Learning roller derby?
February 23, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

How does one get started in roller derby (as a total beginner)?

I've been really interested in roller derby for the past few years, and I think I finally have the guts/ability to make the time to learn how to do it.

I know my local derby league (LA Derby Dolls) has training classes for people who can already basically skate. I don't even own skates, so I realize getting skates and learning how to be comfortable on them is step #1, but how do I actually do any of this?! What are the things I need to know (for example, I was looking online at skates and realized that you need different wheels for indoor vs. outdoor skating--I'm sure there are a lot of important pieces of information like this)? I also don't know anyone who does roller derby, or have any connections to anyone who does. I have googled and found bits of info here and there, but not quite what I'm needing.
posted by so_gracefully to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Although I've never participated in roller derby, getting use to the skates is top priority.

I would buy a pair each of those outdoor and indoor skates and start practicing. Start in a roller rink in your town, where the environment in controlled. Then I would go up and down your driveway, then sidewalks, everywhere you can until they feel more like extensions of yourself then anything.

And you'll want the standard set of knee pads, perhaps elbow pads, and helmet. you might also want to consider those bike riding gloves for the first few months, because you're likely to go falling on your behind and trying to catch yourself with your hands. It can tear up your skin.

from my experience, it's harder to fall off the standard old style car wheel skates then the rollerblade type.
posted by royalsong at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2010

From what I've seen, derby matches are held indoors, so I would get some indoor skates. Could you contact the team you mentioned and see what they suggest?
posted by elder18 at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: In Houston, our derby league has a rec league where everyone from beginners to "retirees" skate. It's specifically meant for people like you. The retired girls help the n00bs out.

Buy some skates and pads, start reading the blogs of derby girls in your area, and just go to a training session. Or, don't buy skates, but go to a training session anyway, meet people and ask these questions. OR, email you local league. In Houston, none of these girls get paid, and the league is young, so they all started somewhere, and they all understand not everyone can offord to spend a fortune on new skates and pads. Maybe someone can sell you their old gear.
posted by Brittanie at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: A friend of mine just got started in derby and successfully got on a team (first bout this weekend! Woohoo!). She started by looking at online communities -- our local league, the Boston Derby Dames, had a good one -- and getting to know the people on there. She also spent a lot of time at the local derby supply store, where the owner walked her through all the different kinds of gear, let her try a bunch of stuff in the store (including different kinds of wheels). So in short: talk to people. Find them online and find them in the stores, and just start talking. As far as I can tell from my friend's experience, derby people are really psyched to get new people excited and involved, so take advantage of that.

Also: aside from skating skills, my friend spent a lot of time with incredibly sore muscles from the first several workouts. If you're not already doing squats and stuff, you may save yourself some suffering by starting those kinds of workouts now. I'm sure you can find a "typical" derby workout somewhere online.
posted by olinerd at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The newbie girls on my local league were advised to buy a derby package from lowpriceskates.com. Highly recommended. Everything you need gear-wise to get started is included.
posted by theraflu at 10:41 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: I've no idea about roller derby, but I'd really recommend wrist guards.

If you fall on your knee or elbow without guards, you generally bruise/scrape it and it hurts for a few days, if you fall on your hands and bend your wrists over, you break bones, which means having it reset (sometimes surgically) and a month and a half of pain.
posted by chrispy108 at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2010

The number one thing you're gonna need, and trust me on this, is a kick-ass name. Get started on that here.

Now, armed with your kick-ass name, go to the training night. If you have skates bring, 'em, if not you can probably rent 'em. And talk to everyone. You'll discover a head spinning amount the first night, you'll feel lost, you'll practice falling and turning and stopping and be so sore the next day you'll cringe at the thought of ever getting hit while on skates, but call one of the people you talked to, and see if they need any help with anything (they always will). Talk to them, ask them what they recommend, and help them carry boxes. See where they go to practice skating that isn't the rink (it's the riverwalk in my town) invite yourself along and pick up more tricks and talk to more people. Most of all, have fun, because derby girls are some of the best, most fun people in the world, and you, my good friend, are now one of them.

So to sum up, to get started you need: skates (get cheap ones first, because you'll figure out quickly what you like/don't like and you won't feel bad when you upgrade later) with basic wheels/bearings (ask what the other girls use because you can get crazy collecting wheels and bearings, there's a lot to sort thru on this option), pads (go ahead and splurge on these, good ones make all the difference), a helmet and a good attitude.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whether bout are played indoor or out depends on the area. The Providence Leagues only play indoor when there is a visiting team (to avoid rain cancellations). Your local league could clear up whether they do indoor, outdoor, or a mix. I would recommend contacting the LA Derby Dolls and asking them these questions -- they may have recommendations of rinks that are good to beginners, recommendation of where to buy equipment, and so on. In my (admittedly limited) experience, most leagues are very friendly and want to encourage people to get involved.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2010

I'm just starting my second season playing roller derby, so hopefully I can help!

I think the most important thing to note is that LA Derby Dolls is banked track derby, which is what was in the A&E Rollergirls series and the movie Whip It! There are only a handful of banked track leagues in the US, mostly because the cost to maintain such a track (they run upwards of $40K, plus you have to maintain a place to keep it).

