Roller derby is one of those amazingly violent looking games with a surprising number of rules in the book. A 43-page long book, at that.
Yet, feeling the empowerment of being able to lace your skates up, roll onto the track with beginner roller skate gear and become part of a close-knit team where working together is the aim of the game – it’s unbeaten.
It’s likely you’ve seen the 2009 hit movie Whip It and your head’s gone one of two ways. You either said; well, I’ve found my calling, now to unearth the ultimate beginner’s guide to roller derby and get started. Or it went something along the lines of a nervous laugh while shaking your head. But, you’re here, so it was probably the former.
And, with that, the team here at The Hobby Kraze has their work cut out. A trial-by-fire run of the flat track derby and a few bruises later we’ve got absolutely everything you could possibly need to begin your adventures and make roller derby history.
Have a look at everything that will be covered in this ultimate beginner’s guide to roller derby:
- The Wheely Wonderful World of Roller Derby
- Discovering Roller Derby History and that You’re Next
- Burning Your Alter Ego’s Name in the Roller Derby History Books
- Understanding Terms from Flat Track Derby to Eating the Baby
- Rolling through the Rules of Roller Derby
- Gathering the Ultimate Checklist of Tools and Safety Equipment
- How and Where to Find the Right Team for Your Wild Ride
There’s something you should probably be aware of before heading into the derby arena for your first track.
You will fall and you will bruise. There may be some strange looks from people where you have to convince them they’re from sport and nowhere else. Otherwise, they’re just ephemeral battle wounds that show confidence and team motivation.
As well as this, you’ll be training in the same beginner roller skate gear all the time. So, be prepared for some less-than-pleasant smells accompanied by ‘oh!’, ‘ah!’, ‘ouch!’, ‘why do I do this to myself?’ and ‘can’t wait until next practice!’ sounds.
To be so well prepared, the team here at The Hobby Kraze think you should make sure to carry round some pain killers, shoe spray, ice and arnica gel in your kit.
The Wheely Wonderful World of Roller Derby
The is the first time we get to say these words, so let’s bask in the glory; roller derby is predominantly a women’s sport. In fact, this is true throughout roller derby history.
Despite this, the sport still opens itself to players of all gender identifications, ages and levels. Meaning there are teams with all women, teams with all men and some golden oldies dusting off their beginner roller skate gear from way back when.
But, the premise of the sport can be slightly aggressive which is why you’ll often hear it to be a great way to relieve some pent-up stress and anger. Which many of the team members already do. From nurses and teachers to freelancers and programmers, everyone has their stresses, and this is one of the legal ways to take it out on strangers.
In all seriousness, there are many rules in place to help prevent severe damage in the game. So, you’re a little safer than you might think. It certainly isn’t like you’d find it in the movies. In fact, roller derby skaters hate Hollywood for the constant false portrayal.
Even still, it remains the perfect team sport to meet great people and run laps around other teams on a flat track derby to gain points!
With that, we’ve put together some fantastic reasons why you should be getting started with roller derby to give it a go:
- It improves cardio levels
- It helps with stress
- It can relieve anxiety
- You can gain a team of friends
- It is something you can look forward to each week
- You can lower your blood pressure
- Keeping active is good for the brain
- Being fit releases happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine
- You can improve joint function
- There’s chance to improve your flexibility
- You’ll have much better balance
- You can use your skates outside for free transport
- It’s fun to take your skates to the skate park for fun tricks
- You can choose to be part of an all-girls or all-boys team
- There’s opportunity to travel the world with tournaments
- It’s not an expensive hobby to have
- Getting started with roller derby and beginner roller skate gear is cheap
- You can maintain your own shoes instead of paying external companies
- You’ll be much stronger
- As you continue with the game, your body will bruise less
- It improves endurance and stamina
- Having a team can help curb depression
- Your techniques will help you learn strategy and teamwork
Discovering Roller Derby History and that You’re Next
As author Margot Atwell explains, this sport has always been about feminism. It has a DNA make-up about expressionism and unapologetic beatings on a roller derby track.
And, with a sport so centred around equality, it’s understandable to hear that it is still a baby in the world of sporting events and tournaments. In fact, the hobby was only created in 1935.
This US-born team sport came about because an event promoter named Leo Seltzer become bored of monotonous walkathons and discovering in a magazine that at least 90% of Americans had tried their luck on roller skates in the past.
