may experience horrible shin splints. Since you already know that these are potential issues, address them as soon as they manifest themselves. Baby shin splints can be treated with ice and a little massage. Monster shin splints really only go away with weeks of rest. The same goes for your knees. That said, skate as much as you can. Roller rinks, tennis courts and parking lots are your new hot spot hang outs.

Look Stupid.

I have good news for you. When you’re a new skater no one gives a fuck about what you look like on wheels, it just feels like everyone is looking at you. Once you get a handle on basic skating skills it’s tempting to spend your roller rink time just zooming around and rocking out. This would be great if you were trying out to be queen of open/adult skate night but you’re not. Working on skills demands that you step outside of your comfort zone and when you do that you will feel like an idiot. Conversely, if you don’t feel like an idiot you’re probably not working on skills. Embrace it.

Use Your Head.

If you are effective in looking stupid, it won’t be long before someone takes pity on you and tries to teach you how to do whatever you’re trying to do. Before accepting advice from strangers ask yourself the following questions: 1.) Does this person play derby? 2.) Do I like the way this person skates? 3.) Does what this person is saying make sense? If your answer is “no” to more than one of these then feel free to nod politely and think about unicorns. All advice (including mine) is recycled experience and you may not want to relive that person’s learning process. You had a brain before you started skating and you shouldn’t stop using it now just because you’re new.

Find Skate Classes.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with roller derby education, take advantage of it. If not, see if you community has skating classes of any kind. There may be more available than you can readily find online so be sure to ask around. I don’t recommend going to a class before you’ve had a chance to adjust to wheels. You’ll get more out of it if you don’t feel like you’re going to hit the deck at any time. It’s really important to have a positive attitude while you’re at these classes – you’ll learn more if you do. If you can’t manage a positive attitude, at least keep your mouth shut and ‘fake it ’till you make it.’

Bring a Buddy.

You are far more likely to stick with derby if you’re doing it with someone. In a perfect world that person would be your best friend. You would have exactly the same level of commitment and athletic ability. However, since this is real life you’ll need to find the best approximation of that person possible. A good derby buddy will push you when you get lazy and keep you company when you’re the new kids at the rink and no one else will talk to you. If no one in your life fits that description then you’ll need to make a friend or two. Don’t skip this part. This is a journey that’s worth sharing and it’s far more fun when you do.

Go To Bouts.

There is no better way to immerse yourself in roller derby than attending a lot of bouts. The game has a lot of rules and most of them don’t make a great deal of sense unless you see them in action. Going to bouts is also a great way to see which skating skills you need to work on. During it practice it’s easy to think “Well, I don’t have to learn X because I could just do Y instead.” (like, I don’t have to learn turn around toe stops because I could just T-stop). You may learn just how wrong you are.

Work Hard.

This is the part that never stops. It’s easy to work hard when you just got a promotion at work, you’re skating on a full night’s sleep and your brain has felt like a dance party all day. It’s much more important to work hard the day your 13 year old dog died, or your kid had diarrhea, or you just tried out for a team and you didn’t make it. I once had a very wise teacher tell me that anything worth trying and failing once was worth trying again. You can do it. You’re a derby girl now.

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