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Guide to buying roller derby skates

Preparing yourself for the "minimum skills" test? Or just in need of your first roller derby skates? Either way, you want to pay attention to size and choose wheels according to the circumstances; floor type and user weight. Read this guide to know what you should look into when buying new derby skates.

Watch this video in which we we give you a quick overview on what you should definitely know before buying your first pair of derby skates (the video is in English).

Roller derby is a contact sport as well as a social team sport played indoors. Having the right skates is paramount for your ability to move with agility and will have a great impact on your game. As you gain more experience along the way, you will also get one step closer to your personal preferences.

Wheels - determined by the floor, durometer, and user

In roller derby you always use indoor wheels since you play indoors. Of course, if you plan on playing outdoors, you should use wheels accordingly. Having good wheels is essential for your game and is all about finding the right balance between the floor, wheels and you as the player.

  • For slippery floors we recommend a wheel hardness of 88-92A. Using these softer wheels will give you more surface grip to avoid slipping.
  • For grippy floors we recommend using 93-99A. In sport arenas people tend to use 92-95A which is a good all-round wheel durometer.

As goes for the weight of the user:

  • The more you weigh, the harder wheels you should choose.
  • The lower you weigh, the softer wheels you should choose.

It can be a good idea to borrow some wheels from one of the players on your team if you really have a lot of doubts about which wheels to choose.

Bearings

In derby the bearings do not play an important role in your decision making and, moreover, they will naturally have a longer lifespan since you play indoors.

Bearings affect how well the wheel turns. The higher the precision of the bearing, the easier the wheel will roll, thus leading to more speed. To specify the precision level you use different scales. At SkatePro we normally use the ABEC scale along with a number, for example, ABEC 7, and the higher the rating, the higher the precision level. However, we recommend buying from a recognized brand rather than focusing on only the ABEC rating because it is possible that, for example, an ABEC 7 bearing is faster than an ABEC 9. Moreover, ABEC does not say anything about how durable a bearing is.

If you would like to go into detail, you can read our bearings guide.

Plates - nylon vs. aluminum

You can choose between nylon and aluminum plates. Aluminum is preferred by most derby players, but if you are a beginner looking for cheap plates, nylon can also get the job done. However, they are lightweight plates that have a shorter lifespan and cannot endure as much body weight as aluminum.

In the long run, it pays off choosing aluminum plates. They are more durable and responsive compared to nylon – important factors in a contact sport like derby where the plates will be subject to hard impacts and where you need a pair of skates that can follow your movements in the many agile moves you make.

Truck angle and cushions - for agile skates

The angle of your trucks have a great say in how agile your roller derby quad skates will be. The typical truck angle is between 10-45 degree, however, they do come in many different angles.

  • A lower angle degree equals more directional stable skates.
  • A higher angle degree equals more agile and lively skates.

The cushions on your trucks also determine how agile your skates will be. In general, trucks are delivered with hard cushions already from the manufacturer. Hard cushions mean more directional stable skates, but less maneuverability. However, you can easily exchange them for softer cushions to get more lively skates that not only react better to your movements but also make it easier to make sharp turns.

Cushion setup

You distinguish between two cushion types: cone and barrel. The advantage of cones is that they make the skate more lively. Which cushions you choose for your setup depends on what your derby skates allow.

The skate is equipped with four cushions - two barrels on top and two cushions of your own choice in the bottom - it can be a mixture of barrels and cones. The way you choose to mix the bottom cushions will affect the skate in different ways:

  • For a lively skate, better turning abilities and a stable back - place a cone in the front and a barrel in the back.
  • For an even more lively skate - place a cone in the front and back.

Toe stop

In order to stop on derby quad skates, you either use the toe stop placed in the front or specific braking techniques, because they do not have the traditional brake pad in the back like inline skates.

Remember to choose a non-marking toe stop to avoid making any marks on the floor.

Short vs. long stem

Toe stops come with either a long or short stem. The length of the stem affects how much you are to lift your foot when walking on your toes. It is possible to adjust it, and which length you choose depends on your personal preference. But typically:

long stems are used together with bigger wheels.

short stems are used together with smaller wheels.

Tip: To know how big your toe stop should be, lift the back of the skate with the toe stop facing downwards and make sure you can fit three fingers between the rear wheel and the surface.

Boots

Having a tight fit is the most important thing when picking the right boots. This will ensure you optimal control of your skates in order to move with ease. Derby boots are typically low-cut, but also exist as high-cut. High-cut boots provide more ankle support, but low-cut boots provide more maneuverability which makes it easier to make sharp turns - something you will need a lot in derby. With some models it is even possible to heat-mold the boot to shape it further according to your foot.

Size

  • Rule of thumb is to choose the same size as your shoe size or go a half size up.
  • Remember to read the size chart of the specific product on the website.

You want the skates to have a tight fit around your feet without actually squeezing them. With the right fit you will experience much more control over your skates and thus minimize the risk of getting injured when moving your foot joint in the different angles needed in a roller derby game.

Skate protection

Since roller derby is a contact sport, it’s very important that you wear skate protection of high quality - this means durable gear that covers larger areas. Remember that in derby you need the protection for WHEN you fall, not IF like in fitness skating.

Your knees are the most important part to protect since they will be subject to a lot of impacts. Apart from that, we also recommend wearing wrist guards and a helmet which is mandatory just like wearing mouth guards is - always remember to protect your smile!

Check out our selection of roller derby skates

If you still have any doubts or questions, feel free to contact us.

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