Monday, February 24, 2014

Basic equipment you'll need as a skating roller derby official

In my previous post I discussed the basic equipment needed by all roller derby officials, including both skating and non-skating officials.  Skating officials are their own special little bundle of joy; in this post I'll go over the basics of their equipment needs.

Tip: Unlike non-skating officials, who can get away with borrowing much of their equipment early on, skating officials ("referees") must have their own gear from day one; very few leagues have loaner gear.  Plan to buy quad roller skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, a helmet, and a mouthguard for your very first day of skate practice.  You'll need a whistle as soon as you can skate safely on the track around skaters (i.e., when you can start practicing reffing itself).  You can almost certainly hold off on the striped jersey, though, as it'll likely be months of training before you're ready to put that on (unless you're already a derby skater).

Skating insurance? You may need to purchase skating insurance to participate in training with your league; contact your league's head referee or officials coordinator to find out more.

Skating gear

At a minimum, you'll need quad roller skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, and a mouthguard.  Okay, technically you can ref while wearing inline skates, but virtually nobody does (and people will make fun of you).

Which specific skating gear to buy is the topic of thousands of pages of discussion, with people far more knowledgable than me writing them.  That said, here are a few notes to get you started on your journey:

Sure Grip Rebel Avenger skate package; image courtesy of SureGrip.  
Quad skates: If you’re looking to buy your first pair of roller skates, talk to your head ref or the training coordinator(s) of your league about what you should look for.  Personal preferences vary widely, and costs range from $50 to well over $1,000; plan to spend at least $100 or $200 for a good set of skates (and plan to shop at a roller skate shop; most big-box sporting goods stores sell horrible skates).

The fit of the boot is of utmost importance - make certain that the boot fits your foot snugly, without rubbing or pinching anywhere or your foot sliding around.  When you go to try on the boots, make sure you're wearing whatever socks you plan on skating in - variation in sock thickness can dramatically alter the fit of a boot.  And get skates with a metal plate (the solid piece on the bottom of the boot) if at all possible, especially if you're heavier; many low-end skates come with plastic plates, which can break under the stresses of derby.

A great starter skate is the Sure Grip Rebel Avenger package (assuming the boot fits you well) - it's got a leather boot, a good metal plate, and decent wheels at a reasonable price (and, as with most skate packages, it comes with bearings and toe stops).  The setup should last you a good, long time.

Rollerbones Day of the Dead wheel; image courtesy of Rollerbones.
Wheels: Oh, wheels.  They vary in width, height, hub material (metal or plastic) and hardness.  Hardness is one of the most important factors, as the harder the wheel, the less "grip" it has on the surface.  Use a too hard wheel on a too slick surface and you'll be slip-slidin' away.  Use a too soft wheel on a too grippy surface and you'll feel like you're skating through mud.  Go skating outdoors on rough asphalt on a wheel designed for smooth, indoor surfaces and all your fillings will come loose.  Your own weight also affects this; heavier skaters need harder wheels.

Wheel hardness is quantified by the durometer rating; higher numbers represent harder wheels (e.g., a 96 is a fairly hard wheel, while an 80 is a fairly soft wheel).  Your first wheels should be chosen to work well on whatever surface you'll be skating on most often (probably your league's home rink).

Rollerbones Day of the Dead wheels (which come in 80, 86, 92, 94, and 96 hardnesses) are my vote for "best buy" - they're reasonably priced, the urethane seems to have a nice combination of grip and roll, the plastic hub isn't overly squishy, and they come in a good range of hardnesses (so you don't have to switch to a wheel that feels different as you need different hardnesses).  The plastic hub also makes removing bearings for cleaning much easier than wheels with metal hubs (my Sure Grip Zombies require Herculean efforts to remove the bearings).

If you plan on skating outdoors on sidewalks, streets, or other such rough surfaces, you'll need an outdoor set of soft wheels.  I love Kryptonics Route 70 outdoor wheels when I go on beach skates; they're giant and squishy, making them super stable and immune to most cracks.   I think you could skate over the Grand Canyon in them and not notice.

