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New girls always ask the same questions once they start doing roller derby; "What kind of skates should I get?" "What type of gear do I need?" "What should I buy first?" "How much does all this stuff cost?" "There are so many different kinds of helmets/skates/pads. How do you decide?"

It's enough to make a rollergirl's head spin. And when you ask for advice, everyone has different opinions and preferences, based in part on their experience, position, and playing style.

So here's the first part in a series of guides to gear for the new skater. This is not meant to be a black or white, right or wrong sort of statement on the subject. It is meant, however, to give newbies all the information they need to get pointed in the right direction and make smart purchases for their first set of gear.

If you just started, you're probably borrowing gear. My league has a huge box of miscellaneous pads and stuff that freshies can use. We call it the "Frankenstein box" since the likelihood you'll get a matching set of anything is very low. While this gear is okay for getting started, and deciding whether or not roller derby is for you, you'll want to replace it with better gear very soon.

Let's start with the most important gear, or the gear a new girl should invest in first.

Mouth Guards:Shock Doctor Gel Max Pro in Black

Let's face it: you can't borrow a mouth guard from anyone, and if you could, would you want to? Make a quality mouth guard your first purchase.

Other than your helmet, a mouth guard is your main defense against a concussion. It helps protect your brain by absorbing the shock of a blow to your lower jaw. It also prevents jaw fractures and tooth injuries, and keeps your teeth from lacerating your mouth.

What you should know about mouthguards:

A good mouthguard should let you talk and breathe, and should cover your entire set of upper teeth, all the way to the back, without chafing your mouth or making you gag. It should also fit snugly enough that when you open your mouth, the mouthguard stays in place on your teeth.

Most mouthguards are of the boil and bite variety, and this is most likely the type you'll want, as it can be molded to your teeth. Some mouthguards can be custom fit by an orthodontist, and while these offer the best fit and protection, they usually run a few hundred dollars. If you find regular mouthguards restrict your ability to talk too much, you wear braces, or you're just very serious about your dental health, you may want to ask your dentist about a custom mouthguard.

Two dollar mouthguards can be found in any sporting goods store, but I'd recommend spending a little more money on one. If you spend a couple bucks on a cheap mouthguard that fits poorly and is uncomfortable, you'll regret it, but you will never regret spending twenty dollars on a quality mouthguard that protects you and is comfortable to wear.

A decent budget mouthguard is the Shock Doctor Pro at about five bucks. I personally recommend the Shock Doctor Gel Max which comes in a strapped version and in a variety of colors for only ten dollars.

• If you wear braces, look for a mouthguard specially designed for braces wearers, like the Shock Doctor Braces model.

• A mouthguard with a strap lets you tether it to your helmet.

• A double mouthguard can provide more impact protection, but makes it almost impossible to speak.

• Look for a mouthguard that offers dental insurance. In the event you have a tooth injury while wearing your mouthguard correctly, the manufacturer will pay the costs up to a specified amount.

• If you have a very small mouth, try a youth size mouthguard, or follow the manufacturer's instructions for trimming their mouthguard down.

• If you mess up when fitting your mouthguard, just re-boil it and try again.

• You should replace your mouthguard at the beginning of every season, or if you have any major dental work done. If your mouthguard ever stops fitting properly, or you bite through it, replace it.

What you can expect to spend:

$5-$25 dollars for a decent boil and bite mouthguard

$300+ for a custom mouthguard fitted by a dentist or orthodontist

Popular Brands:

Shock Doctor

Brain Pad

Helmets:Triple Eight Brainsaver Neil Hendrix Pro Model

Your second purchase should be a good quality helmet, since they protect your most vital organ, and are usually in short supply for freshies to borrow. So what makes a good roller derby helmet? A good helmet should be CPSC ("bicycle") or ASTM ("skate") certified, should be comfortable enough that you will wear it, and should fit properly on your head. For additional protection, you may want to look for helmet that is dual certified to meet both the ASTM and CPSC bike standards.

• For more information on helmet certification, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute web site.

No helmet can protect you if you don't wear it properly. The helmet must be worn level, just over your eyebrows, not tipped backward or forward on your head. The strap sliders should be just below your ears, and the chin strap should be snug. If you grasp the helmet and try to move it front to back and side to side on your head, it should not slide around. You should feel the skin of your scalp move instead of the helmet! Follow this link for more instructions on properly fitting your helmet.

What you should know about CPSC certified helmets:

CPSC stands for Consumer Product Safety Commission, and is the federally mandated standard for bicycle helmets. These helmets usually have a hard foam interior that in the event of crash is meant to crush, much like crumple zones on a car, thereby absorbing the impact to your head. Most of these helmets are single impact helmets, meaning that after a crash or fall they should be replaced, since their ability to protect you may now be diminished. Some may argue that that this makes these helmets ill-suited for roller derby. Others are of the opinion that a helmet rated for a bicycle crash is bound to give you more protection than a skate-rated helmet.

A little anecdotal information: myself and at least two other girls in my league have received concussions that necessitated a trip to the emergency room while wearing a CPSC certified helmet and a mouth guard. This has influenced some skaters to switch to an ASTM certified helmet since they are rated for multiple impacts, and we tend to do a lot of falls. I can't personally say if one certification is better than another for the purposes of roller derby.

• A few CPSC certified helmets are being made which are rated for multiple impacts, such as the "SXP" helmets made by Pro-Tec. Pro-Tec claims these helmets have memory qualities to the foam, which allow it to rebound to its original position and absorb multiple impacts.

• Keep in mind that damage to the foam liner is not always visible. A CSPC single-impact helmet should be replaced after anything other than a very minor impact.

• A CPSC or bicycle rated helmet is not necessarily rated to withstand the impact of a collision with an automobile. Rather, helmets are tested using drop tests, and CPSC certified helmets are tested using a variety of drops from a height of 2 meters at speeds of 11 to 14 mph.

What you should know about ASTM certified helmets:

ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials. The ASTM standard is meant to cover the types of impacts more typical of skateboarding: more frequent crashes, onto hard surfaces, and typically at lower speeds then would occur with a bicycle crash. Usually, they are multiple impact helmets with a soft liner. ASTM certified helmets do not need to be replaced after each impact, however you should always inspect your helmet shell and liner to ensure they are in good condition, and replace the helmet if it no longer offers adequate protection or fits you properly. Some skaters prefer ASTM helmets with soft liners because they're a little lighter than helmets with a hard liner.

• Currently, there is no U.S. law that requires manufacturers to meet a specific standard for helmets to be sold as a "skate" helmet. So watch out for skate helmets that are not ASTM certified.

• Many ASTM helmets feature removable, washable liners. The ability to change liners not only reduces helmets stink, it can make the helmet easier to fit if you need a special size or are between sizes. An example is the Triple Eight Sweatsaver helmet.

• Unlike CPSC helmets, ASTM certified helmets only require a drop test from 1 meter as opposed to 2 meters, but require multiple impacts to the same spot on the helmet.

What you can expect to spend:

$20-$40 for a CPSC or ASTM certified helmet. Dual certified helmets are usually the same price.

Popular Brands:


Triple Eight




Thanks for reading Part One of the New Skater Gear Guide! Continue to Part Two: Pads.

Skate Safe!

Rei Zerburnn