5 common roller skate problems — and how to fix them

I’ve had some interesting skate dilemmas today, so I made a list of common skate problems and how to solve them cheaply.

Problem: My skate inserts ball up and are so uncomfortable.
Solution: Don’t tell your roommates I told you to do this. But if you don’t want to dish out the $10-30 to get new inserts, you can try ironing it. I don’t own an iron, those cost money, so here is what I do: First, I try to smooth the crinkles out a bit by putting the bad creases under a leg of furniture. Then, and this is truly disgusting, then I take a flat-bottomed stove-top pan and I boil half an inch of water. I first try to “iron” the foot cushion by pressing the bottom of the hot pan of boiling water on top of it and smushing it. When that does not work (and it probably won’t), I dip the affected area of the insert into the boiling water for 3-5 seconds. Take it out and then smush the bottom of the hot pan over the insert on a cool, dry surface. Repeat until flat. It works. Don’t tell your roommate you put your nasty-ass sweat-soaked shoe insert into one of his/her pans.

Problem: My waxed hockey laces (recommended here) don’t fit through my skate lace eyelets. 
Solution: I know! What a pain! Those things cost $4! You have to broil the mo-fos. Turn your oven to high broil and then hold the tips of the laces under the broiler for about 30 seconds. Quickly put them through your skates. This will shape them into an eyelet size.

Problem: My feet go numb in my skates.
Solution: If it’s not cold, this is because your skates are tied too tight. When I break in skates, I like them loose by the toe, then when you lace them, skip a eyelet halfway up (don’t cross, just move the lace through the next same-side hole) and then keep lacing. This lets you have looseness in the front, but keeps it tight around the ankle. That said, you want to eventually be able to lace your skates tightly and break them in, so, at some point, you’re going to have to suck it up and gradually begin tightening them until the leather stretches around your foot in a hug. If it’s because it’s cold, try a light wool sock and warming your feet up with some off-skates agility before practice. Get your feet sweaty before you put them in your skates.

Problem: I need to adjust my trucks and wheels before every practice.
Solution: ARE YOU LEAVING YOUR GEAR IN YOUR CAR? ARE YOU LEAVING IT ZIPPED UP IN YOUR BAG BETWEEN PRACTICES? Don’t do that! Leather and metal need to dry. This means you pack up your gear after practice, put it with you in your car, then when you get out of your car you bring it with you. Inside your warm house (your skates need a warm home too) you unzip your stinky gear bag and make sure all the gear is separated and able to touch air. One day your roommates won’t care as much. Start getting them used to it.

Problem: I break my laces every practice.
Solution: I addressed this in “The Cost of Roller Derby,” but the quick answer is to get toe caps that snap on (not the ones you put laces through, they will just break), get waxed hockey laces and to try to stop dragging your feet. If the $3-4 laces and $7-14 snap-ons are too much, my friend Vegemighty Slamwitch made her own toe-covers by cutting a bike tire in half, attaching it to her toe stop and then high up on her skate.

Those are some common issues. Feel free to comment below with any skate issues.

And one last thing: Oh MAN! If you didn’t spend the $20 to get WFTDA TV this weekend, you are missing out! Naptown v. Atlanta was CRAY CRAY! Many lead changes and it all came down to the last couple jams. As I said in “how to play watching roller derby” I usually aim for 10 minutes planks, 50 pushups. But this game had so many jams and got me so excited I did 11 minutes planks, 100 pushups and 100 leg lifts. SO CRAZY GOOD.

Proud of: Pushing through extra crosstraining work today. Grateful: Friends who get my obsession, to live close to so many resources, for great neighbors.

The cost of roller derby

I like numbers a lot. Today, I’m in the unfortunate situation of having to shop for health insurance. I do not expect to be [immediately] covered by an employer, and I worry about my health — and roller derby is 100% to blame. I’m a healthier person for derby, but I’m also more susceptible to injuries. So here I am, shopping online for health insurance, which looks like it will cost me about $180 a month (A MONTH) if I want a low deductible.

