So You Want To Be A Derby Girl
So you’ve heard about this “roller derby” thing, and now you want a piece of the action. Well, congratulations – you’ve just taken your first steps towards becoming that rarest and most glorious of creatures, a true blue rollergirl. But getting into derby, with its larger-than-life characters, hard hits, colourful costumes and even more colourful bruises, can be a daunting prospect. Fear not, though, because here, from me to you, is everything you’ll need to get you rolling.
Gum shields in. Always wear the proper keeeeeeeeeeeet!
Stuff you’ll need:
- A pair of quad skates
- Knee pads
- Elbow pads
- A helmet
- A gumshield
Maybe it sounds like quite an intimidating kit list, but the safety gear is absolutely crucial. No, really. You won’t be allowed to skate without it. There are starter packs available on the internet with everything but the helmet and the gumshield (which you can find in most sports shops), which are a cheaper alternative than buying all the pieces separately, and you can upgrade your skates and your gear later if you get serious. To start with, you’re going to be falling down a lot. Your kneepads might be kind of dorky-looking, but they’re your new best friends. Try not to worry about falling, no one is going to laugh or judge you. Even veteran skaters have been where you are now, and look what they can do.
Roller derby peeps from Hayley’s team the Brighton Rockers representing at Pride!
If that still sounds like a bit of a scary financial commitment, don’t worry. I’ve been there, and so have a lot of other rollergirls. Don’t worry, though, it’s roller discos to the rescue, because you can borrow skates and protective gear and get a feel for the whole thing.
Roller derby tips – getting to grips with your skates
You’ll work most of this out for yourself, in time, but just to get you started, here are a few tips to help keep you upright with your skates underneath you:
- Feet apart! This gives you a bigger base for your centre of gravity and makes you much more stable. Think of a pyramid.
- Knees bent! If the muscles in your thighs are your engine, your knees are your suspension. Keeping them soft allows you to absorb jolts and shocks. Get low. If your thighs are screaming in pain, you’re doing it right.
- Weight forwards! If you lean back, you’ll fall over backwards and bruise your tailbone, and take it from me, you really, really do not want to do that. Don’t bend too much from the waist, just tilt your torso gently and don’t arch your back.
But Hayley, I hear you cry, I still can’t skate! That may be true, and that’s more than okay. That’s where fresh meat comes in. Don’t be scared, it doesn’t hurt… much. Fresh meat is derby slang for any given league’s newbie program, and every league has their own way of doing it. Do some research, find your closest league, and find out when their next fresh meat intake is. If you can’t find the information on their website, you might have to email them and ask.
If you’ve seen Whip It, watched any roller derby footage on YouTube or even been to a live bout, you’ll know that derby is a rough sport. But don’t worry, you don’t just get thrown in at the deep end with terrifying veteran skaters trying to hipcheck you into the middle of next week – fresh meat programs vary from league to league, of course, but we spent at least the first two weeks just learning how to stop and fall safely, and it was probably another month before we started contact work.
Even if you’re kind of out of shape when you start, that’s okay. When I started fresh meat, I couldn’t even run for a bus without ending up a sweating, panting disaster area, and if I can do it, so can you. I still don’t run if I can help it and I can’t catch a ball to save my life – I haven’t exactly been blessed by the goddess of sporting endeavours, but it doesn’t matter. I can skate and I can take a hit, and that’s what matters. One of the many excellent things about roller derby is that, unlike a lot of other sports, it accepts all bodies.
Roller derby – an inclusive sport for all kindsa body types
Whatever kind of body you happen to have, there will be a way you can make it work for you. You’re short? Your centre of gravity will be lower and you’ll be very difficult to knock over. You’re tall? Your longer legs will give you great reach and long strides, making you bloody hard work to catch. You’re skinny, with hipbones and elbows that could eviscerate a man? Great, get out there and slip through that tiny gap. You’re a badass amazon with buns that any anaconda would die for? Great, there ain’t no one getting past you. Roller derby teams are made up of all kinds of girls, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it), the camaraderie and friendship between derby girls is like nothing else in the world. You’ll ache and you’ll bruise and I can guarantee that there will be literal blood, sweat and tears, and you know what? You’ll love every second of it.
So what are you waiting for?