As a knock-kneed newbie, I found myself caught in a dilemma. My only skating practice was the hour a week session dedicated to training up the fresh meat. Of course, the irony was that I desperately needed more practice, yet was unable to join in with the team practices because I wasn’t experienced enough.
While I scoured the local area for sports halls, indoor warehouses, ice rinks – anything – I came up empty. Apart from an occasional roller disco, there was nowhere I could skate, especially not as a wobbly beginner. Eventually I came to realise that my best option was the venture into the realm of the outdoors.
Freedom to practice
The best thing about outdoor skating is that you have total freedom to work on whatever you need to improve. There’s no agenda, no expectations, and no drills – unless, of course, you want to try them.
For me, this was gold, because my biggest problem was simply that I was not yet confident on wheels. Several weeks I spent doing nothing other than just skating around and around in circles, getting used to balancing and picking up my feet.
Later, I focused attention to my sticky skating, my one-foot glides, and my cross-overs. All at my own pace, and as much or little as I felt I needed to.
Without this practice between every session, I would have quickly fallen behind in my fresh meat program. By trying out the new techniques on my own, it helped drill in the movements bit by bit.
Practicing non-derby skills
While some skills are harder outdoors than on a smooth track (namely plow and T-stops), there are a ton of things you can work on which can be hard to sharpen up during derby training alone.
Learning to skate in a scissored stance, and a Mohawk position takes a lot of time and space, but will help improve your agility and balance.
Backwards skating can be tough to learn in a group, when you might end up spending more time checking for hazards than learning to move your feet.
Clockwise skating and reverse crossovers are very simple to practice outside of the track, but are often neglected or de-prioritised during derby training. It may not be as critical as learning to skate in derby direction, but it’s still a really underrated skill for weaving around other skaters and getting from the inside to the outside of the track in a flash. Additionally, it will help redress the imbalances in your legs which can develop from constant anti-clockwise skating, which will keep your symmetrical and help reduce the risk of injury.
It makes you stronger
Outdoor skating makes you tough! If you thought skating indoors was hard, you’re in for a shock. Outdoor skating is rough, but don’t worry – you get used to it very quickly, and once you get back on the track, you’ll find that you’re stronger and faster for your efforts.
Tarmac pulls a lot of grip, which means you have to push harder to pick up speed, and really lean into corners when you turn. This will put power in your stride and give you a serious edge on the track when you’re gunning for your 27 laps.
Similarly, the roughness of the surface can undercut your stability at first, but this helps you to make sure you’re low and stable in your derby stance, with a tight core and limber shoulders.
Falling can seem more daunting outside, where there’s a risk of more than just a nasty rink-rash at stake. But so long as you’re geared up in your pads and helmet, there’s little to fear from hitting the floor. If nothing else, you can condition yourself to fall on your pads by reflex – which comes in very handy on the track when you’ve got girls actively trying to knock you down in derby practice.
Open all hours and totally free
One of the best things about skating outside is that you can get out and skating pretty much whenever and where-ever you like, for free – no booking out sports halls or forking out for sessions at the rink.
The first few months, all I used were a pair of shabby old inline skates which I’d picked up for £10 second-hand. They were great for working on my stride and balance, but it wasn’t til I switched to quads that I really began to see results.
If you’ve already got a pair of quads for indoor training, then it’s wise to think about investing in a set of dedicated outdoor wheels.
Not only will you have a much smoother ride, but you really don’t want to be wrecking your lovely slick wheels on the tarmac, or be having to scrape muck and grime out of your bearings.
Outdoor wheels are typically very soft and can be picked up cheaply, especially second hand. They’ll take a lot of punishment, so it’s a sound investment if you’re planning even an occasional outside skate.
Bored on a Sunday afternoon? Skate! Too much chocolate over Christmas? Skate! Can’t be bothered to walk the dog? Skate!
As a newbie, getting comfortable on skates takes time. Laps and drills might send a shiver down your spine, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Derby players aren’t masochists, they just know one thing that you don’t: skating is fun!
Outdoor skating can be liberating and exciting. Fire up your catchiest playlist and get out and play. Explore your local parks, make up your own games, see how many laps you can do in a single song.
Most importantly, just enjoy yourself!