Roller Derby Skates - Buying Advice
So, you've already made the epic decision to take part in the adrenaline-drenched sport that is
roller derby. Excellent choice.
The second critical decision that you need to make is which skates to purchase. Trust us whenﾠ
we say that this isn't a decision to be taken lightly. You're going to be in these skates for theﾠ
bare minimum of 2 hours of practice a week (and after a month or so, it could easily end upﾠ
being 6 or more). You need them to not only be comfortable, but feel like an extension ofﾠ
yourself. You will only truly understand this significance after a few weeks on the track.
There's a wealth of skates on the market and this can make the decision seem extremely ﾠ
intimidating. However, most people end up gravitating to the same choices, which makesﾠ
selection through recommendation somewhat easier.ﾠ
To narrow down these vast product catalogues, there's some key questions that you should askﾠ
What's your budget?
The initial set-up cost of derby packages can be offputting, but remember - You and your skatesﾠ
will have a very intense relationship, with a lot of ups and downs (literally). Roller derby isﾠ
extremely athletic and it's of no benefit to be let down by your kit.
ﾓBuy cheap, buy twiceﾔ is an adage that really rings true where derby is concerned. A good ruleﾠ
of thumb is to bear in mind that the majority of skates below the £100 mark will be recreational,ﾠ
not ﾠprofessional. Recreational skates are ace for a skate down the pier or the odd roller disco.ﾠ
But for speed skating, jumping, endurance and heavy falls (all of which are frequent in derby), aﾠ
recreational skate will - best case scenario - fall apart. Worst case scenario, they will hurt youﾠ
and cause injury.ﾠ
At the £100 mark, you can buy a reliable starter skate like the Riedell R3 or Suregrip GT50.ﾠ
They'll last you at least a couple of years if you take good care of them - certainly long enoughﾠ
to tell if you're serious enough to invest further.
At £200 and higher, you'll find a wide range of setups that market themselves at the moreﾠ
professional skater. Realistically, there's no need for a beginner to spend that much, but youﾠ
may decide to do so once you have a specific requirement for your skates, i.e. a more reactiveﾠ
plate of a lighter boot.
Do you have a wide or narrow foot?
Certain brands can cater to specific needs. Riedell, for example, are known to have a narrowﾠ
fitting, while Suregrip are wider.
Ideally, a skate should be a SNUG fit. Not so tight that they cause you pain, but tight enoughﾠ
that you can feel that the skate is supporting your foot across its length and width. A skate that'sﾠ
too wide or long will be difficult to maneuver, while a skate that's too short or narrow will simplyﾠ
be too painful to enjoy.
How high do you like the cut of a boot?
To clarify, there are no ﾑhigh leg' derby boots which will reach your calves, and you shouldn'tﾠ
buy a boot of that shape to wear at derby training. The lack of ankle flexibility makes derby drillsﾠ
extremely difficult and potentially very unsafe. Skaters that are new to derby often worry aboutﾠ
derby skates being low-cut, thinking that their ankles will be vulnerable to twists and breaks. Theﾠ
opposite is ﾠtrue - Flexibility in your lower body makes you far less likely to become injured.ﾠ
Unfortunately, if your foot is in a high leg skate and you get caught in the wrong position, you'llﾠ
be stuck there. When that happens, something's gotta give. That ﾓsomethingﾔ will be your fibula.ﾠ
ﾓOuchﾔ would be an understatement.ﾠ
Pretty much every derby skate, for this reason, will have a low-cut ankle, with the notableﾠ
exception of Antik boots. Antiks have a higher ankle than most, but care has been taken toﾠ
ensure that the fabric is flexible. So, you can enjoy a little extra support without the associatedﾠ
Do you want a leather or synthetic boot?
This is a fairly obvious question for vegans, but not quite so for the rest of us.
The ﾓobviousﾔ (and often incorrect) assumption is that synthetic materials are cheap and nasty.ﾠ
That's not necessarily true.
On a lower quality skate (let's say, a setup less than £200), leather is probably going to be aﾠ
stronger option, as well as a more comfortable one. However, the game completely changesﾠ
with higher-end products.
Carbon and microfibre boots are specifically made to be both sturdy and light, often trumpingﾠ
leather on both counts and providing unrivalled comfort. Brands like Bont and Crazy Skates areﾠ
known to be at the forefront of synthetic boot technologies and are always worth a look.
Do you mind upgrading parts?
This will play a big part with regard to how much money to spend on an initial setup. It's a matterﾠ
of ﾓbuy now, pay laterﾔ, or going all-in.ﾠ
A basic skate package (anything £100 - £200, really) will be sold with standard parts. Fit forﾠ
purpose, sure - but not parts that will last a lifetime, or likely to suit your skating style in a fewﾠ
months' time once you've found your bearings. With this in mind, you're likely to need to replaceﾠ
the wheels and toe stops at the bear minimum. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. When you firstﾠ
start skating, it's near impossible to guess what kind of skater you will become and the specificﾠ
type of gear that will be of benefit. So, rather than investing in top-end parts that you might notﾠ
even like, you're probably best off getting a slightly lower-end setup so you can save some ofﾠ
your budget for upgrades that have been carefully considered. Just make sure that the bootﾠ
itself is 100% comfortable. The rest can pretty much be built out around it.
If you've been skating for a while and are familiar with your own requirements, it might be bestﾠ
to skip buying a pre-made setup altogether and go straight into a custom build., by choosing allﾠ
of your own parts and building the skate yourself.This requires a degree of knowledge, but theﾠ
advantage is that you won't waste money on parts that you dislike or need to replace. Obviouslyﾠ
you can change bits as needed, but the idea is, you can invest in a skate that will last for years.ﾠ
Most custom boots (such as Antik, Riedell and Bont) will allow you to have a pair made toﾠ
measure, so they'll fit like a glove. A well-fitting boot allows the ultimate reaction with your plateﾠ
and wheels, so don't underestimate the importance of getting your feet measured up!