Helmets, Skates & Pads: How to Suit Up for Roller Derby

Helmets, Skates & Pads: How to Suit Up for Roller Derby

Last week, I stopped by Rebel Rebel, Chicago's premiere roller skate shop located at 2048 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. I spoke with the shop's general manager, Dirty-Cate Caliber, who is also a skating official (or referree) for the Windy City Rollers. Cate came on board during the shop's recent opening when Rebel Rebel's owner, Thia "Wreck" Penta, lured her away from her previous work in figure skating.

After an hour of tutelage from Cate, I got the lowdown on what you need  --besides attitude and a sense of adventure-- to become a derby girl.

Skates: Roller skates nowadays are built for high-performance, and can run from anywhere between $150 and $500. Cate's opinion on prices is that you get what you pay for.

What you pay for when you go upmarket is better quality leather that breathes but doesn't stretch out, and skates built for a woman's foot, not just size-by-inch. Riedell's "Wicked Set" seen above, at $419, is one of the more popular derby-grade skates, and Antik's Grnmnstr line, the brainchild of a designer called "Quadzilla" puts out an array of top shelf leather skate boots in a variety of colors.

"There are some skaters in the league who are vegan and opt for non-leather skates," Cate says, "but generally speaking the leather skates are just better and last longer".

But once you've purchased your skates and got going, you'll need to change up your wheels here and there due to wear and tear. Reckless, Atom and Riedell all make great wheels for indoor use, while others provide options for outdoor strides. Indoor wheels are flat across the width of the wheel, but rounded wheels  -which are best for outdoor skates and practice-- are available too from Sure-Grip. Wheels are typically made of urethane compounds, and can be re-grooved for texture and grip if necessary.

According to Cate, after being converted most derby women tend to own two pairs of skates, a top-line pair for competitions and a back up (or beat up) pair for one-off or occasional outdoor skating.

Rebel Rebel regularly runs clinics on roller skates that include a training on how to remove and replace wheels, how to install bearings, plus general skate maintenance.

Helmets: Besides skates, the second most important piece is the helmet. Generally, roller derby helmets are similar to (if not modeled after) skateboarding helmets, with more protective plastic at the back of the head. Helmets go from about $35 to $55 and should fit tighter than a bicycle helmet. S-One, Triple Eight and Pro-Tec are among top brands, according to Rebel Rebel.

Mouth Guard: For roller derby, Cate tells me that mouth guards aren't just a piece of rubber any more. Sure, you can go to Dick's and pick up a shrinkable rubber guard for under ten bucks, but your teeth are probably worth at least an extra tenner.

For example, Protech Dent makes a mouth guard that is perforated. The micro holes within the mouth guard itself allow for more comfort along with a better design so players can talk, drink and breathe more easily. Also, at around $25 the Protech Dent guards come with a case and $30,000 dental warranty.

Also, there is Gladiator's mouth guard impression kit that  allows you to send in easy-fit dental molds (that you set at home) in order to get a custom fitted mouth guard, sent back from Gladiator's dental labs. The Gladiator models are more expensive, around $80, but your family dentist would charge you three to four times that to do the same thing.


Pads:  The parts of your body you need to protect with hard shell pads are the elbows, knees and wrists, with shins an option for some. Some pads are made of synthetic fabrics sown to hard plastic set at the crux of your bendable joints. 187 makes pads for all areas of the body, and are reasonably priced for both beginner and hardcore derby star.

Outfit skaters wearing Pro Designed custom pads. (pic: MrMcWheely.com)

One brand of pads Rebel Rebel recommends is made by a small outfit in Texas called Pro Designed, Inc. Pro Designed's knee pads, for example are made of a denim-like fabric that is more breathable than most with a better fit. Also, for the same price as retail, you can get your knees measured at Rebel Rebel and Pro Designed will send you a pair custom-fit to your leg proportions.  They are also good about repairing frays and tears at little or no cost when unlikely damage occurs.


Accessories: Some skaters by choice wear protective eye gear like sport goggles and prescription sports eye wear that are best purchased from your optometrist.  But a lot of the accessories that Rebel Rebel and online shops sell fall into what you could call the "flair" category.

While most derby teams have distinct uniforms that they wear in competition, no different than the NBA or NHL, some like to mix it up when it comes to make up, "war paint", and especially socks and stockings.

Socks come in all persuasions from "Derby" to "Beer" to "Broke" and "Punk".  Most skaters wear some sort of stockings as both protection and style, and between their skates and hosiery wear socks, like the ones above, that are built like soccer or rugby socks.

Beyond the basics, the rest is up to you.

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