Gearing Up for Roller Derby
In roller derby, pads are not for if you fall, but for WHEN you fall. Keep this in mind as you pick out your first roller derby gear.
Having the right safety equipment is a prerequisite for even entering practice. Your gear will be checked to make sure you're wearing all the pieces and that it's all on correctly. Missing equipment means that you don't get to skate.
Being a sport that not just everyone knows about, it takes a little bit of research to figure out what to buy, how to buy it, and where to buy each item. Here are a few tips to get you started.
What to Buy: Roller Derby Gear List
Here is the gear you need before you can set skate in a roller derby practice or fresh meat program:
Guiding Principles for Buying Gear
How to Choose: What to Look For in Roller Derby Gear
You're looking for roller derby skates, not inline skates or artistic roller skates. Roller derby skates usually have a lower boot than the skates roller skating rinks have for rent. Derby skates are typically sized in men's sizes, and for women, buying 1 size smaller is recommended. Here are few popular skates for fresh meat (roller derby newcomers) that run about $100-$175 : Reidell Dart, SureGrip GT-50 and Reidell R3.
Since concussions are prevalent in roller derby, getting a quality helmet is important. Helmets used for roller derby are not the same as bicycle helmets. Typically a skateboard helmet or hockey helmet works. Measure your head, and use those measurements to make sure you purchase the right sized helmet. A helmet will probably be at least $30. Triple 8, Pro-Tec and S-1 are frequently purchased brands. Personally, I got the Triple 8 Helmet with Sweatsaver Lining.
You can pick up a sports mouth guard at a drug store or big box department store for under $10. Many roller derby skaters grab a mouth guard by SISU. They are lighter weight and you can drink and speak more effectively with one in. These may run around $30 and come in a variety of fun colors.
You need a set of elbow pads with hard plastic on the elbows. Popular brands are Triple 8, 187 and Pro-Tec. Make sure they fit snugly on your elbows. When talking with derby folk about gear, many people have strong preference on nearly everything--except elbow pads. I went with these Triple 8 Elbow Pads.
You need a set of wrist guards that have braces on the fronts. (If you see roller derby skaters clapping, they are usually hitting their wrist guards together.) Ideally, wrist guards should have a brace on both sides for additional stability and protection. I own two sets of Triple 8 wrist guards--one pair of slide ons and one pair that wrap around. It's pretty much personal preference.
Knee Pads: Spend Your Money Here
In roller derby, falling is inevitable, and I almost always fall on my knees. There are also several skills that require you to land on or tap your knee pads. Consequently, knee pads are a good place to buy better gear right away.
Personally, I started with low end Triple 8 knee pads , and I quickly upgraded. I went with 187 Killer Pro Knee Pads. While I ended up spending about twice as much on the nicer knee pads, not damaging my knees is worth way more than that. Some people don't like how far the 187s stick out, so try out different brands or talk with other skaters to see what they like. Pro-Tec, Smith Scabs and Deadbolts are just a few other brands to check out. See the Learn More section for a link to an article including knee pad reviews.
Where to Buy New Gear
Ideally, you'd get a chance to try on gear before you buy it. Be sure to see if there is a roller derby shop in your area. In the Twin Cities, check out Wheels on Wheels. (The owners are involved in roller derby and work by appointment.) General sports stores, or skateboard shops, may have some equipment, but not necessarily the best derby specific gear.
For beginning derby skates, you may want to check out the pro shop at your local roller skating rink. The selection is typically not huge, but you may have a chance to try on skates.
Online, there are approximately 4 bijillion places where you can buy derby gear, including Amazon. In addition, here are a few derby specific shops:
Where to Buy Used Gear
Be sure to check with other skaters. They may have gear that they want to get rid of that can get you started.
Facebook also has several different groups to buy, sell and trade roller derby gear. Here are a few:
What Do You Think?
What are your roller derby gear preferences? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Please note that I'm not receiving incentives from any organization to promote or suggest one product or website over another. These are just my personal opinions, for your consideration. Here are places where you can learn other people's opinions:
Which is Better?
