Published on January 10th, 2014 | by Kat Setzer0
A Rookie’s Guide to Roller Derby Gear
Once my friends and I decided we wanted to play roller derby, we had to get gear. We trekked out to The Bruised Boutique in New Hampshire, this adorable store owned and operated by a handful of players from the Boston Derby Dames. Because most the staff is so involved with roller derby, they were able to give us plenty of advice about practices and gear—plus a sweet freshmeat discount.
(Does this sound like paid advertising? Sorry. I really am sincere. Pinky swear.)
Bruised Boutique is one of those horribly dangerous stores that you go into and want to buy ALL THE THINGS. I mean, there’s a wall of knee socks. A WALL! My little accessorizing heart nearly exploded with glee. I also spent a significant amount of time trying to convince my friend Dianna—who, mind you, I have never seen wearing a single piece of clothing designed for women—to buy a pair of booty shorts with metallic rainbow ruffles on them. Seriously, who wouldn’t want that? (Dianna, apparently. Killjoy.)
Thankfully, Anna Wrecksya helped us stay on task, pointing out the gear that would be necessary for practice as well as the goodies that would probably help down the line. Here I present to you a version of that list.
Skates ‘n’ plates
Pretty obvious why these are at the top of the list. Bruised offers a few varieties of starter skates that aren’t too pricy (between $100 and $200) but will get you through your first few months of practice until you have a better idea of what you want and are ready to invest in a more customized pair. Mine (a pair of Riedell R3s) have lasted me for a good nine months now, and are still going strong.
With your starter skates, you’ll get plates—the things that attach your wheels to your boots. These come in two flavors: nylon, or some sort of metal (aluminum, magnesium, etc). When you buy your next skate, you can choose to upgrade your plate along with it—pretty much every part of your skate can be taken apart and replaced with something else.
Wheels (and bearings)
Though your starter skates usually come with some kind of wheel, these are the first guys you’re going to want to upgrade. For my first set, I ended up with a set of bright pink Radar Flat Outrageous wheels. Most everybody I met in the first few weeks also started with these wheels—you’ll hear a bit as you get started about “grippiness” and “hardness” of wheels; the Flat Outrageous are a softer wheel that helps you stay more in control when you’re skating quickly. Most people upgrade their wheels pretty soon after they get comfortable on their skates, since harder wheels allow you to skate faster and stop more smoothly.
Bearings are what help your wheels spin on the axle. I still don’t understand them that well. I think they’re magic?
(Edited to add: After writing this, the lovely Artoo Detoonate introduced me to Bruised Boutique’s Freshmeat FAQ, which discussed wheels and bearings a little more in depth. Kind of like wheels that are harder reduce friction, bearings are designed to give differing amounts of friction on the axle. Fascinating!)
I’m going to assume you understand the logic behind these. You’ll need pads for your knees, wrists, and elbows. Some ladies like to get padded shorts, ankle braces, and knee gaskets as well. (Bonus: If you need to buy all of these at once, most derby stores offer pads packages that discount the overall cost.)
If there’s anything you want to spend a little extra money on, it’s your knee pads. Unlike maxi-pads, a thinner profile is not better. Feel like you’re strapping loaves of bread to your knee? Good. Some people even invest in something called knee gaskets, which are a sort of underpadding that help support the knee and keep the knee pad in place during harder falls. Remember, you spend a lot of time throwing yourself into concrete floors, so you want all the cushioning you can get.
Additional fun fact: wash your pads every month or two. They start smelling like Cheetos if you don’t.
I don’t know about you, but one of my major life goals is to never crack my skull open. Thus, helmets. Your bike helmet won’t be enough. Skating helmets cover the back of your head, since you can fall backwards just as easily as you can fall forwards. That said, most soft-foam skating helmets are meant only for single-impact—you smash them against anything, you need to replace them. Instead, many skaters invest in a multi-impact helmet, like S-One, or in a hockey helmet.
For a gal who never played any sports that require mouthguards, these are kind of reminiscent of those wax teeth you used to get as a kid at Halloween. For such a tiny wad of plastic, it’s pretty important—you won’t be allowed to practice without it. One of our coaches, Sticky, recently wrote a great blog post about her favorite mouthguard. Some people say they help prevent concussions; I have a friend who’s an athletic trainer who says that’s not actually the case [editor’s note: the medical establishment agrees with this hypothesis], but you still want to wear one because toothlessness = not hot. (And oral surgery = expensive.)
These are little caps of leather/pleather/whatever that you put on the toe of your skate to give it a little extra reinforcement. While they’re not necessary, you spend a lot of the first few months of practice dragging your toes against the ground when you work on falling safely. The friction will wear down the front of your skates pretty quickly; toecaps are a cheap way to keep your skates intact longer. Or, heck, if you want to go even cheaper, you can use some good quality duct tape or hockey tape.
Toe stops are the little pieces of rubber on the front of your skate. Most people looking at skates for the first time think you use them to put on the brakes; you do, when you’re going backwards, but you spend a lot more time in derby running on them. Yes, running. The ones you start with are small and fairly short, which do work, kind of—because of their dimensions, though, it can be tricky to avoid nose-diving into the track. For me, I realized I needed larger toe stops to balance better, and most people I know upgrade their toe stops along with their wheels after starting practice.
High socks and ankle guards
One thing I noticed after a couple practices is that if I wore my normal athletic socks with my skates, I got some pretty gnarly blisters around my ankle. Knee socks have worked well for me, and some of my friends have actually invested in ankle guards. The ankle guards actually provide a snugger fit altogether, which can be helpful when running on your toe stops.
We use it to fix everything. EVERYTHING. Go to Target and invest in some stylish tape. Mine has cupcakes on it! Some folks actually like to use hockey tape, which is cloth and also great for keeping gear scuff-free.
That’s it! This gear should help you get through your first few derby practices happily and healthily. And no, there aren’t any tutus or fishnet stockings—sadly, both those accessories are fairly impractical during gameplay. (I have totally seen ruffle-butts on the track, though. Ahem. Dianna? *cocks eyebrow*.)
Don’t worry: Though it may seem like a lot of stuff, choosing your gear can be really fun and interesting, especially if you have a great store to consult nearby. And then you get to actually learn fun skills to impress all your friends. Which brings us to… (drumroll, please)
This was first published on the Boston Derby Dames’ blog as part of their Diary of A Redliner series, a collection of posts by skaters going through the league’s training and recreation program.