Roller Derby: The Beginning

On Sunday, I strapped eight wheels to my feet and attempted to stand up. Yes that’s right, I am attempting to become a derby girl. I should say from the outset that I am really a terra firma girl. Skis and I never got on well, and as I got older, ice skating just got harder. However, roller derby has sucked me in and I am determined to give it a good shot, even if it does involve me trying to move around on eight wheels.

Like my love of nail polish, my desire to try roller derby has come from the extensive amount of time wasted on the internet. A female-dominated sport that focuses on skills but has a physical element and is all about the show(wo)manship? Count me in. However, many excuses have stopped me from signing up before now. The cost, time, fitness, laziness, being scared. Scared of what, I’m not entirely sure. I’m a seasoned faller: I used to play basketball and spend all my time on the floor attempting to wrestle the ball off of people (hey, I’m 5’2″– that was the only way I was getting the ball!). It probably is that I have high expectations of myself. I hate starting something new and being entirely crap at it, which is something that has hindered me for years. However, a chance meeting with a derby girl who is good friends with my cousin changed that. She was telling me how awesome it was, how friendly the girls were, and how much fun it was. I promised to sign up to the next beginners course; I saw on Facebook that one had just started and knew it would be a few weeks before another one came around. We spent the afternoon trying to come up with her derby name while her young son managed to cover me in fig, and I went home thinking about derby.

The next day, the derby girl messaged me to say the beginner’s course

Richter City All Stars from Wellington, NZ vs Sydney All-Stars. Photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner,

had been postponed and wasn’t starting until April Fool’s Day. Looks like excuses weren’t going to work this time! So I emailed the recruitment coordinator and got the details. On April 1 I was going to learn begin to learn to skate, derby style.

April 1 came around and I found myself in an industrial area outside a warehouse that had seen better days. A friendly lady let us in and took us upstairs, where a practice track had been set up. We were kitted up in the requisite safety gear (helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist guards. I forgot to wear my mouthguard, but I did have one) then we put the skates on. We had to borrow the spare skates that the league had; I ended up with a pair that I swear were as old as I was but were a good fit (if incredibly rigid!) We inched over to the marshaling area, where I immediately fell onto my arse. So far so good.

Our lovely coach immediately taught us the derby stance. Feet wide, knees bent, bum out, head up. The idea, she said, was to make yourself like a triangle so you are more stable. She was entirely right. Every time I fell over by accident (which was often), it was because I’d stood upright and was off balance.

We then tried to go around the track. There were six of us starting that day. One was a derby girl who had been out of action for awhile, so she was fine. Two were former figure skaters who already knew the basics of skating. The remaining three of us were brand new and not entirely stable, so we took it slowly. We were taught how to stride (which I found really difficult with my incredibly heavy plastic skates), and then we got into the really fun bit – the falls. We practiced the single-knee falls, the 180 single-knee falls, and the double-knee/rockstar falls. I was really good at doing the falls that weren’t the ones we were practicing. When we did the 180s, I ended up doing the double-knee falls. When we were doing the double-knees, I did the 180s. Ah well, it was only my first time! I wasn’t worried about hurting myself with these because the protection gear is there to do just that, protect you. If you learn to fall correctly, the risk of injury is much lower. What hurts the most is my arse, which was bruised when I fell over without knowing how to fall. But I was prepared for some pain; it seems like a logical thing to expect when you are trying to learn how to move on eight wheels!

I found derby to be really hard work, athletically speaking. By the end of the session, it was taking me a lot longer to get up from my falls than it had been earlier. I was very much “I like the floor. The floor is nice, if dirty. Let me stay here.” The track was upstairs in an old warehouse with a glass roof, so it got very hot very quickly. We all certainly got a good sweat up! Our lovely coach told us all about derby stench and gave us some good hints about cleaning our protective gear.

I came home excited about derby and really positive for the following five weeks of the course. I may have to sell a kidney to buy the gear, but it should be worth it!

More on this as I go along! Any other Persephoneers who are derby girls? I would love to hear from you.

By Cesy

Cesy grew up in a sheep farm in New Zealand. Accordingly some of her views are a bit strange.