I recently had a friend ask me what I liked more: inline skates or roller skates. Inline skates (which many refer to as Rollerblades, even though that is one inline skate company) tend to have 3-4 thinner wheels right down the middle of the skate. Conversely, quad skates have 4, wide wheels, and bring images of the “brownie” skates people may remember renting at the roller rink. For me, it’s a more complex question based on the type of skating I’m doing.
All My Skates
I currently own three, yes, three, pairs of skates, each of which I love for what they bring to the table:
Factors to Consider
My decision on which skates to use when depends on the following key factors:
Roller Derby Skates: Roller Derby and Indoor Surfaces
I bought my roller derby skates specifically for that purpose. Quad skates are required, and, like most people recommend for derby, they have a shorter boot, fit well, and have harder wheels. Since we’re indoors on a polished concrete floor, the harder wheels make it easier to move fast, switch directions, and stop in a number of different ways. I bought Sure-Grip Rebel Avengers and later swapped out my wheels for Sure-Grip Zombie Wheels.
When at a roller rink, my roller derby skates are the hands-down choice. When indoors on a flat, consistent surface, I practice derby related skills, like plow stops, t-stops, crossovers, and transitions. In roller derby, we do a lot of “edge work,” which means using the insides and outsides of your wheels to start, stop, or turn. At the rink, these same skills enable me to dodge unpredictable children and stop at a moment’s notice.
Outside Roller Skates: Uneven Surfaces
My outside roller skates are basically my starter roller derby skates (Reidell Dart Ombre) with softer, outdoor wheels (Moxi Outdoor Roller Skate Wheels). They enable me to practice derby skills outside while also giving me a little extra cushion for skating on harder, sometimes less well maintained, surfaces. Whether it’s a skate park or a tennis court, these give me the feel of my derby skates with more cushion to make a rougher, yet fairly consistent surface, manageable.
I have also used these skates when I am skating at an outside event where starting and stopping happens a lot. At an event like Minneapolis Open Streets, where they encourage people to walk, bike or skate, made my outdoor roller skates the right choice. Since this involved starting and stopping frequently, and then skating a short distance to the next location, these were the winners. I also wore these around my office on Halloween since there were multiple terrain changes, and I wasn't trying to go fast.
When it comes to trail skating, I have used my outdoor roller skates in the past. Now that I’ve acquired my inline skates for this purpose, I may occasionally use my outdoor roller skates for cross training purposes, but not for most of my distance skating.
Inline Skates: Distance and Speed
While training to do an inline half marathon, I discovered that skating on my outdoor quad skates for a mile or more was less than ideal. Skating on 3-4 narrower wheels, rather than four, fat softer wheels, enables me to go more quickly with far less resistance from the surface. For skating further, and faster, inline skates are the way to go. Mine are K2 Alexis Pro Inline Skates. Since trail skating and skating longer distances involves going in one direction, going a long way, navigating a few terrain changes, inline skates are a better choice. At this point, I am used to moving on roller skates, so I’m currently not as agile on inline skates. As I continue to train more, and occasionally skate on inline skates at the roller rink, I’m sure my agility will continue to improve.
What Do You Think?
Are you a fan of inline skates, roller skates, or both? Share your insights in the comments.
My Relationship with Crossovers
I started roller derby earlier this year. When I went to my first practice, I could stand up on skates, and that was about it. Now, a few months in, I can start, stop and do several basic skills. I decided that, in the off season, I would figure out how to do crossovers—which I managed to do (even a couple of months ahead of schedule.) I certainly do not have the best crossover ever, but I can say that I can actually do a crossover, and now I’m fine tuning as I start to think more seriously about 27/5 (and the million other skills I'll need to master before that can happen).
Regular Practice at a Roller Skating Rink
In order to do crossovers, I went to the roller skating rink 1-2 times a week and skated for about 1.5-2 hours each time. I know that in order to master this skill, I needed to skate, try a few things, adjust, and keep skating and trying it. Here is what worked for me as I worked from not being to stand on one foot to being able to do a real live crossover that is ready to be further coached and perfected.
