All you need to know to get started in roller derby
Before choosing your first roller derby skates, there are some questions you need to ask yourself:
Free - $150Low budget
Low probability of using skates for other purposes
FREE or very cheapRenting skates / borrowing from a league member for try-outs.
$100 or less
Around $100Entry level speed skate packages. These will get you through your tryouts but will need to be upgraded if you make the cut. They generally come with low quality slippery wheels.
$150 - $250High commitment
High likelihood of using skates for other purposes
Entry level speed skate packages with upgrade to good derby wheels.If you weigh more than 200lbs, you should consider a skate with fibreglass reinforced plates, or entry level aluminum plates. These will provide better durability and performance for heavier skaters.
$250 - $450High commitment
High likelihood of using skates for other purposes
A quality leather speed boot with nylon plates and entry level derby wheels.These tend to be fantastic skates that are really quite affordable. A good step up in fit and performance from the entry level boots. Nylon plates are affordable, light weight and durable. They do not, however, offer as high performance as good quality aluminum plates. Some skates come with plates made of fancier fibreglass reinforced nylon, which is stiffer, for a small amount more.
$450 - $550
A quality leather speed boot with quality aluminum plates and roller derby wheels.These skates are perfect for people who know they are going to be serious about roller derby and want good skates now. Great boots, great plates, no fuss.
|$550+||Custom Skates: custom sizes, custom colors, custom fit. High End boots, high End plates.
All fantastic products but a little above the budget and needs of most beginner derby skaters.
Roller derby is generally played on short speed boots as opposed to tall classic roller skate boots with heels. Short boots, or boots with small heels or no heels, simply provide better performance for the style of skating that roller derby requires.
Short Boots options:
Cheap "Speed Packages" Cheap but are they really?
There are many cut-rate entry-level “speed” packages available online that sell for around $100. They are a popular option for new derby skaters because they seem very affordable.
Bear in mind that NONE of these products are appropriate for roller derby unless they get an immediate wheel upgrade. The wheels that come standard on these packages are hard, slippery, low quality Chinese-made wheels. They are not good enough for roller derby. Upgrading to derby appropriate wheels will cost you upwards of $60. These packages may not be as cheap as they first appear, but they are still a great option for new derby skaters or refs, so long as you upgrade the wheels.
Benefits of starting with an entry level package:
Vinyl entry level boots like these will not stretch out as they break in. They need to be comfortable right out of the box. For this reason, you should aim at sizing a little bit larger than with speed skates. Derby is very hard on your skates. The expected lifespan of your boots is a maximum of about 3-4 years if you take good care of them. Entry level vinyl boots will only last you a season or so. Keep this in mind when you formulate your budget.
Professional Speed Boots
Most serious derby skaters will eventually upgrade to professional speed boots. Riedell and Bont both make great lines of speed boots. Speed boots are designed for performance and fit. They are light weight, allow better agility, better energy transfer and performance overall. It is extremely important to get speed boots that fit you properly. Unlike other types of boots, speed boots need to have a really snug fit in order to perform properly. They are usually made of high quality leather that will conform to the shape of your feet as you break them in, creating a snug slipper-like fit that reduces foot slippage inside your skates.
Padding VS No Padding
You will notice that there are two types of “speed boots” on the market; those with padding and those without. One is not necessarily better than the other, it is simply a matter of personal preference:
Traditional speed boots have no padding, they consist of a few layers of leather and/or man made materials. They are designed for optimal fit. You size them very tightly and as the skates break in, they stretch and conform to the shape of your feet, creating an amazing contoured fit. The breaking in process can be painful especially with boots made of more rigid material.
Padded boots don’t provide the same amazing fit as boots without padding but they tend to be more comfy from the start. They are often more rigid in general and provide more ankle support. The fit is more like a comfortable pair of running shoes.
The fit of your skates will make all the difference in terms of how much you enjoy your skating experience. The easiest and best thing you can do is try on your team-mates’ skates, or speak to our friendly staff who will help you find the best fit using your foot’s measurements.
In general, boots with padding have a more flexible range of fit than those without padding. Speed boots made of thin leather, with no padding, must fit as tightly as possible without causing pain. Extra space in your speed boots will greatly reduce their performance.
Most skate boots are sized in Men’s sizes. In many cases for example, a Men’s 6 fits as a Ladies 8, but for some skates a Men’s 6 fits as a Ladies 7.5 or even an 8.5. Please feel free to call or email us to talk about skate sizing. Before wearing your skates to practice, make SURE the fit is good – if you have any questions at all on the fit, you can call us and we can help you do some sizing tests over the phone.
The world of skate wheels is a little complicated, and we won’t go into it in too much detail, but here are a few rules you can use to help you navigate this rolling terrain. (See our Derby Wheel guide for more information)
Hardness (Also known as durometer): Generally ranges from 78A - 103A.
