If you practice often, you probably regularly sacrifice gear to the roller derby gods. Hopefully someone warned you early on that derby is not a cheap pastime. Between all the crap you need (regulation gear, dues, jerseys) and all the crap you “need” (another pair of lift and separate shorts, that warm-up jacket, a jammer star headband), derby will constantly be divorcing you from your dollars. One of my best friends is a black belt in Aikido (yeah, don’t mess with me), and sometimes I’m awed by and envious of the simplicity of what she needs to practice — her gi, hakama and badassery. And if she needed to practice it in a dark alley, only the third thing. Fairly simple. For derby, you must don a trunk-load of stuff before you can even wobble onto the track to take your very first stride.

I assume most of us have a tiered mental catalog of gear that needs replacing — generally: the things that might reasonably lead to injury if we don’t hustle to the skate shop like a jammer to the box; the things that, with a generous application of duct tape, can wait until next season; the things that smell bad but work just fine; and the things we just bought.

 

What I need:

 

Knee pads — Either my legs are weird or I have not yet found knee pads I love. My current (second … third?) pair of Rector Fat Boys are in dire need of replacement. The Velcro on the gaskets I bought to hold them onto my legs better (semi-successful in that regard) have chewed through the top inside of the pads, causing the interior padding to begin poking out from the top. At our last bout I had to duct tape the padding inside and swore I would replace them post-haste. I’m considering springing for some Pro-Designed this time. Fucking knee pads. Serious business for derby players.

Helmet — I’ve had my current helmet for awhile. It looks really scraped up because I often strap it to the outside of my gear bag. I bonked my head medium hard on the floor once and considered replacing it then, but held off (maybe stupidly, but, hey, I had a head injury!). The dilemma now is: Do I “need” a helmet with glitter on it or not? That is a real question.

Elbow pads — Probably one of the least sexy gear purchases you can make. Near the beginning of this season, the rivets started popping off of one of my elbow pads at practice. The plastic part has been secured by leopard-print duct tape all season. I have had plenty of opportunities to replace them, but, yeah, totally unsexy gear purchase.

Mouthguard — The white Protech mouthguard I bought so I wouldn’t look like I was sucking on a rotten orange slice in my bout pictures has begun to acquire a sepia tone. I can’t really explain this — it’s not like I drink coffee at practice. But even though I brush it and swish it with Listerine, it’s kind of skeeving me out.

Black scrimmage shirt — One of my black shirts has a number I no longer use and another one is falling apart at the armpits. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I keep wearing it anyway. Someday I fear it will actually separate from my body during a scrimmage.

Wheels — Okay, this might fall into the “need” category. But I really feel like my repertoire of wheel options is lacking something in a narrow profile in the high 80s durometer range … something to pop in my gear bag when I need more grip on slick surfaces. I like the 88 Super Gs, which I borrowed for the two bouts I played on polished wood basketball courts this year. But it’s always hard to justify the expense of wheels when they don’t pertain to the floor you regularly practice or bout on.

 

What I do not need:

 

Wrist guards — Mine definitely have achieved that level of fermented Fritos funk that never goes away, but they are still totally functional. (Wrist guards are only surpassed by elbow pads for the least-sexy gear purchase in all of Derbystan (see above).)

Skates — I love my skates. There might be prettier skates out there. Lighter plates. Cushier cushions. A set-up that might make me jukier, make my laterals awesomer. I don’t know. But I feel good when I put my skates on. I feel fast, nimble and confident. I don’t want to fuck with that.

 

You noticed the second list is quite short. You don’t even want to see my “need” list. I sincerely do hope someone warned you that derby ain’t cheap. Even after the initial investment, it remains an expensive hobby. If no one warned you, it probably dawned on you a few days or weeks or months in when you realized you were going to stick with the sport. When you started to recognize the relative quality of some of your rookie gear and looked up the word “durometer” and took your skates apart for the first time. It can be overwhelming. It can be exhilarating. When I replaced the last of my original set of protective gear (elbow pads, wrist guards), I felt proud. I had practiced so hard that I¬†finally wore everything out! I remember when I replaced my first pair of skates. I waited longer than most and did tons of reading, agonizing over the wealth of choices. But I’m glad I waited. There’s sometimes a pressure to spend in derby above what’s required to be safe. Because most of what we really need is just practice.