1. Practice standing on one foot.
I know the first time I went to a roller derby class, during our initial skills assessment, they asked us to skate on one foot, and I couldn't do it. Those were not muscles that my desk office worker body had occasion to use. I started by just spending 30 seconds per day standing on each foot. Over time, I would stand in more of a derby stance and shift my weight to one foot (like I need to do when skating) and stand on one foot that way. Build those muscles that you’ll need to use.
2. Wear knee pads at the roller rink. Always.
I find that if I don’t wear at least knee pads, I’ll either not try anything as much as I should or I’ll fall down and it’ll really hurt. Whether you wear real roller derby knee pads or sneaky little under your pants low profile knee pads, wear something to literally cushion the blow. These are my go to stealth knee pads.
Remember, you will for sure fall down—probably a lot—while learning how to do this, and without knee pads you will be banged up and it will be unpleasant. Your knees will thank you—as will your future better-able-to-walk self.
3. Practice skating on one foot.
If you can't get your weight on your left leg while skating, you don't be able to pick up your right foot and cross it over. Let me say that again because it’s so important: you can’t pick up your foot if you have your weight on it. (That sounds obvious until you start to skate and then, like an idiot, try to pick up the foot that you have your weight on, fail, fall, then wonder, “why didn’t that work?”)
When you go to the roller rink, practice skating on only one foot while you count to 5, then switch feet. This starts to train your body on weight transfer and builds up your muscle memory on how to do the start of a crossover.
4. Work up to skating on just your left foot on the corners.
When you get to the corners at a skating rink, skate just on your left foot and lift up or push with your right foot. Keep doing this until you can hardly stop yourself from lifting up your foot and putting it over.
5. Watch the other skaters.
When you go to the roller skating rink and you’re skating around, look at the other people skating. Take note of the people who seem to do crossovers without even thinking about it. Watch their feet, and how they shift their weight, and lean into the middle.
During this process, do your best not to hate the people who can just "no big deal" do crossovers.
6. Lean into the middle.
It will feel like you are leaning in a cartoonish manner, but do it. the lean, and being on your left foot, makes it possible for you to get your right foot over.
7. Try to do crossovers standing up instead of in derby stance.
Remember those people at the roller rink? Try to mimic their actions and do a “ no big deal” crossover instead of a heavy duty roller derby crossover. Once you understand the basic foot over foot action, you can work your way up to being more powerful.
8. Do "baby crossovers."
Do the "foot over foot" part of the move, then just keep going. You'll get next to no power (which comes from the crossunder work that you left foot is supposed to do), but that's not the point. The point is to get your right foot up and over your left foot and set it down again. SCORE! This part is the super scary bit. Now skate around and do that a whole bunch. This is huge, amazing progress.
9. Do 2 "baby crossovers" in a row.
They will not be pretty, or particularly good, but you will have crossed over. Twice. DOUBLE SCORE! You're really doing these!
10. Practice. Then practice more. Then practice even more.
For 10 minutes (or more) at a time, skate, and each time you get to a place where you have to turn, do 1-2 crossovers. The more you do them, the easier the motion will become. Over time, they will suck less, and then they will be almost tolerable, and then you will start to feel like you get the basic motion, but like they could get better. The more you do them, the easier they will become, and the better they will get.
From Baby Crossover to Big Time Crossover
At first, you'll have to think really hard each time you get ready to to one. Over time, you'll think less and do more. The more you practice, the more automatic they will be come. You'll start to look like your role models at the rink who do them without thinking! Over time, you'll get into derby stance and start to try them that way. One day, you will magically cross under and go "holy crap! That's what that's supposed to feel like!"
What Do You Think?
What advice helped you learn to do crossovers? What was your "ah-hah" moment? Share in the comments.
As you start roller derby, one key skill to master is crossovers. Crossovers are the foot over foot move that makes it possible to go more quickly around the track. At first, they seem insurmountable and impossible. Then, they seem almost doable. One day, a beautiful, magical light goes off and it all makes sense.
If you're not ready for fine tuning information,and you are so fresh meat that standing up on skates is a challenge, check out my 10-tips-for-building-up-to-crossovers. This is how I got from wanting to do crossovers to actually starting to to them well enough to be ready for further coaching.