Height (Also know as diameter): Generally ranges from 54mm - 70mm
Width (Also referred to as the profile of the wheels): ranges from 31mm - 44mm
The right speed wheel for your needs depends on the surface that you are skating on, your body type and your style of skating.
Before choosing your wheels, ask yourself these questions:
If you will be skating indoors exclusively then you will need indoor wheels. Beginners should pick affordable, grippy wheels. Give us a shout and we’ll be able to recommend a wheel for your skating surface, style, experience and body type.
If you will be skating indoors on a slippery surface and occasionally outdoors then you should consider getting hybrid wheels. These are wheels that can be used both indoors and outdoors. Indoors they are very grippy but a little bit slow. Outdoors they are slow and shakier than traditional outdoor wheels. The big benefit of hybrid wheels is that they are affordable and you can use them anywhere. They are a great first set of wheels while you save up for high end expensive indoor and outdoor wheels.
If you plan on doing any serious outdoor skating (trails, transportation etc) then you should consider getting a separate set of high quality outdoor wheels. Good outdoor wheels are fast and can handle rough outdoor surfaces much better than hybrid or entry level outdoor wheels. If you intend on hitting the skateparks however, you should use a harder wheel than you would for distance skating.
Bearings go inside your wheels and make your wheels roll. Each wheel takes two bearings – a pair of roller skates has 16 bearings.
What does the ABEC Rating mean on skate bearings?
Some bearings are graded with an ABEC rating. For the most part the ABEC rating doesn’t affect how fast bearings are - it's more important that you buy from a good manufacturer - but the ABEC rating does give some indication of the bearing's quality and level of precision used in the manufacturing process.
In general, higher ABEC rated bearings from one manufacturer will be better than lower ABEC rated bearings from that same manufacturer. In other words, if you buy Sure-Grip ABEC 1’s they will be less smooth and have less “roll-out” than Sure-Grip ABEC 5’s or 7’s.
Quality & Brands
"Roll-out" is a term used to describe bearing performance (it is a relative term) – if a bearing has good "roll-out", it means that it'll allow you to roll farther with each strides. Good bearings feel faster and demand less effort to go the distance.
The generic Chinese bearings that sporting goods stores sell for inline skates are really inexpensive but they also tend to be of quite low quality.
Powell makes some of our favourite bearings, and have for a long time. We find they last considerably longer than their competitors and they are reasonably affordable. China Bones REDS are popular bearings made by Powell, and they are fantastic! They are the most popular bearings used by derby skaters because they are so affordable, long lasting and smooth. We find them better than some of their competitors that are twice the price. There are however other very worthy competitors that are worth considering.
There are a few categories of roller skate plates to consider for roller derby. Skaters that weigh over 200lbs should avoid regular nylon plates, they will not offer adequate performance or durability. Fibreglass reinforced nylon plates are adequate up to 300lbs.
Your best bet for purchasing used skates for derby is to purchase them from a derby skater. Contact your local leagues and see if anyone is selling something in your size and will give you a good price. This way, you are likely to get a pair of skates that is actually good for derby, though you will probably pay more than you would for a pair at your local thrift store.
Almost all vintage skates, found on e-bay or at thrift stores, need to have their wheels and bearings upgraded before you can even try to use them for derby. Derby is played on a small track and a huge part of the game is about being agile and trying to stay in control at higher speeds. You MUST have good quality wheels to play roller derby. Unfortunately wheels that are good for roller derby are not cheap. Expect to pay at the very least $60 for new speed wheels, and $25 for new bearings. Keep this in mind when pricing out second-hand skates.
Choosing your Helmet: It’s the liner that counts!
• Soft Foam Skateboard Helmets
This type of helmet consists of a hard plastic shell and a single squishy (often removable) liner. They are comfortable and affordable but do not offer as much protection as some of the other types of helmets on the market.
• Dual Certified Skateboard Helmets
These helmets have a hard plastic shell, a thin hard foam (non-removable) liner and a very thin removable soft foam liner. Should claim CPSC and ASTM certification on box. We think that these are the best and safest helmets for use for roller derby. They are certified for both big impacts (like bicycle helmets) and multiple small impacts. Ideal for derby. It is best to try these helmets on if at all possible. Due to their hard foam liner they are a little harder to fit than the soft foam type.
• Hockey Helmets
Most people who purchase a hockey helmet for derby do so in hopes of gaining extra protection for their brains. Be aware that many hockey helmets priced under $100 have a soft foam liner and offer exactly the same level of protection as a soft foam skate helmet. To get superior protection make sure you pick a hockey helmet with a hard foam liner. It should boast EPP foam liner on the packaging. EPP foam hockey helmets offer great multi impact protection and are very adjustable but they do not pass the high impact testing that the dual certified helmets do. They are somewhere between soft foam and dual certified in terms of protection.
Please do not ever buy a second-hand bicycle helmet. They are made for single-impact use and it can be hard to tell if a helmet has been damaged in a crash.