My home league's practice location is an outdoor rink of coated concrete that is of intermediate grip.  Skaters use a variety of hardnesses of wheels, ranging from mid 80's to mid 90's depending on personal preferences (I'm 165 lbs and skate on Sure Grip Zombie Low 92's at my home rink).  Talk to your own league to find out what they'd recommend, and whenever you travel to a new venue, ask someone who skates there regularly for advice.

You'll also need bearings to put in your wheels; Bones Reds Precision Skate Bearings are good ones to start with (you'll need 16 total, so buy two packages of eight or one package of 16).  Skate bearings come in two axle sizes (8mm & 7mm); check the size you need before you buy (8mm is more common).  If you have trouble getting your bearings in and out of your wheels, get the Bones Bearing Puller and Press, a great little $15 gadget that will save you hours of stress and can easily be tossed into a skate bag.

Toe stops: If you get a starter skate package, your skates should come with toe stops, and they'll probably be fine to use initially.  There are a bunch of different toe stops out there, and I haven't found one that I love enough yet to recommend it wholeheartedly.  The derby default seems to be GRN MNSTR's Gumball Toe Stops, so if you have to pick, those are a great starting point (as of press time, I'm currently using them; they're big and have great grip on most surfaces, but wear down quickly).

Helmets should fit snugly, and ideally be certified for repeated impacts.  From what (little) I know, it’s recommended to get a helmet that is ASTM 1492 certified (in addition to, or instead of, the classic CPSC bicycle helmet certification).  There are a number of helmets that meet these certifications; one I'd recommend is the Bell Faction/Fraction, which is dual certified and comes at a decent price (the Faction and Fraction are the same helmet; the Faction comes in adult sizes S/M/L; the Fraction in kids sizes XS/S); my partner-in-crime Replicant wears a Fraction, and she likes it.  And remember, whenever you take a fall and hit your head hard, you MUST replace your helmet, even if it doesn't appear to be damaged.

Note: there is no requirement to put your name and/or number on your helmet, though you may if you wish (I did with my first helmet; I probably won't with my second helmet, at least not in a large font).

Most referees do not skate with a mouthguard while refereeing (a typical mouthguard on the top teeth impairs speech too much), but a mouthguard is required to do training drills with skaters (which you may be doing as you learn to skate) and can give you confidence that you won't break your teeth when you fall (which you will do many, many times).  So, while potentially optional, buy one and wear it (this SISU moldable mouthguard is a newer version of what I used when I was learning).  A mouthguard case (such as the Shock Doctor Mouthguard Case I have) is also extremely handy.

As a side note, I ref with a mouthguard in during bouts; the difference is that mine is molded to my lower teeth, so I can whistle, yell, talk, and drink just fine with it in (your mileage may vary; mine is actually a night guard I got many years ago).  The two dentists I've talked to about this say that a mouth guard on the top teeth is preferable, but one on the bottom is "better than nothing".

I don't have any specific recommendations on wrist, knee, and elbow pads, other than to get ones that fit well and wear them at all times.  Some people like to wear knee gaskets underneath their knee pads (e.g., these TSG Knee Gaskets); I didn't wear them for my first year and a half, but now love them and don't skate without 'em.  I like that they help keep the knee pads from sliding off right when you need them (ask me how I found out knee pads do this), and many people like the additional support they give their knees.

I have a personal preference for skating in Bumsavers, aka butt pads, aka padded shorts.  They give you Lego Butt, but they may also save you from a broken/bruised coccyx when you fall directly on it (which you will do someday, and are especially likely to do as you learn to skate).  I wear Triple Eight Roller Derby Bumsavers under shorts (men's shorts are so baggy nobody even notices); Replicant wears them on top of tights.  These are optional, but highly useful.



See my prior post for more on whistles, but to summarize: you'll NEED at least one Fox 40 classic pealess whistle on a lanyard (make it a breakaway lanyard to make me happy).  Many refs prefer to have two whistles on them at all times: one on a breakaway lanyard and one on a fingergrip.