So, he thought about propping his feet on wheels and completing a coast-to-coast distance of 2700 miles on a single track. However, the people completing this were teams of a man and a woman; making it the most equally begun sporting game in history.
Yet, in 1937, Seltzer worried this sport would transpire into yet another monotonous and forgettable sporting event. So, he teamed with sportswriter Damon Runyon to effectively write all the jaw-biting and knee-battering rules of roller derby as we know it today.
By 1949, the sport had gained so much traction across the US, it developed into a national sensation. With household names such as Midge ‘Toughie’ Brasuhn and new big-screen production – The Fireball – premiering in 1950.
However, it wasn’t until 2006 this magnificently unforgiving sport rolled its way over to the UK with leagues beginning to form in all corners. Since then, Whip It released and the UKRDA formed. While it has been a brief roller derby history, it has surely been a bright and successful journey, only still growing in global popularity.
Now, you’re next in the pack to whip roller derby history into the future.
Burning Your Alter Ego’s Name in the Roller Derby History Books
One of the biggest benefits to getting started with roller derby is being able to let your alter ego loose with a new name. Much like a celebrity, it’ll be a stage name to make you sound fierce and amazing.
The only catch would be that you’re not allowed to have the same roller name as any other player. Specifically speaking, any other player in the world. However, as databases only cover each country, it’s quite hard to ensure you’ve not shared a name with some other random jammer based across the pond in Chicago.
These names are typically ‘punny’, aggressive and just overall badass. Because, why not? It might be time for you to think of your favourite TV or movie character and whip out the thesaurus for ideas. Here’s some examples:
- Zoe Zombie
- Bloody Betty
- Jigsaw Piece
- Ringroad Molly
- Lady McDeath
- Delta Strike
- Jack Attack
- Iron Woman
- Jammer Dodger
When you’ve nailed your name and your team are on board, you can get your team leader or manager to register it on the roster.
Then, you’ll also need to pick a number. Luckily, this only needs to be unique to your team and not the world otherwise the team Ts would need space for some pretty long numbers. However, try and make the number meaningful to you such as a year or a lucky number. The only catch here is to make sure it’s not the number one.
There is a story that murmurs around the locker room of the roller derby girls.
In 1937, there was a team based in Illinois. When travelling by team bus, they got into a so-called ‘freak’ accident. Unfortunately, one of the members – Joe Kleats – was a veteran roller skater teaching the ropes to younger players and unfortunately passed away. His number was ‘1’ and has been a retired number across the globe ever since.
So, respect the dead and choose a good number like 69.
Understanding Terms from Flat Track Derby to Eating the Baby
While this particular subtitle might have already had you stumping on your toe stops, there are many more strange words and terms used throughout the lingo of the roller girls (and, sometimes lads). From finding new ways to name to newbie to calling out the end of the game, these are terms you simple can’t roll around without if you’re going to make roller derby history.
Luckily for you, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have completed their iconic A to Z of glossary terms so you can be best acquainted with your new favourite hobby. Take a gander:
This is a game manoeuvre whereby a blocker can assist the jammer or another blocker by pushing, whipping, pulling or redirecting a member of the opposite team.
A blocker is a player that works in a team of four (including a pivot) in order to block the jammer of the opposing team from passing them. These players are there to allow their jammer to pass and gain points and for the other team to lose-out on points.
Bridging is a technical move allowing players to veer the pack. As the jammer travels to lap the other team, they are discounted in bridging and the focus lies with the blockers. Blockers can move 10 feet away from the pack in order to assist the jammer. However, if they move further than 10 feet away, they will be issued an ‘out-of-play’ penalty.
- Calling off the Jam
When a jammer leads the lap while carrying the most points, they have the ability to stop the round. As all rounds are two-minutes, it doesn’t happen often. However, when they do, it gives the team the win for the round. In order to call off the jam, the jammer needs to tap their hips with their hands and the referees in the centre of the flat track derby will whistle blow.
- Eating the Baby
While it doesn’t have the nicest of names, it doesn’t translate to the manoeuvre. When a jammer passes the pack of blockers in the opposing team, a blocker still has the opportunity to race in front to catch up and block (as long as they are within bridging rules). When they do this, the rest of the pack can catch up and continue to block the jammer allowing their own jammer to lead in points.
