These boots are made for skating…
It still surprises me just how much time I spend wearing roller skates. I skate between 7 - 12 hours a week. Some people skate more, some people skate less. Either way, it is undeniable that us derby folk spend a heck of a lot of time on skates. Roller skates aren't cheap either. Sure if you pop down to your local Decathlon, you can pick up a pair of recreational skates for £40. But I am sure I am not the only person who learned the hard way that recreational skates aren't the best for derby. A pair of starter derby skates will set you back between £100- £150, a mid range pair between £250-£350, and a high range pair will set you back around £500-£600 on average. If you really want to go crazy you can spend over £1000 on a set up. For something that we invest so much time and money in, it always surprises me how many people are willing to put their faith into the internet when buying skates. Both for information and actual purchasing.
There is a heck of a lot of information (and misinformation) about skates out there. Some of it useful, some of it not so much. A lot of the information you read on the internet on sites can be objective and is often to do with the performance of gear in a non-roller derby context. Though it is great to have these information sources available, they do not often tell us everything we need to know. Roller derby is a very unique skating discipline, which requires unique equipment. For derby skating you need a dynamic combination of stability and agility, lateral movement, acceleration and deceleration. You need to be able to exert and resist a great amount of force from all directions. You need to be able to sit into your heels, pivot on your axles and push off your toestops, sometimes all within the same action. In addition, everyone has a different skating style, different strengths and weaknesses within their skating, different body shapes and sizes and different foot shapes. All this means that, for every person, their gear requirements are different. Fortunately, these days we have a lot of choice when it comes to derby gear, so there is something out there for everyone. Unfortunately this means that, without a bit of help, it can be near impossible to work out what skate set up to get.
There are a few elements to consider when buying skates. Plates, wheels, bearings, toestops all affect how your skates will work for you. However, one of the most important things when buying derby skates is how well your skate boots fit you. Unfortunately this is also one of the easiest things to mess up, especially when buying online. A lot of people fit skate boots like you would fit shoes, which isn't correct. With all the demands you put on your skates when playing derby, your skate boots to fit you like a second skin, so that you have as much contact between your foot and your boots as possible. This way, when you move your foot, your skate boot moves with you exactly. Any air gaps or space that you have between your foot and your skate boot causes your foot to move just a split second before your skate. This means that the more space you have in your skate, the more work you have to put in for every movement you make. In addition to this, skates that are too big can cause all sorts of problems like blisters, shin splints and foot cramp. Skates that are too large also tend to stretch out faster due to the extra pressure on the body of the skate when your feet move around inside.
To make things even harder, skate sizing is incredibly inconsistent. It is inconsistent not only with shoe sizing, but the way skates are sized changes between brands as well. Sometimes it even changes between different boots in the same brand. In addition, a surprising amount of people do not realise that there are different boot widths available, which affect the boot fit. For a lot of brands, the standard "off the shelf" width is built on a D/B last or something similar, which is a medium measurement for an average mans foot. However, for 80% of women, the correct width is actually a B/AA, or something similar. What this means is that a lot of derby girls people buying stock skates without trying them on are getting a boot that is too wide. This contributes to the potential fitting problems mentioned above.
I have the pleasure of owning a bricks and mortar roller derby shop in London, Double Threat Skates. It is literally my job to know everything I can about roller derby gear and skates. I spend my days researching and testing skates and gear so I can help people choose the right skate set up. A common occurrence in my day is that someone will come into the store with an idea in their head about what the best skate is (and therefore what skate they want to buy). Often this comes from what their team mates have been telling them, or some information or reviews that they have read on the net. In reality, there is no best skate. There is only a best skate for you. When people come into our shop, we always be sure to try them in a variety of boots to make sure that the one they think is right for them, is in fact the best fit. More often than not, people walk out with something completely different to what they thought they would buy simply because it feels better.
So if you are thinking about buying new skates, try and make it to your nearest bricks and mortar skate store and get fitted properly. I highly recommend seeking out a derby owned business so you can be sure you speak to someone who knows the unique requirements of our sport. Any roller derby skate store should be able to fit you properly for skate boots, talk you through the ins and outs of plate actions and answer any other questions you have to help you find the best set up for you.
Gaz from Double Threat Skates