I know what you're thinking.
You're standing in the op shop with a pair of white artistic roller skates in your hand.
The kind that Olivia Newton-John wore in Xanadu.
You've tried them on and they're the perfect fit! (I mean sure, they're a bit narrow and they pinch your toes. And they're a bit old, you can feel the mounting bolts under your feet. Oh, and also they're probably one size too big but you'll just wear double socks. Other than that they are the perfect fit!)
Or maybe, you're standing in Kmart with a pair of $20 plastic children's recreational skates in your hand, like the ones that Ellen Page first wore when her character discovered roller derby in Whip It.
And you're thinking, these skates will get me started.
These are perfect for roller derby, and skates are skates, right?
Bad times in bad skates
Take it from someone who has experienced the pain of ill fitting skates that are little more than toys, with plastic wheels that don't roll and bearings that don't budge.
I still have the scars to prove that cheap, plasticy or toy skates are not made for roller derby and will hold you back from roller derby greatness or even, okayness.
The story still plays like a horror story in my mind...
10+ years ago when I was getting started on my derby journey there were no roller skate shops around.
So I jumped online and found someone in my area selling some skates for the bargain price of $50!
I thought all my Christmasses had come at once until I wore them for the first time on an outdoor skate with my pals.
The boot was hard and uncomfortable and a size too big giving me mega blisters instantly.
The wheels were a hard plastic (not urethane) so they didn't adsorb the many bumps, nuts and sand on the footpath. The vibrations caused my now blistered feet to go numb.
The bearings were ABEC 1 (aka super slow) so they didn't roll no matter how hard I pushed and soon I was waving goodbye to my friends (who all had ACTUAL roller derby skates) as they took off leaving me behind to crawl along at 1km per hour like a turtle.
Even at this turtle pace I managed to fall spectacularly (and sustain my first injury) due to the plastic wheels slipping and sliding (and no, still not rolling) down a hill.
It was not fun. I was bleeding, blistered, sweaty, sore and feeling very silly.
Trust me when I say the $50 wasn't worth it.
What to look for in your first pair of derby skates
2. The right size. Aside from a trusted manufacturer, you want to make sure that your skates fit properly. Ill-fitting skates can cause foot pain, blisters, numbness, shin splints and even long term ligament damage. So make sure you choose the right size.
3. A comfortable boot. If the boot is too narrow or too wide for your feet you are not going to enjoy your training sessions which are often 2 hours long.
4. An adjustable toe stop. Skates without toe stops are only going to get you so far in the modern game. Even if you've never needed them before, you WILL want them to play roller derby. The toe stop can't be any old toe stop either, it needs to be an adjustable toe stop with a toe stop stem that can wind in and out of the plate. Not a bolt on. A bolt on toe stop is fine for kids or a beginner recreational skater but it is not suitable for roller derby because there are too many manoeuvres that require toe stop adjustment. If a skate is advertised as a roller derby skate and it has a bolt on toe stop - it is not a roller derby skate.
5. Bearings that roll. ABEC 3 bearings are okay, ABEC 5 or above are best. If the skates have ABEC 1 bearings, chances are they are recreational only.
6. Wheels with a urethane rating - between an 84A to a 95A. Most people are comfortable on wheels rated between a 90A to 95A but it really depends on the surface, your weight and your experience.
7. Low cut boots without a high heel. Most derby skaters (let's say 99 out of 100) do not play in high top artistic skates as the heel can make certain moves uncomfortable or very difficult. (Of course there are always exceptions, 1 out of 100 derby players might play in artistic skates because they were born with them on their feet.)
Invest and save
Investing in a good pair of roller skates is key to mastering the many and varied moves and manoeuvres of roller derby.
After buying some of the cheapest and nastiest skates out there myself (in the olden days) and seeing customers come in to the store after buying the same, I can safely tell you that you are better to save your pennies or buy secondhand derby skates than to buy rubbish skates.
Save yourself some money and skin by purchasing a good, decent pair of skates that make you smile every time you look at them.
Skates that allow you to learn all the roller derby moves and give you the best possible chance of nailing them with time and practice.
In the end it's better to buy one pair of good skates that to waste money, time and energy on a crap pair that you have to replace all the bits on after 2 minutes (wheels, bearings, cushions, pivot cups etc).
Put down those rubbish skates from Kmart, or the op shop, or lying on the side of the road or from the shed, and treat yourself to some proper roller derby skates.
As for me, after my horrifying brush with toy skates I went out and got myself my first pair of proper roller derby skates - which were a pair of Sure-Grip Rebels - and never looked back.
Since then I've tried many roller skates from the classic Riedell 265 Wickeds to the Riedell 495 Torches and have since settled on a pair of Bont Hybrid custom boots with Arius plate and Morph wheels.