32 replies on “Roller Derby: The Beginning”

I am so tempted to try this out. Is it rewarding exercise? I’ve been a lump for two years in graduate school and need something to bust my ass and get me in shape.

Also, do you turn into a human bruise by the end? I have sensitive skin/limbs/everything so I’m a little afraid of pain and being purple forever.

I picked up derby after being a lump for two years in grad school myself. It’s great exercise, especially if you’re able to skate multiple times a week.

At the learning stages, the bruises tend to be minor. Once you get into contact, though, there’s no real way to avoid bruising. You could always find your local league and ask to watch a practice and talk to some of the players to see if you’d be comfortable with the level of physical contact involved.

Sounds like fate! Hope you get a chance to check it out!

I had another thought. If you want the exercise without the contact, you could always become a referee – they get tons of skating, but much less contact. And leagues always need refs, so it’s a good way to get involved.

Oh Cesy, you’re my example of kick-assness. I interviewed a starting Roller Derby team once and even though were dropping hints that I could join/try out, I was telling myself much too loudly that it wasn’t really something for me.

So now I’m looking at Roller Derby Amsterdam and telling myself to Doooooo Iiiiiit (or look at try-out-days).

I’m very much terrified of falling on skates. I had a really bad fall when I was in 6th grade, and my confidence has been shaken ever since. It doesn’t help that I’m 5’10” and that up on skates, the floor looks so very far away! That said, I’m super proud of you for going after this! What an awesome sport! I’ve heard nothing but great things about roller derby. :)

I can’t wait to hear all about your progress!! You’re going to be amazed at how fast you learn.
I think derby is a ridiculous amount of fun, and I’ve met a ton of awesome people since joining my league. And I’m so excited for the tournament we’re hosting next weekend! (Anyone so inclined can watch my team play – the Derby News Network website is going to be broadcasting some of the games, which is both exciting and a bit terrifying.)

Also, before buying your gear, I recommend looking at some of the reviews on this site: – they don’t agree on everything, but there are some people who really know what they’re talking about (and like any internet forum, some people who don’t, but still act as if they do). But the search function can lead to some great info on skate maintenance, what to buy, and what to absolutely avoid.

Our lovely coach immediately taught us the derby stance. Feet wide, knees bent, bum out, head up.


We call that ‘tits over toes’ here in the States. Tits over toes! Tits over toes!

I’m so proud of you for going for this. It’s a lot of hard work but I swear it will be worth it!

Ah, that sounds so fun! I’ve always been curious about derby- thanks for the inside look! I really, really want to try it, but between having an ankle that can’t handle a huge, heavy skate (I’d need surgery:/) and chronic back pain, it probably isn’t a good idea. May I derby vicariously through you?

Certainly! One lady who started with me last week has a bad back (and mine isn’t great some of the time either) so our coach spent a lot of time with us going through core stability work which was great and will be helpful. Hopefully I’ll have abs I can grate cheese on soon!

I think the vast majority of the skates are really light and well made too, my current borrowed ones are not designed for derby so that could be something to consider.

Fair enough! Yeah the start up costs are very expensive but I think once you are sorted, it’s pretty good. My league has incredibly cheap membership fees, it’s just the gear that I need to save up madly for (or sell an organ!)

“It probably is that I have high expectations of myself. I hate starting something new and being entirely crap at it” – THIS IS ME.  I have this problem all the time.  I don’t like doing anything I’m not good at, but of course, there are very few things in this world – even things one might have natural talent for – that people are good at when they start.  I’ve pushed through it on a few things – running doesn’t come easily to me, but I’ve made myself do it because I enjoy it and I like feeling strong and fit.

I want to learn ice hockey, but right now it really is prohibitively expensive and difficult to learn how to skate well enough, so that one is going to have to wait.  I’m thinking maybe I should pick something else though, just to force myself to start learning something – gasp – without being good at it right away!

Good luck with derby – I hope we’ll get to hear more about it as you go on!

Do it!  I’ll do it if you do it?

After reading this article, I went searching around for leagues near my house and found 2!  So I’ve sent them emails to see when their next intake is.  Now I’m scared ’cause I have no idea what I”m doing!

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