Getting Started with Roller Derby

by Steven ‘Trash’ Logan

When I first decided to begin my roller derby skating adventure I knew right away that it was going to cost some money to gear up.  This is where my wife stepped in and recommended that I take some time to choose some quality, but not too expensive beginner gear.  Silly me didn’t listen, and decided to learn the hard way. When I turned to the interwebs to find out how to get the most bang for my buck, I quickly noticed a trend.  The search results were all several years old, or were posted to a dealer’s site.  Not that I don’t trust dealers, but the fact that they typically only discuss what they sell, leaves potential derby goers in the dark when it comes to what options are actually available.  This is where networking can come in handy.


Once you venture out to any derby gathering, you’ll quickly find that people are very open to sharing their equipment experiences.  Again, this can pigeon-holes your options to what equipment they’ve actually used, unless they’re made of money.  If you live an area like me, where the derby community is still in its relative infancy, then experiences are limited, as well as being able to find someone pushing more than 150 lbs.  So again, we still don’t feel like we have adequate information to choose gear that will at least make it through our freshmeat days.


If you’re up to date on your D1 derby archives, you may be tempted to just buy what you see top level players using.  This may not be the wisest choice.  Consider that these skaters are skating with other top level skaters, so their demands are probably much different than yours  due to training, sponsors, and overall experience.  So where does that leave us?


With the power of google at your fingertips, you’re more than welcome to peruse the various online shops, pore over scanty reviews, or search out your favorite all star’s equipment suggestions.  Or, you can read through the guidelines below, thus giving yourself the insight necessary to make the best decision for your needs.  Yes I said it, your needs.


What you need to start:

  1. Skates – cheap skates are recommended.  Don’t make the same mistake as me and invest in really high quality skates, because once you’ve learned the game and developed as a skater, you may have different demands from your setup.  Try on different skates with different setups (i.e. truck action , plate construction, boot cut, etc.) as you increase your derby friend count.  You may even be lucky enough to have a local skate shop that supplies test gear for skaters affiliated with the local league, or at least to try on.
    Most Affordable and great for True Beginners:  Reidell DartReidell_DartReidell’s R3 is perfect for experienced rollers
    Reidell_R3If you’re athleteic, or heavier (like me), then the SureGrip Rebel Avanti has the aluminum plate to withstand your big push.
  2. Helmet – dual-certified and multiple impact rating is best.  Sure, there are some snazzy looking and comfortable soft-foam helmets, but once your head meets the ground (which it more than likely will), you’ll be glad you sprung for the dual-certified and multiple impact rating.  If you don’t have at least multiple impact rating, you’d better get used to forking out your future skate funds for a replacement helmet every time your old one meets the ground.  Most multi-impact helmets utilize a combination of hard and soft foam.  S1, Triple8, and ProTec are some of the big name companies that sell quality multi-impact rated helmets.S1 put out a tremendous safety product when they introduced the Visor LiferS1_Lifer_Shield
  3. Knee Pads – the most important set of pad that you’ll purchase for derby.  TSG and Demon have created knee pads that include non-Newtonian materials that dissipate impact rather than just provide cushion.  If you fall hard enough, or are heavier like me, cushion alone will not provide the impact protection that you’d hope for.  Think about this, you rely on your knees for all of your daily movements, not just for skating, but your movements in life.  TSG Force III Plus D3O, TSG Longboard (if you want low-profile pads that still protect), TSG Tahoe Cap D3O (low profile as well), and Demon Derby 3.0 X D3O are just a few of the next generation knee pads.  Otherwise, your choices will more than likely be based on price, size availability, slip on or slap on, length, or pure personal preference.TSG Force III Plus D3O
  4. Mouth Guard – SISU and other similar brands have developed low profile mouth guards that enable you to still be able to speak and drink.  My SISU is always the last piece of equipment that I put away when gearing down. Braces?  No problem, just have your orthodontist fit your mouth guard.  No matter what option you choose, make sure you look into acquiring a mouth guard case, and maybe some antiseptic spray designed for dental wear.SISU 1.6
    SISU_1 SISU_2
  5. Elbow and Wrist Guards – Although you’ll be doing a lot of falling, especially if you are already training with a league, the market for elbow and wrist guards are is pretty homologous, and ultimately comes down to aesthetic appeal and personal preference (e.g. price,brand loyalty, tried on a friend/teammate’s, etc.)TSG Force IV Elbow Pads & Wrist Guards
    TSG_Elbow TSG_Wrist
  6. Proper Skating Attire – compression and sweat-wicking clothing is your friend in this sport.  Not only does compression clothing allow you to move about more freely, especially in close proximity to others (e.g. in the pack), but they also provide you with recovery assistance so you’re able to get better faster.   The days of frilly tops and bottoms are long gone (for safety purposes of course), except for the occasional parade or glamorous skate-out or introduction.  I’ll leave under garments up to personal preference, but with the recommendation of taking your chosen outerwear into consideration.
  7. Socks – believe it or not, but those thick cotton socks are not going to provide you with the comfort that you’d expect.  The extra cushion provided by thick socks also provides room for excessive movement of your feet.  Compared to typical day to day movements, skating demands more of your feet, especially from side to side, so you want to reduce the amount of movement your feet experience inside of your skates.  If you live where it the weather can get fairly cold, not wearing thick socks may seem outrageous, but I assure it’s not.  Since most skate boots are leather, or some comparable synthetic material, you really shouldn’t have to worry about warmth once you get moving and bring your skates up to temp.  IMO nothing is more annoying that having to worry about foot problems like blisters or corns.
  8. A place to skate – in the beginning you will not require a lot room to build your foundational skating skills.  A flat driveway, cul-de-sac, garage, or patio are more than sufficient to get started.  i enjoy finding large smooth-finished parking lots to practice my foundational skills when I can’t get to or afford a rink session. If you’re not too concerned with a little wear and tear to your indoor floor, you can work on your skills inside the comfort of your own home.

Well that raps up my equipment recommendations for getting started on your derby journey.  Feel free to comment below, or shoot me a message with any questions or concerns.