Geek of the Week: Roller derby gear

Flash Hottie in red

by Flash Hottie, a.k.a. Jennifer Stevenson

I’ve realized with some dismay that I geek out about a lot of things. Ways to cheat on your low carb diet. Roller derby gear. Word processing software. Crows. Things to do in a swimming pool. You know, stuff.

Today’s choice is roller derby gear, because it’s the most expensive of my geekeries, although I’m not very geeky there compared to my roller derby friends. Ask Julia Rosenwinkel about her perforated aluminum plates, or Rose Feratu about wheels, or anybody about boot styles and truck adjustments.

My boot is a basic Reidell Vandal, not the cheapest but certainly no fancy-schmantzy boot. When I think I deserve them, I’ll upgrade to one of the newer boots, the ones designed for women skaters.

Factoid: all quad skates were, until recently, designed for the male foot, which apparently is shaped like a brick. The female foot is more duck-shaped, with a narrow heel and wider at the toes. I have resorted to all kinds of tricks to get my Vandals to fit better: two pairs of socks (too snug), tights and then two pairs of socks (too snug plus blisters), one pair of socks with a grippy rubbery patch over the top of the foot in two places (pretty good).

Finally, on the advice of Pominatrix, I added a pair of E-Z Fits under the grippy socks. E-Z Fits are little neoprene sockettes for just the heel and ankle. They have improved the fit of the boot, but my skin hates the neoprene, which gives me a rash that I love to scratch. However, my skin seems to be getting used to the neoprene. The scars will probably go away.

Truck adjustment. On quad skates, the wheels are mounted on axles molded onto plastic or aluminum plates. The plates bolt onto your boot via a truck, that is to say, a joint made flexible with little soft-ish plastic deelies which can be tweaked to allow your foot to tilt, even while the wheels stay flat on the floor. In-line skates do not have adjustable trucks. In-lines have very narrow wheels (maybe half an inch of contact or less), while quads have wide wheels (up to two inches). Skates-small

Loose trucks let you tilt way over, which can be important during crazy derby maneuvering. Tight trucks mean that your skate stays where you put it. As with anything skatewise, your mileage may vary. For example, Karma Geddon has super grippy wheels but super loose trucks for that land-and-stick experience. My trucks are pretty loose, but my speed coach has been nagging me to tighten them.  His trucks are like rocks. The tightness or looseness of your truck works together with the hardness (slickness) or softness (stickiness) of your wheel to maximize your maneuverability, security, and power.

By the way, in case you’re asking yourself, why no in-line blades? Derby girls skate on quads because their jinking-around maneuvers are insane. A skater on blades would break an ankle in the first hour.

Until receArtisticsVsFastWheels-smallntly I skated on 92a Artistic wheels, which everyone told me were So Wrong, because they’re smaller in diameter, narrower, stickier, and thicker than normal derby wheels.  So last week I borrowed a pair of faster wheels, and my speed has increased dramatically.  In this picture, the old Artistics are black. The yellow wheels are about a 97 hardness.

Knee pads. I started with a three-pack kit from Target and immediately bought some XL knee pads from a shred shop because my fat knees didn’t fit the el cheapos in the kit. Then I lost 20 lbs and, frankly, beat the crap out of the shredder pads.

Enter The 187, favorite of derby girls the nation ‘round. Watch any video on derbynewsnetwork.com and you’ll see a lot of 187s. According to Tina Flay, falling on your 187s is “like falling on babies that are floating on clouds eating marshmallows.”

I have found this to be true, but I also noticed that my kneecap is not as wide as the flat hard plastic kneecap shell, and since one seldom falls straight down on one’s knees, the flat shell usually slitches to one side, and then need to be readjusted, which is not feasible during play, when one falls up to six times in two minutes.

pro_knee_gasketI also used to wear Gladiator knee gaskets, big fat neoprene “sleeves” that keep the knee warm and help protect it, under my 187s. Sadly, they also gave me that neoprene rash, and they don’t fit under my new knee pads.

I’ve recPsychoScabs-smallently switched over to Scabs knee pads, which not only have a smaller, more cup-shaped kneecap shell, but mine have an awesome psychedelic black-and-white swirly stripey pattern picked out in sonic lime-green highlights. Scabs are a bit bulky for speed skating.  Since almost no speed skaters wear knee pads (are they crazy?) I may get a cheesy pair of smaller-profile pads to wear just for insurance for actual speed meets.

