Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gear and safety

Hitter Miss with the memorable "I'm fine, I'm fine, I just can't breathe!"

Derby girls are some of the toughest people you will ever meet. Roller derby is a full-contact sport and hitting is constant and encouraged. If you cannot take being hit, you really shouldn’t play roller derby. However, where there is hitting, there will also be injuries. No matter how many safety precautions we take, there is going to be people getting hurt and when ten people are hitting each other constantly at high speed, mistakes will be made. This is why roller derby is a highly regulated and organized sport.

Frosty Snowmean and A-Ha Gabor
When you first join roller derby, you will not be hitting people right away, nor will you scrimmage (basically practice bouts) for quite a while either. First, you will learn your basic skating skills. The stronger your basic skating skills are, the less you will fall, and when you fall, you will do so in a safe manner, minimizing injuries to yourself and others. Only after you have become proficient in falls (yes, we do actually practice those!), how to get back up, many different types of skating skills, stops, and such will you even begin learning how to give and take hits. This is initially done at a very low speed. Only after you have passed your minimum skills test and a written rules of derby test (both can be found here) will you actually start scrimmaging. In GSORD, we have a full month of scrimmage school before you can be assigned to a team and begin bouting.

However, even with extensive training, injuries happen. To further minimize injuries, we wear certain mandatory pads and safety equipment. As you can see in the picture, we wear (from top to bottom); helmet, mouth guard, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads, properly fitting skates. In fact, if you do not wear these, you will not be allowed to participate in training, scrimmages or bouts. 

Image by A. Barr, M. Faille, J. Rivait / National Post

The helmet is incredibly important, as we most often skate on concrete. With the force that goes behind many of our hits, were you to hit your head you would get seriously hurt, or even worse. This is why it is important to have a well-fitting, snug helmet, with properly fastened straps.

The mouth guard protects not only the teeth in the case of a facial hit (which results in a high block penalty for the offending skater), but also helps prevent concussions.

The elbow pads are great for protecting your elbows when you fall, but can also get a lot of skaters into trouble. We are not allowed to use our elbows for hitting in derby, but it still happens very often that someone gets hit with an elbow. That extra plastic shell on the elbow pad can make for quite a painful hit, especially to the face. This is why skaters need to be careful to keep their arms tucked down or back when in a busy pack.

Wrist guards protect our wrists, especially when falling and catching oneself against the concrete. However, they can also be very useful if someone accidentally skates over your hands or wrists when you have fallen.

Your knee pads are the pads that are going to take the most beating more than all of your other pads combined. This is why it is important to invest in a pair of really good ones with plenty of padding. The really well-padded ones can feel clumsy and cumbersome for new skaters, but you get used to it fast and you will be happy you bought them. As we are supposed to fall mainly on our knees, we need to protect them. Falling on knee-bruises is incredibly painful and best avoided.

The skates you wear are a highly personal choice. As per WFTDA rules, they have to be quad skates, but from there, we chose the kinds we like. Some skaters like really low skates, whereas others like ones with a little more ankle support. The wheels are also different based on preferences. Wheels come in different width, core, hub, and durometer (hardness). Some skaters like slim wheels, some like wider. Some use plastic hubs, some metal. Some skaters like their wheels to be very grippy, some want them hard so they can go faster. Some skaters use a combination of both.

Betty Switch

Sometimes you will see skaters with additional gear, such as shoulder braces (Our Betty Switch is a good example), back braces, shin guards, facial shields and more. These are fine to wear, but are not mandatory. Our sponsor Derby City Skates sells gear and much more, be sure to check them out!

At the beginning of every bout, and also usually right after half time, the skaters will line up and the referees will do a gear check. This is to make sure that nothing in broken and that everything is correctly fastened. They do this to further ensure everyone’s safety on the track. To ensure further safety, we also have a medical team at all of our bouts, in case something was to happen. We love to play, and we love to play rough, but we always want everyone to be safe!

 Shit does happen though ;-) 

Progression of a derby kiss, image courtesy of Jess the Ripper
Broken finger, image courtesy of  Helluva Hooker

(Unless stated, all images by Frayed Edge Concepts, LLC)