- Fishnet Burn
When a player wears fishnet tights and falls, they can get a rash from the track. This rash will look like the fishnet tights and is called a fishnet burn.
This is the name given to new people on the team. The idea is that every player is simply meat that gets pushed and shoved around the flat track derby. So, any new arrivals are ‘freshmeat’.
- Getting a Goat
Getting a goat is a team manoeuvre whereby all blockers create a wall at the flat track derby successfully isolating one of the opposing team players. This opposing team member is called the goat. Then, when the wall swarms around the goat, they ‘got the goat’. And, this lets the wall team’s jammer push the other blockers to an out of play.
- Grand Slam
While both jammers make their way around the flat track derby, there is a fun occurrence throughout roller derby history where a team’s blockers successfully isolate the opposing team’s jammer while their jammer can lap the other jammer. Basically, a grand slam is the momentous event of a jammer lapping a jammer.
- Hip Whip
A hip whip is a two-person assist manoeuvre in roller derby. When the jammer needs a bit of a push, they can grab the hips of a teammate who can propel them forward on the rink with higher speed to get through a wall.
Opposite to the blockers, each team has one jammer. This person’s main skills need to be agility and speed. They lap the rink and the opposing team players in order to gain points.
A lap is often mistaken for going round the entire rink once. However, in the case of getting started with roller derby, it’s important to understand that a lap means to pass all team members on the opposing team. And, as the blockers are all moving forward, this often takes more than one go-around.
- Nine-Month Injury
It appears roller derby skaters arn’t too fond of teammates getting pregnant. As roller derby can be quite hands-on as a full-contact sport, when players find they are pregnant, it’s time to take at least nine months away from the sport. So, it’s called a nine-month injury.
An abbreviation for ‘non-skating official’, this is vital personnel to the game. Yet, they don’t in the flat track derby. Examples include: the jam timer, penalty box manager and scorekeeper. Often also called a zebra.
The pivot is a special type of blocker. They travel at the front of the pack and have the power to control the speed. They also have the ability to take place of the jammer where necessary. While the jammer has a star-helmet cover, the pivot has a striped helmet cover and will need to swap covers in order to take the position.
- Positional Blocking
To ensure you’re always within the rules of play with your beginner’s roller skate gear, instead of using your hands and elbows to shove someone out of the way, use your body. This is called positional blocking.
Also known as the waterfall, this manoeuvre consists of taking two blockers who continuously move up and down. The idea is to take turns hitting and distracting an opponent blocker.
- Rink Rash
As slightly described earlier in fishnet rash, the rink rash is the result of a fall. When travelling at speed, you’ll inevitably fall and travel along the ground before coming to a halt. However, travelling on your legs or arms can cause a skin rash. Hence; pads.
This is a single-player manoeuvre that is interchangeable with many other sports such as skiing. The basic premise is to widen the legs and slightly turn-in the toes. This increases surface area and drag while slowing you down.
This is another halting technique shared by ice-skaters. The idea is to drop one foot behind the other and, when behind, turn it perpendicular to create drag on the flat track derby rink.
- Taking a Knee
When a player is severely injured, it is customary for all players to drop to the knees and wait while the player is being treated. This is simply a sign of respect within the game.
- Truck and Trailer
This is an effective method of dragging the jammer through a pack. A blocker will generally hold the hands of a jammer behind. Here, the blocker or pivot is the truck, and the jammer is the trailer. Then, they’ll use a whip to push the jammer forward through the pack to gain more points.
- Turn Stop
A final stopping technique to practice with your beginner roller skate gear. You’ll need to mount onto your toe stoppers and spin while doing so. This generates the right momentum to get up while also rubbing against the track to create drag and stop you. However, this can be quite jolting, so make sure you’re wearing your protective gear!
When two or more players begin to skate side-by-side, it creates a wall on the track. While this can be good for stopping the opposing team’s jammers and blockers, it can also be a nuisance for stopping your own team’s jammer from progressing. So, blockers will usually progress this technique into getting the goat.
A whip is a manoeuvre the jammer uses to propel forward and gain momentum for points. The hip whip is just one of the most common types, however other ways to whip include: grabbing a blockers arm, leg, hand, skirt or top.
