Deciding to join roller derby in the midst of filing for bankruptcy probably wasn’t the best decision I ever made. I was flat broke and any extra money I had was going to a lawyer. (He wasn’t cheap nor was he very good, but that’s another story.)
I went to my very first meeting and wanted to cry the second I saw the list of required gear and accompanying price tag attached to each piece. I remember thinking that there was no way I could ever afford to even step foot in the rink. The problem though-I really wanted to join derby.
I got lucky. I had a friend with a bag of gear sitting in her closet from her derby days. She said I could borrow the equipment until I was able to piece together my own. She even had a pair of skates that just so happened to be my size. Yay!
Step No. 1: Make a list
Make a list of everything you need in order to get on the rink. You NEED a helmet, mouth guard, wrist, elbow and knee pads and skates. These are the very basics.
If you have a nice little nest egg that allows you to purchase new gear, look online for rookie packages. (Or if you’re lucky enough to have a sugar momma/daddy) These are usually priced fairly and can get you though your first season. I personally wouldn’t buy a high end package to start-you never know what could happen in your first season. (You don’t like it, you don’t have the time, injury, fall-out with a teammate, life happens, etc.)
Step No. 2: Ask around
If the team you want to join is relatively established, there’s a pretty good chance there are a few ladies on the team that have upgraded their gear. So ask if anyone has any gear in your size that they’d be willing to let you borrow for a while. You may even be able to find a pair of skates the same way. (And if not, there is always borrowing rink skates until you can save enough change to buy a new pair. If you can skate in rink skates, you can skate in anything.)
Step No.3: Make small necessary purchases first
I borrowed-for a very long time. Like almost an entire season.
My first purchase was the skates that I had been borrowing. Which brings me to a costly mistake I made before I even had my first practice. The skates came with the crappy stock wheels and no bearings. I was in such a rush to skate, I brought my skates into the skate shop and asked for the cheapest set of bearings available. NEVER, EVER, EVER do this. You will get cheap bearings. You will overpay for your cheap bearings. You will hate your life because no matter how hard you try, your cheap Abec 3 bearings will hold you back. I spent $40 on those p.o.s. bearings when I could have borrowed a pair and ordered some China Reds at the very least.
My next purchase-wheels. Shop around. I bought a set of Radar Tuner blems for a fraction of the price. There is nothing wrong with blem wheels, and they are great for experimenting until you find what you like. They were about a thousand times better than the wheels I was using. (Sin City also has wheel deals and blems available while supplies last.)
You’ll find the girls on the team trading different wheels on a pretty routine basis. I say, when you find a great deal, buy them. A stockpile of various wheels can only help.
My next big purchase was a helmet. As a rule of thumb, you need to buy a new one every season. I found my helmet on Zappos. It was almost $20 cheaper than any derby site.
By this point in my fresh meat period, I had what I needed to practice. Yup, I even had a super cheap boil and wear mouth guard that made me gag. Next purchase: new mouth guard. I got a Protech Dent mouth guard. My fresh meat buddy and future derby wife went in on a two-pack bringing the cost down a little. This is one of the best purchases I made.
Step No.4: Make your wish list
About the time I was almost finished with my fresh meat period, I sat down and made a list of the things I wanted. It was a wish list of sorts. By this time, I had a feel for what I liked.
My wish list included better bearings, upgraded pads (well really, pads of my own) and wheels. You’ll note that my lists came in waves. If you make a huge list, it’s overwhelming. It makes setting a monetary goal very difficult and unrealistic.
I shopped around for pads. I asked everyone what they used and what they liked. I borrowed. I read reviews. I splurged. By this point in my derby career, there wasn’t a point in buying entry level pads. I call it an investment. I call it my Killer 187’s, and I LOVE them! I was able to get a complete set with knee gaskets. But for some women, elbow and wrist guards can be cheap or the ones from the rookie package are just fine. Keep the cheapies, but make sure you get some really nice knee pads. The money spent is well worth it.
And then, eBay became my bff. Always check Craigslist, eBay and forums for gear. You really can get some amazing deals out there. I got wheels and bearings for the price of, well, just wheels on eBay.
Step No.5: Create a gift list
This is the list of smaller items on your wish list. They are easy gifts for say parents or significant others to buy. Think toe stops, butt pads, skate tools, skate bags and of course, cool derby socks and other clothing. I knocked three items off my list just at Christmas. I also helped my derby wife with a skate bag by dragging my arse out of bed at 5 a.m. to get a Black Friday deal. Keep an eye out for holiday sales both online and in local stores. You’d be amazed!
Step No. 6: Create the big ticket item savings jar
My second season starts Monday, and I am finally at a point where I feel complete. Now understand, derby gear is never complete. There is always something else you’ll want to add. For me, it’s additional wheels and some tools and cleaners. But I have one more big item that I am working towards-skates. I am going all out on this one and expect to spend a pretty penny. I’m okay with that though. I have everything I need, so there’s no stress in patiently waiting until my goal of $500 is reached.
Step No. 7: Take care of what you have, and sell what you don’t need
When you borrow equipment from a teammate, take care of it like it’s your own. It’s the right thing to do, plus you never know if you’ll need something on short notice. (Read the derby stank blog for tips on keeping equipment fresh.) I’ll add a gear maintenance guide soon.
Eventually you’ll have stuff you don’t need or want. Sell it! When I get new skates, I will make a newbie a great deal on my old ones. Sell it, but pass the love along. And if you don’t sell it, create a back-up equipment bag with your teammates discarded gear. It’s a great thing to keep around.
In the end, piecing my gear together one by one made my roller derby dream come true. But it took patience, hours of research and diligence. It can be done though.
As a final thought, TJ MAXX, Marshalls and other discount stores are a gold mine when it comes to socks, tights and cute skirts or shorts. And when you find a great deal, pass it along. If tights are $1 a pair, buy some extras. A simple pair of tights can brighten a teammates bad day. Just saying.