roller derby week 1

See week 0 here.

I am a nerd. I didn't want to go to class unprepared, so a few weeks before the Rookie Course started, I went to a neighbouring canton to buy derby gear so I could practice. Practice and hope to attain a minimal competency such that I would not be so horribly bruised again, so quickly. Roller derby gear purchased in Switzerland is pretty expensive. My knee pads alone cost 100 francs. But I have a job and a single yoga lesson here costs at least 20 CHF so I can deal with it. And those pads make falling forwards painless, which I rate quite highly. One must remember to fall forward.

An expedition was undertaken to find a location suitable for practice. Such a location must be:

  • flat, ideally completely flat, oh god a single stone will kill me dead
  • safely enclosed from roads, traffic, hills, chasms
  • devoid of other people, with their beady, judging eyes

And another thing I did not even think to think about:

  • of a surface appropriate for the wheels on my skates

It turns out that the wheels which came with the 'starter' skates I got (Riedell R3s) are of a hardness appropriate for concrete and other hard-ish surfaces. (They're Sonar Flat Out wheels, with a hardness of 88A, for reference.) The indoor multi-purpose court we found at our university's sports centre fulfills the first three conditions, to an extent. There are people on exercise machines overlooking the court, but I can deal with judgement better than I can deal with skating into traffic and dying. It fails badly on the last condition. It has some kind of rubberized surface (you can leave small impressions in it with your nails) and when I first put on my skates and tried it out, something felt... wrong. I could stand upright with no effort to stay in one place. I could roll to a graceful stop by ceasing movement. When I tried to move forwards, my feet lagged strangely, and made me stumble. I could jump without filling with abject terror. Something was wrong. I went home and did some research ('why roller skate sticky') and deduced that my wheels were responsible. For a surface that soft you need harder wheels to compensate, and my 88As wouldn't cut it. So I went off and bought some 95A hardness wheels and they seemed better, not perfect but good enough because I'm not made of money or willingness to spend a morning going to Aarau, as pretty as their cantonal flag may be.

Minor logistical issues aside, I managed a tiny bit of practice before the first training session. It's hard to know how much worse I would have been without it. I was bad, real bad. I fell (backwards or otherwise messily) five times. While trying to do a T-stop I messed up somehow and twisted my ankle in a way that seems like something should have broken. My issue was mostly corners. I was trying to stay on the inside of the track to avoid being in the way of the others, who are much better than me (they are mostly more experienced, so this is natural). I can deal with hurting myself but I don't want to cause someone else to fall. The inside of the track has a tigher corner however, so I kept getting off balance. Obvious solution is to stop hugging the inside of the track. Or learn how to turn (coming soon!).

At the end of the session we did a practice '27 in 5' (part of the minimal skills test is to skate 27 laps in 5 minutes) and I did twelve laps in five minutes. That's awful. So bad. Much slow ... but I was intentionally avoiding gaining speed on the straights because I had no idea how to deal with it on the corners, and I definitely didn't want to make someone else fall while they were trying to go fast. Especially not if it involves them falling on me.

We also covered plow stops, which I find a lot easier and less ankle-destroying than T-stops, probably because I can keep both feet on the ground. Overall though, my favourite stopping method is 'falling and curling up in a ball'. Fall small, they say. Be grand, they say.

I was alarmed at first by the horrible disparity in skill level at the Rookie course. Some people were doing crossovers in week 1. I mistakenly tried to keep up and got several days of hobbling around the office as my reward. I resolved to practice (once my leg regained full function) and definitely catch up, because that is definitely possible in a week (spoiler: no).

And now for some thoughts on skill-acquisition. At this point, being on skates feels terrifying. The ground moves perilously beneath me at every moment. Even staying still requires intense and tiresome muscle activity. My whole body is inexplicably involved in the task of not falling to my doom. I imagine however that this is how cycling felt, once. On cycling: I am a good cyclist. I am not an advanced cyclist: there are many things I can't do. I can't swing my leg over my bike and jump off while I'm slowing down, and I can't cycle stably with no hands. I can't turn really sharply. I don't try to do these things. I am good at the things I choose to do (causal direction left as exercise for the reader). I feel utterly comfortable on my bike - it is an extension of me, and I can go where I desire without consciously acting. It would be hard for me to explain exactly how I cycle, because so much of it is automatic. My hope and belief is that this is how experienced people feel on rollerskates. Until then, I can't play while on skates, because I am far too occupied with questions of basic mechanics. I want to get to the stage where I can think more about what I'm doing and less about how I'm doing it.