Otherwise, to help you get from "how the heck would I even start" to "I get it! I get it!", here are three helpful videos to help you make progress. Watch these, and practice, practice practice, and you, too can master the ever elusive crossover!
How To Do A Crossover on Roller Skates
This video is hosted by Gypsy from The Skate Truck NYC. This is a great first video to watch as you're trying to figure what a crossover should look like and how to even starts. The video begins with the off-skates movements and ends with basics on how to put the pieces together.
Stance 103: Crossovers
This video, featuring Rollemite from Derby Warehouse, includes an example of how to do a crossover, emphasizes the importance of weight transfer, and using one footed glides as a building skill. It also includes one drill using a wall for support. I thought that drill was very helpful, and I hadn't seen that in other videos.
Crossovers for Roller Derby
This video features The Neutrino from the Rat City Rollergirls. It is by far the most educational, and entertaining, video on crossovers that I have run across. There are several points that resonated with me: the idea of climbing a mountain sideways, pushing the wall with your hip and modifying your center of balance came together in this video. This video has sparked the ah-hah moment for many a derby skater.
What Resources Do You Recommend?
Did any of these videos help you? What other resources helped you the most? Post your thoughts in the comments.
After my first roller derby class, I took my daughter and a friend roller skating on a Saturday. I was overwhelmed by how hectic it was, and I was ecstatic when they had an adults only skate.--so ecstatic, in fact, that I skated way to aggressively & rolled my ankle spectacularly. I had to skip practice the next day because I had a noticeable limp.
I spent the following week doing everything I could to heal as quickly as possible including elevating, wrapping, icing, bathing in Epsom Salt and even a turmeric poultice. I ended up skating a week later (when I probably shouldn't have) with an ankle brace. Sheer determination, and my awful habit of playing hurt, kept me going.
Why Pre-Hab Exercises
Through this process, I realized that that the best way to heal from this kind of injury was to make efforts to prevent it from happening again. After much researching, I found several recommendations for exercises to strengthen my ankles. These are pre-hab exercises, meaning they are intended to prevent injuries, as opposed to re-hab exercises, meant to help recover from an injury.
They aren't sexy, exciting, or even particularly challenging. However, it's easy to take a few minutes daily to prevent a world of hurt later on. Here are the exercises I do, how many repetitions, and how I fit them in.
Ankle Circles & Ankle Alphabets
I do ankle circles, 10-20 circles, each direction, each ankle. I also do the alphabet with each ankle.
These can be done standing up, or seated. I can do these while I'm sitting at my desk at work, standing on the train platform, or just waiting. Standing up gives an added component of balance above and beyond just the ankle work--and who couldn't use more balance?
Heal Raises & Toe Raises
When it comes to heal raises and toe raises, I either do them for a set period of time, like 30 seconds, or for a set number, like 20. Either way, these are a great way to exercise ankles and calves.
These exercises can also be done whenever you have 30-60 seconds to spare. These can be done while in line (and not even looking very ridiculous), waiting for the microwave to finish or just anytime when you have a few moments with no onlookers.
Single Leg Balances
Single leg balances are helpful for ankle stability, and for overall balance.For roller derby and roller skating in general, in order to do several skills, you need to be able to balance (and skate) on one foot. When I first started roller derby, I lacked the balance and coordination to skate on one foot--much less do crossovers.
You can do these in whatever style you want. sometimes I do them standing up, other times, I do the while squatting. If you want to up your game further, close your eyes, too. (It's amazing how much harder closing your eyes makes it.)
I usually do 30 seconds per leg 1-2 times per day. Typically, I do this in front of the microwave (where I have a timer), while waiting for the train and counting to 30, or while making a latte using the fancy coffee machine at work (which conveniently takes 30 seconds for foam and 30 seconds for espresso).
Before I started roller derby, I roller skated maybe once a year—maybe. Now, with my daughter and I both working on specific skills, we’re roller skating about twice a week and sometimes more. Just know that going to the rink is a whole different experience when you’re working on your skating skills than when you’re just there chaperoning birthday party.