To protect my tailbone, I wear McDavids, a pair of spandex shorts padded with the thinnest possible layer of tiny hexagonal dense-foam patches glued precariously into the lining at high-impact areas — hips, tailbone, and thighs. Man, are they nice if you sit down hard on the ol’ coccyx. The hex pads come off in the wash, which is a nuisance.

I probably won’t be able to wear my McDavids with my speed skating uniform. The uniform is basically a spandex onesie, such as you put on a baby, only really, you know, speedy-looking. The speed guys love their spandex onesies. They don’t look bad in ‘em either, heh heh.

But I’m darnedUseTheseGuards-small if I’ll give up my elbow pads, wrist guards, and mouthguard while speed skating.   Once you’ve been a derby girl, it’s hard to forego that protection. F’r’instance in derby you get in the habit of dropping a knee to the floor when you slip or skid out of control. Without pads, at high speed, this can be a Bad Idea. I replace my elbow and wrist pads often, maybe once every four months, and wash them…well…oftener than that.

My current elbow pads & wrist guards are Triple-8s, no big deal, but my mouthguard has the highest rating available. Ratings run up to $10,000, meaning, if you have properly fitted and properly worn your mouthguard and you happen to fall on your face or get kicked in the mouth or whatever and you still get your teeth knocked out, the manufacturer will pay for your dental work up to the amount stated on the package. $10,000 is probably overkill. So far, I’ve only ever been smacked in the chops by an elbow, but stranger things happen.

HelmetMouthguardHeadband-smallMy mouthguard is kinda bulky. It lives on a mitten string dangling from my helmet strap, and it hurts my jaw after a couple of hours of continuous wear. Most derby girls wear a much lighter one, and prefer to wedge it into one of the vent holes in their helmets when it’s not in use. Their mouthguards spend more time falling on the floor than I personally would prefer, especially since I know what else has been on that floor. Yuck.

I asked one veteran derby girl how she cleaned hers — I’ve been dunking mine in hydrogen peroxide — and she smiled at me blankly and said, “Clean it?”

Helmet.  Vital, but as far as I know it’s hard to go wrong with an el cheapo basic round-profile brain bucket. A lot of speed skaters wear those aerodynamic bike helmets which come to a point front and back. I wouldn’t. I wore one at derby and fell backwards from standing — a classic roadrunner boi-oi-oing keel-over — four times in the same evening. Hit the floor as hard as possible with the back of my head. Each time, falling on the helmet-point forced my head to one side and wrenched my neck. Never again. Round-profile helmet for me.

I also wear my “Whip It!”TM sweat headband under my helmet, partly because it improves the helmet’s fit, partly to keep sweat from stinging my eyes, but mostly because it’s, well, cool.

More equipment geekery:

Toe stops. Do you likToeStopAssortment-smalle ‘em big and blobby, medium and round, or small and wedge-shaped?  That depends on how you use them. Do you run on them to gain quick acceleration off the jam line, or do you only use them to drag to a graceful stop?  Do you screw them way in, or set them so that they’re a fraction of an inch from the floor while you’re rolling.  Some skaters don’t bother with them at all.

Toe guards for your skates. Eventually you will scuff your skate boot toes until they rip through. This happens surprisingly quickly. Since new boots are expensive, many skaters buy little flat strips of leather that lace over each boot toe so that the guard gets scuffed to death and the boot stays nice.

Skate laces. For some reason nine-tenths of the skate laces I’ve seen are 72 inches long. On quads, the 72s require triple knotting or other wacky shifts to keep them out of your way, which can add a good 30 seconds to gearing up. One of these days I’m gonna try out a 55” lace and see how it works.

Foot care. Before I skate, I make sure my feet are super-dry. This helps prevent that neoprene rash on my ankles and keeps athletic tape from sticking to my skin or, later, ripping it off when I take off the tape. Then I tape over my insteps, to support the arches. Baby powder over the whole foot, ankle, and knee to absorb moisture. Socks with grippy upper patches. Then footless tights.

Finally, I can’t speak highly enough of footless tights to prevent rink rash — sliding on any floor is unpleasant, but at 25-mph-plus, the skate court can rip off a lot of skin before you skid to a stop on your own blood. Tights rip too, but they’re cheap. Plus they’re cool!  Fishnets, by the way, ladies, are for show only. They do look equally awesome new or with big rips in them.

Okay, this is way too much geeking out. I’ll stop here.

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