Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Shopping for roller derby wheels

 

I’ve been playing this sport for a long time. I’ve never understood the anxieties over wheel setups. People often ask me for my advice, and I always feel like anything I say needs an asterisk. Since there are no playoff tournaments this week, here are my general thoughts on wheels.

If you’re stressing about what wheel to use when, here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter. Except for outdoor versus indoor wheels, there really is no objectively right or wrong wheel. So chillax, my dude.

If you don’t want to pay $150 for a set of high-quality wheels, then don’t. Go for the $50 ones. There’s no rule saying you have to own multiple sets, either. You can still be awesome even with those worn-in hand-me-downs. You can have a killer season and never once change your wheels.

Sure, there are extreme situations when a floor can be really sticky or really slippery, but it all boils down the individual. Different positions, skill sets, and even body types play into what works best. You can spend a fortune on wheels, guaranteeing that you have all durometers and styles for all surfaces and carry them all around with you to every away game. People do that. But it’s not going to make you a better skater.

A good athlete can adapt to any situation. Slick floor? Take smaller strides and allow for longer stops. Grippy floor? Sit lower into stops and be prepared for a fast game. The condition of the floor is just another factor that can’t be controlled, just like the calls of the ref crew, the strategies of the other team, or the drunkenness of the fans. But you can adapt to these conditions.

If your fundamentals suck, they are going to suck on any surface. Rather than stressing about wheels, get really good at edgework. Get your stops as clean as possible. Train on as many different surfaces as possible. Improve your core and lower body strength. The floor is not your enemy; your lack of edgework is. Get to know the wheels that you have, and get really good at adjusting your skating style.

All that having been said, wheels do wear down. Someday you will need an upgrade. So what should you try?

Beginners (first 6 months): Literally anything. You won’t feel the difference. You’re still learning how to skate; you’re still wobbly, you have no edges to speak of, and you have limited speed. Different durometers won’t change how any of that feels. I’ve seen freshies do great things on some pretty terrible setups. (Take it from someone who started out on Cobras.)

Blockers: Lower durometers (80s range). Blockers must be able to dig in on stops and hold at low speeds. Lower durometers allow for more grip with less effort. Wider wheels will give you a little more traction.

Jammers: Harder durometers (90s range). Unlike blockers, jammers need to have agility at high speeds. Harder wheels mean more speed with less effort. Narrow wheels will also aid in agility. However, coming out of turns at high speeds may cause extra slippage, while stops are generally easier to control with more slide. Figure out which you are more concerned about. You can start with some kind of middle ground by using “pushers” (grippier wheels on the left side of each skate) or consider purchasing hybrid wheels.

 

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • -As your edgework improves, you may find a preference to harder wheels. As a default, start with lower, grippier durometers and work your way up.
  • -Heavier wheels will allow you some more stability, but will make you less agile. Lighter wheels are faster and put less stress on your feet.
  • -If you train more recreationally, say 1-2 times per week for only a few months out of the year, there’s no need to invest in high-level wheels. But if you do train more intensely, it will be worth investing in wheels that will last a long time.

Many skaters do a lot of blocking AND jamming. There is no one wheel that will work in every situation. So basically, get used to doing everything with whichever setup you choose. While there are different factors to consider that may aid in certain circumstances, remember: it’s not the wheel or the floor, it’s your skill and adaptability that make the difference.

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Welcome Back: Post-Tournament Introvert Hangover

Welcome Back: Post-Tournament Introvert Hangover

**Deep exhale**

I’m just going to skip over the obvious OH MY GOD WE WON D2 post, as I’m still processing all that and have already had that freakout over various social media platforms.

I’ll just say quickly that I am positively bursting with pride over my team and how well we came together during those games. I’m really glad I got to jam in three of the five games Boston played (and won), including the championship game against Paris. Of all the tournaments I’ve been to, this one was by far the most fun and memorable. I am exceptionally lucky to be on this team, and I’ll certainly miss those skaters who are retiring this year.

 

Decompressing

I’m currently in the post-tournament recovery period.

As a classic introvert, I have to decompress after being constantly surrounded by people for five days. While the team GroupMe chatter continues with gossip over who was praised in a game recap, who drank what out of the trophy, and who threw up on the plane ride home, I need some time away from the noise.

In addition to being around your teammates nonstop, most of your time during these tournaments is spent in crowded public places – airports, hotels, restaurants, and convention centers.

It’s a massive energy suck for those of us who generally avoid those situations.

As soon as I got home yesterday afternoon, I didn’t leave the house. I stayed in, caught up on Game of Thrones, and ate my way through the kitchen like a human Pac-Man.

Other ways I plan on spending the next several days:

  • – Living in an ice bath
  • – Drinking hot tea after said ice bath
  • – Reading Kurt Vonnegut
  • – Listening to The Drums’ new album
  • – Foam rolling my calf muscles to the point of liquefaction
  • – Speaking to no one

 

The Bubble

That’s not to say that a part of me doesn’t miss all the stimulation. The first 24 hours after a whirlwind championship weekend always feels like time has slowed, like your derby bubble has burst.

