“I’ll just skate. I don’t wanna get bogged down fiddling around with skates and gear,” I thought.
Young, fresh, naive… But since starting roller derby three months ago, I realised I’ve put a truly embarrassing amount of time (and an even more embarrassing amount of money) into my derby kit.
Derby is definitely way up there with the most high-maintenance passtimes, so if you have no interest in forking out for pricey kit, or you’re not a geek like me, then it’s possible you’re in the wrong sport.
Then again, perhaps you’ll learn to love it – especially when you begin to realise how much a few minor tweaks can up your derby game. Getting your gear nailed won’t necessarily make you a better skater, but getting your gear wrong or cutting corners could really hold you back.
Pads you trust
You’re gonna fall in derby (full contact sport, guys!) and if you’re new, you’re gonna fall a lot just skating around. Fall light, heavy, fast, slow, accidentally, and on-purpose.
If you’re scared to fall, you’ll hesitate to push yourself out of your comfort zone. As a result you won’t be able to throw yourself into learning new skills and pick up new moves as easily.
There’s no way you can train yourself out of falling, but you can absolutely train yourself out of the FEAR of falling. You only need to trust your pads to protect you from harm, and know that they’re going to cushion you no matter how you land.
To this end, your pads need to meet two criteria: they must have quality plates and padding, and they need to fit you properly.
If they’re cutting off circulation – or worse, slipping off – then they do not fit you. You really don’t want to crash down on your knee only to find your pad’s slipped down or come away.
For quality, it’s a simple case of getting what you pay for. Entry level street pads suitable for derby will offer a basic level of protection, but won’t last, and aren’t as comfortable in an impact. Pricier, “Pro” pads will last a lot longer and offer additional benefits such as removeable/replaceable plates, and washable covers.
Skates that fit
Yeah okay, it sounds obvious, but poorly fitting skates can really tip your game. Ideally, when skates are good, you shouldn’t notice them at all; they should feel light and comfortable, like a natural extension of your foot.
Many fundamental skills such as plows and 1-footed glides rely on changing up your balance and using every corner of your boot. Being able to control the inner and outer edges of the skate are important for turning and breaking. Being able to transfer weight to the toe and heel are vital for transitioning and picking up your feet fast.
If your skates are loose your foot will slide around inside the boot, hampering your ability to perform the move. If your skates are too big for your feet, you’ll have too much room at the toe. Your foot might slide backwards or forward and you might struggle to balance on your toe-stops or pick up your feet.
It’s a good idea to buy skates which are slightly more snug, because cheaper entry-level skates will typically expand as you wear them in and may end up too loose.
If you find your boot too tight or too loose in certain places, it’s well worth experimenting with different socks and lacing methods to get them fitted right.
Skates you trust
As important as it is to find skates which fit, it’s also important to get to know your skates.
If you’re renting or borrowing from your league, try to use the same kit every week. This is because, even within the same brand and size, skates can behave in very different ways.
Nuances in the boot, the trucks, and the wheels can all have a big impact on how the skates respond to your movements. As a new skater, you might be putting yourself at an disadvantage by using different skates and having to relearn every session.
The right kind of wheels
So not exactly essential, but wheels can makes a huge difference to the way you skate. Unless you’re looking to skate outdoors, or your team practice on drastically different surfaces, you’ll only really need one pair of good wheels.
As a beginner, wider wheels will give you maximum stability as you get comfortable skating. Typically the wheels packaged with starter skates will be fairly wide at 42mm, which supports your feet thanks to the bigger surface area in contact with the floor.
Another consideration is the ‘durometer’ – in other words how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ the wheel is. In essence, softer wheels absorb more impact, but also give more ‘grip’ and help prevent you sliding out or skidding. For a beginner, this will give a greater sense of control and stability. However too much grip can hamper particular skills which require your skate to skid, such as plow stops.
Commonly, you’ll see that quad wheels are rated from 78a to 103a, with a higher number denoting a ‘harder’ wheel. However, grip is always relative to the surface – so a “90a” wheel could feel too slick on a very slippy surface, and too hard on rougher ground. Ask your teammates about the floor you train on, and you should get a good idea for what durometer will suit you best.