Skates – (COMPULSORY as per WFTDA rules and XRD safety standards…and you’d look pretty silly turning up to a Skate sport with no skates…)
This is where things get a little complicated. Generally you want to invest in a pair of skates that are specifically designed for Roller Derby or Speed skating. Some people tend to prefer a pair that is designed for Jam skating. Either way, they need to be suitable for the sport, and therefore the full-ankle, hard shell type of roller boot is not a good choice at all. You want a shoe-style skate, with little to no build-up around the ankle, as your ankles need to be free to move how they want to move. You will find maneuvering through the pack very difficult with a pair of quad boots that limit the movement of your joints.
You can find all sorts of skate configuration within the Roller Derby category, such as standard-mount and short-forward mount etc. These are all designed for different styles of skating, for instance short-forward is more geared towards speed and agility, and are perfect for those who aim to be a Jammer. A standard mount option gives a lot more stability under the skater, and therefore is more suited to those who want to be a blocker or a pivot. It’s advisable to get to know what kind of style you eventually want to go for, and talk to as many skaters about it as you can. There are plenty of online forums on the subject of Roller Derby, and you can bet that there are hundreds of threads on these forums packed with this type of advice. Come along to a session, message Exeter Roller Derby, pop into Momma Trucker Skates on Cowick Street, Exeter, we all are full of good advice.
The following companies make ranges of skates specifically for Derby:
Wheels – (COMPULSORY if you want to, you know…move anywhere…)
Different types of wheel are good for different types of surface. Talk to your local and experienced skaters, find out about the floor at their training venue, and what kind of wheels they would recommend. Once you have been skating a while and had a chance to swap wheels with other people and try out different hardnesses, you will eventually find your sweet-spot as far as the durometer* grade of wheels you prefer using. Some people prefer harder wheels, which help you to move faster. These will be slippier in the bends, but some people like that. They might make power-sliding easier, if you are into that kind of thing. Others prefer grippier, softer wheels, which are good for general use, a bit slower on the track, but great if you end up playing somewhere that has a slippery or dirty floor. Grippier wheels tend to give you more push and power in the turns when you are executing crossovers, as they give you a more solid base to push against.
The following companies make wheels specifically for Roller Derby:
* Durometer – the scale by which wheel hardness is measured. The higher the number, the harder and less grippy the wheel, for instance, a Suregrip “Zoom” wheel with a 96A Durometer rating will be faster, harder and less grippy than an Atom “Poison” with a soft, grippy 84A rating.
Toe-Stops – (COMPULSORY as per WFTDA rules and XRD safety standards)
Along with Wheels, Toe-Stops are probably not something you are going to worry about upgrading too much when you first start skating. Your first pair of skates will come with both, and most likely you will want to concentrate on getting up and skating before making decisions about what to swap out on your skates. At some point, though, it might be something you will want to think about, as inevitably your Toe-Stops will wear down with use. Replacements are usually readily available from the manufacturer of your skates, but as you get better on your feet and start performing Derby Stops, Toe-Running, Juking and other Toe-Stop heavy skills, you might want to experiment with different brands and types. A lot of skaters upgrade to Gumballs, as they have a larger-than-average surface area that helps with stability and manuverability when juking and Derby-Stopping. One thing to keep in mind is that some types of Toe-Stop come with standard and long stalk options. If you like your Toe-Stops closer to the ground than usual, then the long-stalk option is probably for you. However, if you like the stops wound right back into the plates, the standard stalk length will be fine for your needs.
If your skates came with very basic wheel bearings, you might consider upgrading later on to something a little more robust and a bit faster. Many roller girls and guys use Bones REDS bearings, and these are generally considered the standard by most types of skate-sports. Lots of skateboarders swear by them, as do longboarders and carvers, so Reds have a long history of skate-sports endorsements. However, that’s not to say there aren’t faster, smoother things out there on the market, but until you get to the point where you can confidently say that your bearings are holding you back, a couple of sets of Reds should see you right for a long, long time. Some people do invest in sets of Swiss Ceramic bearings, which can set a person back upwards of £130, but these types of bearing are usually best suited to speed-blading, and would probably serve little purpose on the Derby track as the size of the track will prohibit you from gaining enough speed and momentum to use the full potential of such bearings. Two sets of Reds (you need 16 bearings in all) should cost under £40 altogether and last you a long time if maintained and cared for regularly. (Cleaning and maintenance kits including speed cream are available from most online skate stores).
When you are more confident on your skates and you feel like you want to squeeze the most potential out of them without breaking the bank or upgrading to more expensive skates, a small but handy investment might be a new set of truck bushings. These are the small, coloured cushions that sit in the turning mechanisms of your skate’s trucks, and, like skate wheels, come in a variety of hardnesses (these work on the same kinf of Durometer scale as wheels). When you buy a set of skates, the chances are they will come fitted with a set of hard or medium-hard bushings. For a more maneuverable skate, try upgrading to a softer type of bushing. This allows more movement and tilt in your trucks, therefore allowing you to make tighter, sharper turns without having to take your feet off the track to reposition them. Bushings can be purchased for around £12 to £15 for a full two-skate set. A very small price to pay for freeing up a lot more potential maneuverability in your skates!
Again, these can be found at most online skate stores.
Suregrip Super Cushions are a good example of a nice bushing upgrade.