In the real world, most 30-somethings have lives that don’t include ref calls, plus or minus point averages, or competitive brackets. It’s hard to come back to a civilization that doesn’t really understand or care about where you’ve just left your proverbial blood, sweat, and tears.

This “bubble factor” could be why it’s so hard to take a full off-season, let alone leave the sport completely. I’ve been playing for nine years and will probably continue many more until I find something that matches up to derby. One of my biggest life fears is that nothing will ever be as fun as this, and it’s a thought that seems to creep up on me more after the season ends and I’m left with derby withdrawal.

MOVING ON, I’m really looking forward to the D1 tournaments over the next few weeks. I’ll be watching every single game, albeit consumed with jealously and envy for teams that are still safely encased in their derby bubbles.

 

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Onward to D2 / Owning My Okayness

The WFTDA post-season is about to kick off this weekend in Pittsburgh with the Division 2 playoff/championship tournament. For the first time ever, Boston will be going to D2 instead of D1, and the feelings I’m feeling are the following:

  • A. Excitement
  • B. Disappointment
  • C. General ambivalence between A and B

I know, I’m being kind of a baby about the whole thing.

For starters, there’s no shame in being in D2. We all know that D2 playoffs showcase some of the best up-and-coming teams playing nail-biter games down to the last jam. Moreover, there are some great skaters in D2 that could absolutely hold their own against the best of the best.

But maybe that’s why I’m more nervous going into this tournament. We may have a much bigger shot at winning a few games and moving up, so in a way, there’s more pressure. The tournament is happening in three days, so I’ve been trying to put all that petty rankings stuff out of my head and focus on the task at hand.

That having been said, it was hard to see those rankings released after our rough weekend in San Francisco. It didn’t feel like those matchups necessarily represented what we were capable of (The Apex agrees). But a quick cure to that disappointment is watching footage of the teams we will be facing in Pittsburgh.

This is when I get excited. I’ve never had the opportunity to play most of these teams and after studying them, they are certainly not to be underestimated.

Lesson: Don’t be an elitist baby about rankings. Derby has a way of weeding those types out.

*****

I’m Okay and That’s Okay

The thing of it is, I transferred to Boston because they were (and remain) the highest ranked team in the region. Despite coming from a then-D1 team, it took me nearly two challenging years to even make alternate for the Boston Massacre. Now that I’m finally a primary jammer, we’ve slipped in rankings and are even slightly lower ranked than my previous team had been.

It is what it is. No team is immune to this. It’s certainly not going to stop us from getting back to where we were.

Sometimes Your Best Isn’t Enough (personally speaking)

Even now I get pushed off the roster sometimes. It’s part of being a jammer, competing for a limited number of roster spots. I still see myself getting surpassed by jammers who have not been playing nearly as long as I have. That’s not something that ever happened at the smaller, less competitive leagues I’ve been on.

Playing for such a challenging team has made me face the fact that hard work does not equal talent. To truly stand out or excel at anything, it takes some kind of combination of those two factors. But I’ve learned to accept that no matter how hard I work, I will never be as good as those with that natural edge.

It’s not that I think I suck. I’m just not where I thought I would be at this point, despite working my ass off.

We’re going into this tournament with a deep jammer rotation, and I’ve already been benched for the first game. So it goes.

Basically, the most you can do in roller derby, and probably life in general, is to try to be better than you were yesterday. I won’t be a star jammer on a team like this, for a city like this, but I know I’m far better than the jammer I was before I transferred.

And I’m proud of my jammer teammates. I love seeing them do amazing things at practice. I love having such a high bar. When one of us succeeds, we all do.

Anyway, see you in Pittsburgh. I may not be playing in every game, but I’ll be there.

*****

If you’d like to tune in to the games, they will be livestreamed via WFTDA.tv beginning on Friday.

 

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Welcome to kswirko.com 2.0

 

Upon finally accepting that people outside of roller derby don’t generally care about roller derby, along with some technical problems that I didn’t know how to handle, I scrapped my original website.

Back then, it was more of a landing base for potential sponsors — a way to raise money and maybe publish the occasional blog post about the sport. I searched for sponsors for over a year, but I just couldn’t generate any interest.

What was going well, however, was the blogging part. I wrote a piece on sexism in the sport that went viral within 48 hours and was even picked up by other derby websites.

So I’m starting over again, except now it will be more of a blog format, with roller derby being only one of the many topics. In essence, I just want to write. About weird things. In a fun way. Maybe make friends with other weirdos in the process.

So welcome to the new kswirko.com, aka free-beer.org (I learned how to redirect domains and yes, I paid $11 for free-beer.org).

Stay tuned for kswirko.com 3.0, in which I will blog about my foray into the cutthroat world of International Ping Pong; kswirko.com 4.0, in which I will share my experiences of being part of a clandestine human cyborg experiment; and kswirko.com 5.0, in which I will document the glory of fighting in the Martian Wars as a human/cyborg hybrid.

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