So you’ve decided you want to play roller derby. Great! But you don’t have any gear. Oh no! But not to fret, here’s a basic guide to what you will need to get started.
No shit. But what kind of skates? And how much should I pay for them?
First up, you want quad skates, not rollerblades. And you don’t want skates with a high boot, like this one, which is from a company calling themselves “Roller Derby”. This is a perfect example of irony, since if you were to actually play roller derby in these skates you’d probably break your ankle.
There are plenty of derby-owned online stores that can recommend particular skates for beginners, and I’ll list a few at the bottom of this post. You don’t have to spend a bajillion dollars on top-of-the-line skates (if you can afford it and want to then go for it, and then please buy me a pony), they just need to be the right style and they need to fit you comfortably (my feet are Australian size 8, and my skates are US size 7).
A new pair of basic derby skates will set you back about $200. I have Sure-Grip GT50s, which suit me because my feet are a little bit wide. A lot of our VDL skaters are on Riedell R3s and most of our Zebras are on Riedell Diablos. If you can try some skates on before you buy, do it. Varsity Derby League is happy for you to come check out our training sessions, why not check out our skates too?
You need one. Your brain is important and stuff, ya know? Expect to spend between $50 and $100, depending on what you get (check out these, OMG WANT). Look at what other skaters have. Pro-tec, S-One, Triple-8 and Nutcase all make helmets suitable for derby. Make sure you get the right size! Nobody wants to have a constant headache during training and bouts because their helmet is too small. It’s cool to wear a bicycle helmet to training (in VDL, anyway) for a while, but you’ll want to get yourself a proper helmet as soon as you can. They are far easier to bedazzle the crap out of.
PADS & WRISTGUARDS
Find the best-quality pads you can afford. And then beg your mate for a loan so you can buy better ones instead. You will be spending a lot of time falling, so it’s really important that your knees and elbows are as well-cushioned as possible. If you wreck your knees it could be the end of skating for you for a long time, and that would make me sad. Same with your wrists. Think of all the stuff you use your hands for. Now think how painful and inconvenient it would be to do all that stuff with a broken wrist. Not fun. Buy decent wristguards that have a splint insert.
And for the love of the Baby Jesus LOOK AT SIZE CHARTS! Measure yourself meticulously before you order pads, or even better, try someone else’s on first. Sizing can be quite different across brands too, so double and triple check.
Story time. My first kneepads were Pro-Tec Park size L (yes, I did measure before I ordered). They were ok for a while, but I found they moved around too much when doing falls. So I ordered the same pads in size M. Then Mad Mouse suggested I try on her size S kneepads, which of course fit me perfectly. Lucky for me the lovely Suzi Ephedrine of Sydney Derby Skates was quite happy to change my order and now I have happy knees. The moral of the story is, measuring is good, but trying on is best.
Have I emphasised this point enough? Good.
It is a well-known scientific fact that 100% of people are more attractive with teeth. In the interests of keeping a pretty mouth, get a good-quality mouthguard. Shock Doctor make good ones, but I am loving my new Protech Dent mouthguard because I can still talk with it in and communication is pretty damn important in roller derby.
Here’s a couple of optional extras. Not having this stuff won’t stop you skating, so prioritise getting the other gear first.
A skate tool
You want to be able to change your wheels, get bearings out, tighten your toe stops, loosen your trucks and perform basic maintenance on your new four-wheeled babies. There are a number of good multi-purpose tools available that will let you do all this stuff. I highly recommend the Powerdyne skate tool.
Your skates will come with stock wheels of either the indoor or hybrid variety. Indoor wheels are harder (that’s what the ‘a’ number, or durometer, refers to) and hence more sensitive to all those little bumps in the road. If you’re a competent skater on indoor surfaces, but then it all kinda falls apart once you hit the pavement, you may want to consider getting softer outdoor wheels. The higher the durometer rating, the harder the wheel. For example, my indoor wheels are 96a and my outdoors are 78a. In my mind, the main benefit of having outdoor wheels is that it allows you to skate on a greater variety of surfaces. The key to becoming a better skater is spending time on skates, and we don’t always have a nice polished basketball court to roll around on.
So where the heck do I get all this gear from?
Excellent question, ten points to Gryffindor. There are many derby-owned businesses selling gear. Give your money to them, because the people who run these places actually skate themselves and therefore have a pretty good idea of what they’re talking about. Here are some places that VDL hearts.
Wicked are our first-ever sponsors, and they make some really awesome scrimmage gear and derby-related apparel as well as selling lots of great skate kit. Support them because they support us!
Other good sites include
Most derby-run places will have a special discount for “freshmeat packs” which include all the gear you need to get started. I recommend constructing your own fresh meat kit over going with the stock packs. There are often league discounts too, so get in touch with your local league before you order and you might save some dosh which can be spent on more gear later.
THE MOST IMPORTANT GEAR-BUYING ADVICE EVER…
…comes from Mad Mouse.
it’s heaps better to save for good gear a bit longer and not get to skate for maybe a month, rather than get crap gear that 1) won’t protect you and you’ll get injured or 2) will require upgrading almost immediately anyways.
Not convinced? Check this out.