Thankfully, my practices, scrimmages and bouts are covered by my league’s derby insurance, but I worry about needing something extra. I can’t go into details, but even my derby insurance would cost me a penny if (God forbid) I broke something.

This got me thinking about the money I’ve invested into derby. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good job for the last two years of derby. So, below is a breakdown of what I bought in the past two years, then I write a 5-point list of mistakes to avoid, then, finally a suggested shopping list for anyone out there looking for one (fresh meat).

This is me at one of my first practices ever on the left. In bad skates (vixens) with bad toe covers (ruined those on day 2) with awful knee pads and a terrible helmet (which later got gold glitter-ed. The gold shorts are great. On the right is me at a bout, with gear upgrades to my 495 skates and rector plates, 187 killer knee pads and elbow pads and wrist guards with a protec helmet (not shown … well). Less awesome pants.

Dash’s costs for two years of derby:
$25/mo dues (x24 months = $600)
$60/year mandatory insurance ($120)
$20/year mandatory liability insurance ($40)
$1/practice in gas (4 practices a week $312)
$60/away bout in gas and food and lodging (12 bouts $720)
$300 in additional, optional training (Northeast Derby Convention. Totes worth it.)
$50 My first pair of skates, pre-derby, getting ready for tryouts. Included wheels, bearings.
$200 First shitty skates I had to throw out after a year because they were so painful


$600 My skates. Riedell 495 with Reactor plates. I told myself “they have to be good enough so I never have to buy skates again!” — Had I bought the standard Riedell R3s and not the super-awful Riedell Vixens with their lead plates, I could have saved myself the $850 and just spent the $150.
$50/set of bearings: $150
$60/wheel set, $240

Outdoor wheels and bearing set: $70
$20/set toe stops x5 (Gumball should sponsor me. I chew those babies up.) $100
$3/set of laces x20 sets (I used to burn through those too, hence the toe protectors) $60
Pads ($80 knee, $25 elbow x2, $20 wrist x2, $40 in 3 mouthguards, $45 in 2 helmets) $255
Rubber toe protectors: $25 (Totally necessary for how I used to skate. Two sets.)
Gear bag: $10
Scrimmage shirts: $5/shirt x10 shirts = $50
Uniform bottoms for bouts: $35
Waterbottle: I stole mine. Free.
Rink fees for extra skate time, 1/week at $5 a session = $480

Total: $4,417
It costs me $2,209 a year to play roller derby.

Frankly, I thought it would be worse than that. And it is. I’m underestimating. This week I went to my rink about eight times, back and forth. It didn’t cost $8 like I said, but I felt conservative today. And this is a depressing post for me.

But here is why I’m writing this: I made major, fiscally painful mistakes. Maybe you’re new to derby and can take this as a warning of what not to do.

If I was brand new to derby, but somehow knew I’d be very dedicated to the sport for the long haul, here is what I would do:

1. INVEST IN YOUR KNEES. Very important. If you have to decide where to spend you money, spend it on your knee pads. It’s cheaper than surgery. I recommend 187 Killer Pro pads. I love them. They have saved me and they have not slipped in the 1.5 years I’ve worn them. My friends like Rector Fatboys. (Both $67)

2. Get great skates that fit. To do this, you must go to a knowledgeable source in person. You need to bring your feet shopping. Literally. Skates don’t fit like your converse. They are (I hope) leather and need to be tight because they will stretch to your foot. A good skate shop will tell you, “No, honey, it’s OK” when you say, “but it hurts! They’re too small!” For fresh meat, I’d say if you have a low low budget, go with the R3s. If you can spend more, it will save you more in the long run because you won’t have to turn in your old skates. The 265s are a pretty good bargain, especially if you mount them on cheap (nice, flexible) nylon plates to start. You can always upgrade to great plates later. I bought my 495s because they came with all the extras included, leather inners, sheepy tongues, straps around my ankles, etc. The boot was $300 and it was as cheap for me to add on the Reactor plates as it would have been to buy the (less awesome) “Torch” package because I already had wheels and bearings. Skate packages are not always the best deal.

