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So you're just starting out, and you've decided that roller derby is something you could see yourself doing for a while. You're ready to make the leap and buy your first pair of skates, but there are so many different styles out there you're feeling overwhelmed. How do you choose?

Armed with a little knowledge beforehand you can make a decision that you can be happy with without breaking the bank.

There is an incredible amount of information to learn about skates, but for the purposes of this article I'll keep it to the stuff that will help you choose your first pair. Here's what you need to know.

Know Your Size

Roller skates are sold in men's sizes, so ladies will need to go one size down from their shoe size. If you wear a women's 9, try on an 8 in skates. Keep in mind that some brands and styles run differently, so while an 8 may fit you in a certain skate, you may need a 7 1/2 or 8 1/2 in another style. Don't assume that because one skate fit you, that same size will fit you in every skate.

Trying on

First off, when you get ready to buy, try on as many different skates as possible. Go to local skating rinks and sporting good stores and try out what's in stock. Tell them you're shopping for roller derby skates. If they don't know what you're talking about, tell them you want to try speed skates and jam skates.

If there's a shortage of retails shops that sell skates in your area, it may be worth your while to make a trip to the next largest town in your region to do a little skate shopping. You can also ask to try on other girls skates, but keep in mind that their skates will already be broken in and so a new pair will feel a little different. The most important thing is to get a feel for different styles and manufacturers and just to see what feels good on your feet.

If you just can't find a skate locally that is appropriate for derby, buying online may be your best option. You can buy just about any skate you want online, but you'll be buying blind, so if you go that route, make sure to compare size charts, measure your feet and find out how the sizes run compared to brands you may have tried. And be prepared to make an exchange rather than wear skates that cause you pain. Paying a restocking fee may suck, but wearing skates that don't fit can cause permanent damage to your feet.

How Much to Spend

Some people will tell you to go out and buy the best skates you can afford right off the bat. Other people will tell you that derby is so hard on skates that it's better to replace cheap skates every year than expensive ones. Everyone is different.

Unless you've got a trust fund burning a hole in your pocket, I would recommend spending at least $100 but no more than $200 on your first pair of skates and go from there. Once you have been skating longer you will have a much better idea of how you skate, what position you play, what feels good on your foot etc. and can make a better choice on a high-end pair of skates. Then those $100 skates that you started out with will make a great pair of beater outdoor skates.

Leather or Synthetic?


Many people prefer leather for it's durability and for the fact that it will break in to your foot for a somewhat personalized fit. A quality leather boot, properly cared for, can outlast almost every other component of your skate and can be a great investment. Leather also tends to be more expensive, and the higher quality leather used, the higher the cost of the skate. While it's possible to find leather skates on the cheap, keep in mind that the reason the cost is low is because low quality leather is used, so don't expect them to be as durable as quality leather skates.

As for the fit, a leather boot will usually feel firmer than a synthetic boot and while some skaters feel that it gives them more support, other skaters may find certain leather boots hard or uncomfortable.

When trying on skates, remember that leather skates will stretch and break in a bit, but it won't make up for a poor fitting skate. If your foot is swimming or you have spots that are getting pinched, try another size, style or brand until you find one that works.


Synthetic skates are a very cost-effective, animal-friendly alternative to leather, and can have a very comfortable fit with no break-in period. This is because vinyl doesn't stretch, so it will not mold to your feet like leather does. This also means that a synthetic skate is likely as comfortable as it is ever going to get, so make sure you're happy with the fit before you buy.

Synthetic skates usually feel 'softer' than leather skates, and many have a sneaker-like feel. You may find this to feel comfy, or just too squishy depending on your preference.

Vinyl skates are generally not as durable as leather, though, and if you skate like a mad woman, you can eat up a pair of synthetic skates in no time. Of course there are certain skaters out there that can tear up a leather skate almost as easily and your skating style and playing surface will have a big effect on the life of your skates.

Most synthetic skates are entry-level skates, so it's a bit more difficult to find a high quality pair if you want a vegan alternative. Manufacturers like Riedell, however, are beginning to make higher quality synthetic skates, such as the Divine.

Finding the Perfect Fit

Just remember that skates very a lot. A skate that someone else might love could feel terrible on your feet and vice versa. The most important thing is that the boot itself fits and is comfortable to you. You can upgrade the wheels and bearings on a cheap skate boot and it will feel like a much more expensive skate, but a pricey skate that fits you poorly will be money wasted. Remember that if down the road you buy a higher quality skate, you can move a lot of parts from your old skates over to the new boot, so those parts a like an investment.

Additional Resources

The best resource is often your team mates because they skate in the exact same conditions and on the same surfaces that you do every day! Don't be afraid to ask them what they like, what they don't, and what they would get if they were buying their first pair of skates over again!

Here are some web links you can check out for more information as well:

Sin City Skates Blog: New Skates - Choosing them, Breaking Them In, ETC.
Sin City Skates Blog: Vinyl vs. Leather - What Makes a Better Roller Derby Boot?
Sin City Skates Skate sizing info
Yahoo! Rollergirls group (an excellent place to ask for a rollergirls' opinion on anything derby)

To check out the skates in stock in the Fishnet Burnns Skate Shop, click here.