This is simply another nickname used by players within this fabulous team sport. Alongside freshmeat, there needs to be a name for the NSO stood in the middle of the flat track derby with a black and white striped top. And, this name is the zebra.
Rolling through the Rules of Roller Derby
Roller derby has many rules. As we’ve said, there’s a 43-page guidebook on the laws of roller derby and how to play without needing to call the police or an ambulance. But, as you’re a complete beginner and not hitting the tournaments just yet, the team here at The Hobby Kraze have put together a brief and contracted ultimate beginner’s guide to roller derby to get you started.
First things first, we’ll be getting started with roller derby tracks. While there can be up to fifteen people on a team, only five of those team members can be on the track at once. Meaning, there are ten players on the flat track derby at any given time.
Of these five players, one will be the jammer, one will be the pivot and three will be standard blockers. The jammer will have a star on their helmet cap, the pivot will have a stripe and the blockers have the block colours of the team.
Before the wheels can start turning, the jammers need to be placed at the back of the queue behind a line called the jammer line. This line is located at the wide end of the oval track after a corner has ended.
Then, at the thin end of the oval track before the next corner has begun, there is the pivot line. Just behind the pivot line, both pivots will be facing the rest of the troop including the jammers at the back. Then, close to the pivots will be the group of blockers.
When the whistle calls, the jammers have two minutes in the ‘jam’ to lap the other teams’ blockers as many times as they can. However, this can prove difficult when the pivots and blockers are hindering them while coursing the track..
Plus, the pivots have the power to set the speed of the blockade, so they can increase the difficulty faced by the jammer to lap by keeping the herd moving or by helping to form a wall with the other blockers.
For every person in the opposing team a jammer will lap, the jammer is awarded a point for their team.
If the jammer is in the lead, they can call off the jam to end the two-minutes early.
When a jam ends, the points are tallied, everybody gets back to the starting line and players can swap positions with the benched teammates if they wish. Often is the case that every jam is ended with a swap of the jammer allowing them to catch their breath each time.
During the jam, if a player is pushed out of the lines of the flat track derby, they must go to the back of the pack and re-join. If a player is seen to break the rules, they are sent to the penalty box for the remainder of the jam.
The only time a player can exit the penalty box prior to the jam ending is if two jammers are sent to penalty. The first jammer is let free to roll and the second jammer must penalty for the same amount of time as the first.
When it comes to regulation of pushing, shoving and calling people’s names, the latter is not allowed. But, this beginner’s guide to roller derby can walk you through what is and isn’t acceptable for the former two actions.
The body has legal and illegal zones you can use to get other players out of your way or out of the flat track derby.
When it comes to knowing which of your body parts you can use have a look:
When it comes to knowing which of your body parts you can’t use, there’s a few more:
When it comes to knowing where on the body of the opponent you can lawfully attack, there’s similar parts to your legal areas:
Yet, there’s more of them you can’t touch here:
- Lower Legs
It’s very important you memorise these body parts so you’re not sitting-out in the penalty box every jam and you’re not causing serious damage to yourself or the other players.
Otherwise, it’s free game. So, take your mouthguard, take your pads and have fun!
Gathering the Ultimate Checklist of Tools and Safety Equipment
One of the best misconceptions to roller derby is the dress code. After watching movies like Whip It, you may think low cut tops, short skirts and fishnet tights are the uniform. But, you’d be wrong
In fact, there’s no right way to dress. As long as you’ve got the team top, all the necessary safety gear and you feel comfortable, you’re golden. Some people flaunt the short skirts and tutu with the fishnets (because why not? Let your alter ego loose and enjoy the sport) but there are also plenty who stick to leggings.
But, when it comes to gathering your toolkit, there’s more to it than little outfits, some skates and a helmet.
The skates you’ll use will actually be a little different to the skates you’d see in a high street store or in the disco rink arena. This is because they need to be short on the ankles to prevent a broken bone and they need to have adjustable wheels and bindings to suit the tournament. For example: if your tournament is on a flat track derby or on a banked track, you’ll need different wheels that when roller skating outside.