3. Try not to buy cheap shit unless you have to. Things I regret buying:

  • My old ($20) toe caps from Etsy. They have holes you put the laces through … which defeats the purpose. I got clip-on plastic caps, which have saved my laces and my leather toes.
  • Shirts that aren’t black or white. Unless I can wear them to all practices, I don’t buy derby shirts anymore. I buy $3 wifebeaters (only black or white) at Walmart and have a bottle of black fabric ink and a bleach pen ready to put my name and number on with. Could have saved me $50.
  • Shitty gear. I spent $50 in my first gear set, which was all cheap stuff. The elbow and wrist guards lasted me about a year before they broke and started slipping (pretty good). I also got a shitty helmet at first. I could have saved about $70 had I bought the things I have now (pretty much entirely 187 Pro brand pads and a ProTec helmet).
  • Shoe laces that aren’t wax hockey laces. Hockey laces are $3 and last me about 3 months. The boot laces I was using cost me $1 and lasted me two practices (16 practices a month means $8 a month).

4. If something doesn’t work, report it. My 495 straps broke six times. The first time, I bought a replacement set for $20. The second time I told Reidell and they sent me new ones. And then they kept sending me new ones as they kept breaking and as their brand began re-making them to be stronger. Sometimes it takes a minute for a brand to get a new thing right. Reidell has been super accommodating and I’m really glad I bought their skates because I feel supported and I know they will be there if anything goes wrong.
The same thing happened with my 187 Pro wrist guards. About three months after buying them, they both ripped and I had to sew them together. I got a little upset and emailed them, telling them what happened and they were very accommodating too and sent me a new set (when I showed a receipt). I knew my knee pads were amazing, so I figured their wrist guards were too. I’ve had my replacement set for a few months and they’re doing great.
You pay a lot for your gear. If something goes wrong, speak up. The derby world is nice and usually accommodating to reasonable requests.

5. Cheap wheels are not bad. Just saying. I went to the rink the other day in my Radar Bullets ($80) and someone asked me about wheels. I told them I like mine and also the Super G blue 88s. They directed me to the local store where they were on sale for $60 for all eight. I also like ($45) Radar Flat Outrageous (wide, good for beginners) and the Reckless Evaders, which I found on sale for $75 for all eight. My last set of wheels, my Super Gs (which I just bought another pair of, knowing I’ll need another set in a few months), lasted about one year.

So, derby world, if I were to buy my fresh meat set up today, knowing I’d be dedicated here would be my shopping list (consequently, it’s what I own now, more or less):
$600 Reidell 495s and Reactor plates
$60 sale wheels — Atom Super Gs (blue)
$50 Bones Super Redz bearings (clean them monthly and you’ll have to replace them once a year. Get “3 in 1” cleaner for $3 and a $1 bottle of rubbing alcohol)
$3 pair of waxed hockey laces
$14 pair of rubber clip-on toe protectors
$165 in gear — 187 Killer Pro knee pads ($70), 187 Killer elbow pads ($20) and wrist guards ($20) and a ProTec helmet ($30) and a ProTechDent mouth guard ($25).

$40 in two sets of Gumball toe stops.

And that would total me at about $932 for gear. About $466 a year. Opposed to my $1,680 — or $840 a year. About half.

So there you have it folks. I watch Tumblr and follow the “roller derby” tag and the most frequent post I see is — “WHAT GEAR SHOULD I GET???!?!?!?!!?! (freak out)” — and that’s my answer. My very very long answer.

Now my question is: Is health insurance worth it. That might be a question for another day.

One thing I’m proud of: I took initiative today and asked to play in a home team scrimmage tomorrow.