Borrowing or buying a second-hand skate helmet/hockey helmet can be done at your own risk – make sure at the very least that there is no visible damage to the helmet.
Sizing your helmet:
Your helmet should fit snugly but not painfully. It should sit low on your forehead near your eyebrows and should not slip around. Make sure to adjust the chin strap too, see helmet box for instructions on strap adjustment.
All helmet brands fit slightly differently. If you are unsure of your sizing send us an email and we can help you make the best choice.
Choosing your Knee Pads:
It is our opinion that special attention needs to be paid when selecting knee pads for roller derby. You fall on your knees all the time in roller derby, sometimes intentionally other times unexpectedly and often with a lot of force.
The cheap recreational-grade kneepads used for inline skating are NOT sufficient for roller derby.
Our advice is to get the best, cushiest pads you can afford and learn to skate with them from the very beginning. You will greatly extend your derby career and minimize the chances of knee injury.
Some entry level knee pads offer sufficient protection for roller derby – but ONLY sufficient protection. These pads are perfect for: fresh meat who are just starting, girls on a budget, refs, and very tiny girls. If you are not one of these people (and even if you are), please consider higher end knee pads, you really do get what you pay for.
Choosing your Elbow Pads:
Elbow pads must fit well. The amount of padding they offer is secondary to fit. It is unlikely that you will fall on your elbows very often, but if you do, they need to stay in place to cushion the impact. Recreational-grade elbow pads (i.e. Rollerblade brand) can probably get you through fresh meat training, but we highly recommend something with a bit more padding that fits properly.
Sizing your Knee and Elbow Pads:
Each brand of knee/elbow pads fits differently, so just because you know your size in one brand do not assume it applies in other brands. A good fitting pad is tight but not painful. Be aware that pads will stretch out as they break in so it is good if they feel a little too tight when they are new. Contact us if you are unsure on sizing.
Wrist guards take a lot of abuse in roller derby – we fall on them, clap with them, wipe sweat off our cheeks, grab onto them when we receive "whips", etc. Always look for wrist guards that have plastic inserts on the top and bottom of the hand for extra protection and which fit snugly and comfortably (as comfortable as wrist guards can be).
These are your main choices with mouth guards:
Cheapie mouth guards
Gel mouth guards ($20)
Fitted sport guards ($50+) – the ones your dentist makes.
Take good care of your protective gear – clean it and get it stitched up or taped up if it gets ripped.
Some tips on keeping things fresh:
Do your washing once a month at least, or anytime it gets dank. Here are two options:
The Gentle Way
The Fast and Easy Way (but it breaks your gear down faster)
Even with the best care, protective gear is not immortal. Here are some general life expectancies:
Wrist guards: Expect to replace these between 6 months and a year. The plastic bracing starts to wear through, the fabric exterior starts to wear through and after a while, even a good wash doesn’t de-stink them.
Elbow pads: Depending on how hard you use them and how well you care for them, elbow pads can last between 1 and 2 years.
Knee pads: Replace your knee pads after 6 months to a year. The elastic will stretch out and the padding will compress. If you start to get bruises under your knee pads, it’s a sign that the padding has compressed.
Derby can help you get in shape, but it is also a good idea to build your fitness base for roller derby. Here are some ideas to start with:
Lots of floor exercises for legs and abs can be done with your skates on for an extra challenge (to add weight)!
Look these up online for help with form & technique:
Do it every day if you can, and definitely take one day a week off of training to recover, or more if you're just starting. Also, of course, take any injuries or medical conditions into account and ask your doctor if you have any concerns.
This is your superhero name! What do you want your fans to be chanting from the stands?!? How are you going to inspire fear in your opponents or confidence from your team-mates? A derivative of your own name might be a good place to start for some ideas. Before you settle on a name, try on a bunch of different ones first: you're gonna be stuck with whatever you decide on! Here are some ideas for brainstorming:
Creating a "persona". Pick a quality about you that you'd like to emphasize:
Pick a quality that you want to have:
Think of words that are associated with the qualities mentioned above, or completely different words that you like and which sound good like amazonian, terror, brunette, etc. or random cool objects and adjectives like turquoise, whisky, alpine, sparkles, panther, mango, lipstick, Tokyo, etc.
Mix it up
Combine all your cool words in as many interesting ways as you can, and try them all on.
Any good puns or plays on words? Anything that sounds like a famous name?
Lastly, consider the following:
What will you be called for short? How will your derby name interact with your derby # and position?
Your audience (i.e. are you cool with your five year old brother cheering for "Chesty McPanty-less"?)
Pick a name that inspires you (and isn’t already taken: http://www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/)
Be yourself, play under your real name! You don’t need to pick a name at all if you would rather play under your real name. As the sport of roller derby grows and progresses many athletes are choosing to forego the derby name and proudly wear their own names on their jerseys.