Have a look at the beginner’s guide to roller derby’s checklist for beginner roller skate gear:
- A Skate Helmet
- A Moulded MouthGuard
- Elbow Pads
- Shin Pads
- Quad Speed Style Skates
- Extra Skate Wheels
- Wrist Guards
- Team Top
- Comfortable Leggings
- Arnica Gel
- Savlon Gel
- Skate Plate
- Skate Truck
- King Pin Nut
- 3Y Skate Tool
- Toe Stops
Once you’ve gathered all the right tools and equipment, you may be wondering why a couple of them are on there. For example: the tools. But, there is good reason.
When you first buy beginner roller skate gear after getting started with roller derby, your skates are new. And, they need to be adjusted.
To do this, there are two major regions to look at. The camber and movement of the wheels in comparison to the shoes and how easy the wheels spin. If you’re finding your wheels aren’t spinning well, you’ll need to take your 3Y tool and go at your axel nuts.
When you first get a new pair of skates, everything is factory-tight and not to the specifications of you as an individual skater. Each skater prefers their nuts and bolts at a different tightness, so it’s crucial you loosen things slowly and decide where you most feel comfortable.
With your 3Y tool, turn the axel nut on the front wheels once. They should then have a slightly better spin but not too much that they’re rattling about on the axis. The same goes for the king pin nut; loosen this once in order to get better freedom in your turns.
A last consideration here would be that your skates will loosen with wear, so every time you decide to skate, make sure you’re checking the tightness of the nuts and bolts and keep your 3Y pin on you just in case.
How and Where to Find the Right Team for Your Wild Ride
Roller Derby is a growing trend around the world with a whopping 1,250 leagues. While most of these are firmly planted within the US, there are still over 90 individual leagues spread across our small island of Britain.
And, they’re very well spread, too. For example: There’s Auld Reekie Roller Derby in Edinburgh, London Rollergirls in London, Tiger Bay Brawlers in Cardiff and Belfast Roller Derby in Belfast (just to name the capitals).
The best thing to do would be to have a look at the UK’s hub for getting started with roller derby: UKRDA. The UK Roller Derby Association is a sports federation that helps to promote and manage flat track derby players across the islands. When you’re here you can simply search through the database to find which teams are closest to you.
Then, there’s a few steps to run through when getting started with roller derby teams. Have a look:
- Follow the team’s Facebook and other social media pages to see what they’re up to, where they play, when the next rink tournament is and if you feel like your wild roller personality will fit in with the team.
- Use your beginner roller skate gear at a local rink or on a flat surface (maybe don’t try the British roads). This way, you will have some familiarity going forwards and backwards on your skates before they start testing your speed and jumping abilities.
- Head to the next tournament to get a feel of the game and what you’ll be in for when you join the team; note there will be lots of screaming. This is a great way to meet the other team members, the coach and some other like-minded folk in the crowd.
- When you’re feeling confident, hop onto the social media channels and contact the team. Request to join and you may be taken on immediately to cover a nine-month injury, or there could be a waiting list. Luckily, there is a lot of swapping and changing throughout a game, so even if you’re not the starting 5, you could be on the roster of 15 on the side-lines.
- Finally, there’s a chance they put you through individual training to make sure you’re fit for the speed, the agility, the falls and the jumps. Once you and the coach think you’re ready, they’ll place you in practice with the team. Then, you’ll be ready the hit the next tournament.
And, there you have it. Whether you find yourself a pivot, a blocker or a jammer, we hope this ultimate beginner’s guide to roller derby has been helpful in getting you on the rink and rolling anti-clockwise into victory for the team. We also wish you all the luck with the biggest body bruises you’ll ever find.
P.S. we heard it can help with the pain to refer to them as ‘roller kisses’ but that might be rubbish.
If you do become part of the Hell’s Angels when getting started with roller derby, don’t forget to always be kind and check-in with any of your opponents you blocked or injured. While there are plenty of rules against forcefully hurting someone, accidents happen and blood pours. So, after the game is over, always make amends and check to ensure nobody is badly damaged.
After a particularly ruthless tournament, it can often be customary to send the other team a bouquet.
Here at The Hobby Kraze, we love to pair everyone with the perfect hobbies by making sure you’ve got everything you need to get started. From the history and the benefits to the equipment and rules. So, don’t forget to share your experiences with the team on social media!
Alternatively, if you feel the roller kisses are a little much, why not check out our other ultimate guides to see which team sport takes your fancy. For example: “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Frisbee”, “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Quidditch” or “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Rowing and Sculling”.