Roller Skating Rinks: The Basics
Roller skating rinks are typically open for 2-6 hour stretches. Admission is per person, with an additional fee for renting quad skates or inline skates. Many rinks also have rink assistants (think a walker made from PVC pipe to help newer skates) available for rent. In the greater Minneapolis/St Paul area, the price of entry is around $6 per person (as low as $2 and as high as $8) and skate rental is about another $3 on top of that. Skating rinks may also have additional attractions like mini golf, laser tag or a children’s play area--often available for an additional (or separate) entry fee.
Roller rinks play “clean” music, typically top 40, but with special nights sometimes featuring oldies, classic rock or Christian music. Rinks usually have carnival games (whack-a-mole, skee ball) where you try to win tickets to exchange for fabulous prizes including all manner of toys that glow in the dark until nearly the end of your trip to the roller rink. There is food for sale of the pizza and nachos variety at a concession stand, and alcohol is not available.
More Than Roller Skating in a Circle
Personally, I’m happy to roller skate in a circle, by myself, for hours and be perfectly happy. However, as not to bore the general public, plain old boring roller skating is not the only thing on the agenda.
Every half hour or so, there is usually a game that roller rink attendees can play. Popular games include the limbo, 4 corners or red light/green light. Depending on the rink, occasionally there may be hokeying and/or pokeying, chickens dancing, electric sliding or whatever other “follow the directions” songs may be popular. There may also be times with more intense light shows, or theme skates like partner skate, adults only, skating backwards, or opposite direction skating.
A Cautionary Tale: Roller Skating on the Weekend
Pretty much all the rinks are open Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which are the busiest times. This is also prime time for children’s birthday parties. Consequently, if you are interested in becoming a better skater for, say, roller derby, you have very different goals from many people who will be there on a typical weekend. The average birthday party attendee is an elementary school aged child with little to no skating prowess--meaning they have no qualms about jumping in front of a group of skaters and fall spectacularly with no indication of what’s about to happen. In addition, on any given day, there will be at least one child who thinks that it’s the funniest thing ever to skate against the crowd and scream with their hands on the sides of their face ala Kevin in Home Alone.
The upside of weekend roller rink skating for an aspiring roller derby athlete is that agility training is built in. You will most likely not be practicing your transitions and crossovers, but just trying like crazy not to hurt yourself or the children who unwittingly throw themselves into your path. Personally, I now have mad skills for dodging wayward children and I have the uncanny ability to fall while sometimes even managing to shield the child who caused my fall, as well as myself, from injury.
If you do venture to a roller skating rink on a weekend, just know what you’re getting into, and mentally prepare accordingly.
The Joy of Skating When Its Less Crowded
On a whim, any day can be crowded at a skating rink (think day care field trip) but a few are less likely to occur. Here are my super-secret strategies for having a more pleasant skating experience.
We know that weekend days are birthday party palooza. Simply by skating on weekdays you can ensure a smaller crowd. Some rinks even have reduced rates on nights that are often less busy. In addition, in the summer, many rinks are open during the day for a few hours, typically around 12 Noon-3 pm. For me, the biggest trick has been figuring out which rinks are open on which weekdays and planning my schedule accordingly.
Adults Only Skate
If you don’t want to trip over small children, adults only skate is the answer. It may be later at night, or in the middle of a Sunday morning. There may even be adults only skates with varying age ranges—some of which may be over 20, while others may be reserved for those 40 or older. Regardless, there is more of a chance of skating with a crowd that hast at least some understanding of the existence of other people and the relative value of not blindly skating into them.
When Most People are Elsewhere
I am not a fan of crowds in general, and oftentimes, I plan around major events so that I’m where other people are not. I look for times when people have a greater chance of being somewhere else, and try to skate at those time. For example, when the weather is perfect outside, during a long holiday weekend when many people leave town or when there is a big event, I may very well be at the rink enjoying the sparse crowd and perfecting my backwards skating.
Brenda is an innovative learning and development leader, instructional designer, and continuous learner.