Do not use the “Sonik Blast” or other whistles if you're on my crew; Fox 40 classic ONLY (unless you're using a Fox 40 pearl or other quieter whistle).  Never, ever use a whistle with a pea in it (you'll be made fun of).

Striped jersey

Photo by Joe of
To work any bout, skating officials will need a striped jersey with vertical ~1” wide black and white stripes, with a name and/or number panel on the back.  It's best to to read the current rules and follow the current WFTDA officials dress code when purchasing a jersey, so you'll be able to use it at as many locations as possible.

Hannah Grenade says: “These are my absolute favorite men’s ref shirts.  Women's are a problem. The best are probably still the In Your Face Apparel shirts that come in either stripes or black. They are a little short but they fit well on most sizes and they breathe well.”

[Note: The Officials Choice store, which sells the men's jersey Hannah recommends, appears to be no longer maintained as of this writing; does anyone else have suggestions for good men's jerseys?]

I use this jersey, because I didn’t get Hannah’s advice until after purchase; I like it (it's breathable, not see-through, and light weight), but it's a bit loose and incredibly long.

When getting a jersey, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • The shirt should be entirely made of striped fabric, except for some solid black trim and/or a black collar (it should also be hemmed).  Some older IronDoll Women's striped jerseys have solid black panels on the sides; some referee crews, and the WFTDA dress code, prohibit their use in a game.  Newer IronDoll Women's ref jerseys are fine (Replicant currently wears the newer IronDoll jersey).  
  • Professional American football referee jerseys are not suitable, as the stripes are too wide.  
  • Tank top jerseys, while not explicitly prohibited by the WFTDA dress code (unless you don't consider a tank top a "shirt"), are apparently discouraged / banned at certain tournaments and leagues.  So get a shirt with sleeves, just to be safe.
  • You must be identified on the back of your jersey, by either a name, number, or name and number under the WFTDA rules, so plan to get your jersey customized (white print on a solid-black base, with at least 2" tall letters/numbers). 
    • When purchasing a jersey, you can often get it customized with your name and/or number on a vinyl panel.  I think the vinyl panels look better than stitched on panels, but if you do get a vinyl panel, I'd recommend getting just the name or the number, not both.  The vinyl doesn't breathe, so the large solid-black panel needed for both name and number can get very hot.
As with any clothing item, I'd recommend trying the jersey on before buying (and especially before customizing).

Gear cleaning

Your gear is going to get sweaty.  For a few practices, it'll smell fine.  Then it will become ... funky.  There are a thousand perfumed sprays you can apply to your gear that supposedly prevent it from smelling.  I've found none that worked (YMMV).  And unlike roller hockey, roller derby does not put up with people who have smelly gear - you'll be mocked, laughed at, and shunned until people can't smell you coming.

Sport Suds: the closest thing to magic I've found in life.

What I have found that works to prevent funk is always removing my gear from my gear bag and spreading it out as soon as I get to my car, and then regularly washing my gear.  And not washing with just anything, but washing with Sport Suds.  The stuff is like magic (and a 500g bag will last you a long time; I use a half scoop per gear washing, and I still have tons left after a year and a half).

I hand-wash my gear (knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee gaskets, bumsavers, and helmet lining) in the bathtub: I first soak the gear in plain water, drain, then soak the gear in water with Sport Suds, drain, then rinse and soak one more time in plain water before line-drying in the sun on a warm day.  The longer it's been since I last washed my gear, the longer each soak is and the more agitation I do.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of taking your gear out of your bag as soon as possible after use.  Get it out of your gear bag and spread it out in your car as soon as you reach your car, and then when you get home bring it inside and hang it to dry somewhere.  Your fellow zebras will thank you.

A bag to carry your gear

Many people like carryon-sized rolling suitcases.  Replicant I both use ski boot bags; we suggest looking for end-of-season sales on them :)  I've got a ski boot backpack that comes complete with a pocket for the helmet, which is handy.

1 comment:

  1. It's a great post. Thanks for sharing this because I am a newbie in roller skating. It's helpful for me now. Thanks again