I started at VDL’s “Super Speshy Freshie Seshy’s”. Sunday, Tuesday and Sunday evenings this last week, I have donned skates at a local indoor basketball court and learnt to stop, fall and stand correctly, with a taster how-to on hitting and target zones in the final session.
The first Sunday I really had no idea what to expect. I have been reading obsessively about derby since I started researching skates before my big purchase in late July. But reading about practice and watching youtube videos isn’t the same, especially when most of the content is created by people who have been involved in derby for at least a year already, and are already drafted to teams and bouting.
I walked into the gym right on time, just as someone screamed for everyone to start running laps. First mistake: i had worn some crappy ballet slip-ons on the assumption I would be immediately taking them off to put my skates on. Instead, I slipped and slid around the wooden floor as the shoes continually flapped and fell off, before I gave up and just went in my socks. I made it 1.5 laps before I dropped back to a walk, I haven’t run for anything other than a bus since I fucked my knee at age 12. We then did push-ups and crunches (which I’m OK at), and planks and wall-sits (not so great). The group then split into White Stars and ‘old freshies’ who has been training for a couple of months already, and the new Freshies like myself who were there for the first time. A quick talk about ‘what is derby/ VDL’ and it was finally time to gear up and see what we had! There were a few people that had only partial or no gear at all so loaners were found, and there were one or two each evening that had obviously never skated at all before! VDL were super supportive about this, with loaner gear and a buddy or two for the complete noobs on top of the 1-3 official Freshmeat trainers.
Now seems like a good time to talk gear. I am currently rocking Bont leather hybrids, Pilot plates and Suregrip Aerobic outdoor wheels. I have toesavers but I think I also need to hockey-tape my boots as I now have scuffs around them! Kneepads are Ridden handmade skateboarding pads, the only ones in the shop that fit me. They were pricey, but always cheaper than knee surgery!. Wrists, elbows and helmet are Protech, mouthguard is Sisu. I am 6’1-ish and currently 135kg (eek! I lost 20kg last year, then moved states, started a new job and quit smoking, which all amounted to putting 15kg back on). In the next 6 months I intend to replace my plate (the Pilot is a quality nylon plate, but it’s still nylon. I want an Invader or XK4 DA45 aluminium plate) and hope to start building a wheel collection soon.
First night we did some warm-up laps then practiced gliding on one foot. We learnt plow and T-stops, and single and double knee falls. As part of my normal exercise routine I have been doing squats a lot lately which were definitely helpful, but apparently I need to start doing more lunges. Single and double knee ‘falls’ involve lowering yourself into a slide in a lunge position rather than actually falling, and after only a couple of reps my quads were screaming for mercy.
Tuesday was All-League Training, leaving us Freshies the ‘leftover’ parts of the court to practice and watch in awe while the more experienced skaters ran drills. This time warm-up consisted of running laps (I wore proper shoes and managed 2.5 this time, hooray!), lunges and sumo-squats for the length of the court and some agility moves. We practiced gliding and stops again, and added ‘sticky skating’ (propelling yourself forward without lifting your feet off the floor) and ‘truck and trailer’ maneuvers (where you skate in pairs, taking turns to push or pull another skater while they glide). I changed out my hard ‘came with my skates’ bushings for soft Powerdyne reds right before the training so I made sure to do some extra warm-up laps to get used to them. I definitely noticed a difference, it was easier to turn and made my plow stops much more comfortable.
The final Freshie Seshy on Sunday was more of the same. Warm-up was more lunges, grapevinves, push-ups, crunches and planks. I made another gear change, this time changing my outdoor wheels for the indoor Atom Snaps which came with my set-up. They’re 91a which is really the minimum I should be using for the coated wood floor, but I have to say I didn’t like them much. I’m guessing it’s the nylon hubs flexing under my weight because they felt both soft and slippery at the same time (although my inexperience would also be a factor). Once my car rego is paid off I’m planning on getting some Hyper Shamans or SureGrip Zombies instead. Anyhow, more test laps (I found it much harder to do the one-foot gliding with the indoor wheels, one of the reasons I didn’t like them. The slipping on corners I can put down more to my lack of practice), more sticky skating and more stops. My one-knee falls are already looking better, I’m getting the form but I still need to build up muscle strength to do them consistently. Double-knee falls on the other hand are shocking, I’m either falling forward (means my stance is wrong and my core is weak) or turning as I fall (meaning I’m not keeping my knee straight). Practice practice practice! The two highlights of the night were Sock Derby (ie. playing a jam with everything except skates on, it was ridiculously fun), and another Truck and Trailer drill, but this time with a White Star. Freshies were corralled and White Stars were all told to find a Freshie. A girl skated up to me and went ‘You look about my size, come on’. Sure enough, relatively similar height and weight and we made a good team. She had been training for about 3 months. We skated around the track, taking turns pushed and pulling each other as the whistles blew, weaving through the other pairs as we overtook most of the others. It was pretty awesome, and we even managed to avoid being taken down by the pair that stacked directly in front of us in a spectacular fashion. It was only 5 minutes or so but I wasn’t holding back so my legs and my lower back were soon in agony and I was getting puffed and I had to apologise to my partner because I needed a break. No sooner had I stopped than the drill was called. I’m pretty sure it’s because they saw me sit down and suddenly remember they had Freshies, because we all immediately got a pep talk about how derby uses muscles you’re not used to and it will get better as we practice.
And so now I am waiting for the email with all the details to official join the league. For the next 8 weeks it’s Freshmeat Bootcamp on Friday’s followed by the Freshies and Whitestars training on Sundays. Once Bootcamp is over we get to join the Tuesday All-League sessions and test for our own White Star levels. My exercise regime this year has been mostly ‘do what I feel like when I feel like’ (a mix of cycling, weights and bodyweight stuff) but now I really need to step it up a notch and get a proper off-skates routine going.