I really think that the future of derby is in flat track. There are over 300 flat track derby leagues in the US and throughout the world. WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association) is sort of the MLB/NHL/NBA for derby - they publish the rule book, they do the national rankings, they are what the flat track leagues aspire to join.

(Angel City Derby Girls is the LA flat track derby league.)
posted by Lucinda at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: Derby skater here. (I skate flat track, but this advice will apply to banked track derby too, like the L.A. Derby Dolls play.)

My first suggestion is to get in touch with somebody from your local league -- it looks like freshmeat@derbydolls.com is the recruitment email for LADD. Derby girls & boys are, as a rule, THRILLED to help out people who are getting started, even if they're starting from zero (like I was, a year and a half ago), and your local league can give you tips on where you can practice (especially times/places when experienced skaters can give you advice and answer questions), the best places to buy gear (they may be able to get you discounts), etc.

You will need quad skates (as opposed to inline), preferably ones designed for derby or speed skating rather than dancing or jam skating. (Rental skates are a very poor substitute for your own skates that fit, with properly adjusted trucks.) For indoor skating at a typical roller rink, you probably want wheels around 92-94 hardness.

You will eventually need full protective gear, including knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, and mouth guard. (REQUIRED for anything beyond working on basic skating skills. As an added benefit, it'll give you that Fresh Meat look at the rinks, which will draw lots of helpful vets out to give you advice.)

There are a lot of online stores specializing in sales to the derby community, and most of them offer package deals of skates, pads & tools at several price points. It's perfectly all right to start with a cheap package and gradually upgrade your gear as it wears out and/or you get more confident in your abilities.

From there, you'll start by learning and practicing basic skate skills: your stride, your stance, your balance. As you get more comfortable, you can start working on stopping and falling, and eventually move up to pack skating and light contact. For everything beyond basic roller skating, you'll definitely want somebody experienced teaching you.

I would be happy to expand on any of these points at great length, so feel free to ask for clarification! And welcome to derby. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and a great community.
posted by nicepersonality at 11:04 AM on February 23, 2010

Best answer: I am a flat track skater (charm city.) As for your first pair of skates, I reccommend something like Reidell R3's. They'll cost you about $100, don't really need to be broken in, and are more than adequate for a beginner skater. They're cheap, and they won't really hold up for more than a year or so of serious skating. By then you'll be ready to upgrade and you'll know more about your skating style so you can make an informed decision on what your next gear should be. Either that or you will decide that you hate derby, and you won't have spent a lot!

The fit of the boot is the most important thing. Reidell sizes are not exactly like shoe sizes (men's or women's.) They're somewhere in between. For example, I wear a size 9 women's shoe, a size 7 men's shoe, and a size 8 skate. When I was first starting out, I kind of just assumed the skate sizes would be just like men's shoe sizes and then lost a toenail. ew. Check out this sizing chart.

One thing about the R3's is that the wheels that come with the skates are pretty crummy. You're gonna want to upgrade those as soon as you can. I use the Atom G-Rods which run somewhere between $75 - $100 but you can do well with a cheaper wheel like the Radar Flat Out or the Radar Tuner or the Atom Omegas.

Also you might want to get new bearings for your new wheels. Of course you can re-use the bearings that come with your skates, too. I use Bones Reds . Remember you'll need 2 for each wheel so you'll need 2 boxes.

Also get a skate tool! Your skates will come with a crappy little wrench that will make you hate life.

Oh, and if there's one bit of safety gear you don't want to skimp on, it's KNEE PADS! I highly reccommend 187's.

MeMail me or email me (email's in profile) and i'll be totally happy to answer any more questions or just give encouragement or whatever!! DERBY RULES and congrats on having the guts to step up!!
posted by capnsue at 11:57 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Former Denver Roller Doll here. NOW is the time to work on thigh strength and conditioning. Start doing wall sits, squats and lunges. Focus on stability and proprioception...stand on one foot while you're brushing your teeth. Then work up to standing on one foot, brushing your teeth, eyes closed. Anything off-kilter that focuses you on balance and getting low within your center of gravity should do.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Trixie Biscuit of the L.A. Derby Dolls writes, "I'm too cheap to buy a MeFi account just to answer one question, but I wanted to make sure you knew your options. LADD has started a fitness program called Derby Por Vida, where skaters of all levels can learn or improve their skills, get a kickass workout and have a blast. No equipment investment required; we have loaners for everything... except mouthguards. You're going to have to buy your own mouthguard. But we can lend you skates, helmet and pads until you fall in love with the sport and get geeked about buying your own gear -- or until you get too grossed out about wearing strangers' pad funk. Whichever comes first. There's an initial $40 fee for USARS insurance [required even if you have your own coverage; sorry] and classes are $10 apiece. The new session starts March 3, so you've picked the perfect time to get started. More info here or you can get in touch with me personally with any questions. Just give your e-mail address to my friend here and he'll pass it on, or you can hit me up on Twitter, where I'm @byrneout. As a Derby Doll, a Fresh Meat trainer and a Derby Por Vida trainer, I'm looking forward to helping you kick off your derby career!"
posted by Etrigan at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

a friend of mine started out by helping out the team, eventually becoming a ref, and then from their became a skating team member.
posted by kuppajava at 9:30 AM on February 24, 2010

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