Love Your Gear: Quick Guide on Skate Maintenance

Do you know the anatomy of your skates? Everything rolls fine until you can’t roll anymore, and if your skates fail, you can’t derby. Whether it’s the plate that cracks, the toe stop that pops out, or bearings that fall apart… know your skates in order to efficiently maintain them, and always perform at the highest level.

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The boot of your skate is attached to a plate. Nylon, steel, or alloy, the plate is what holds everything under the boot in place. The plate bends and flexes in response to your movements and body weight. There is a reason why nylon plates are mostly on beginners’ skates, and metal plates are on more advanced skaters’ skates. Nylon is light but also very flexible, therefore subject to breaking faster than metal. Metal can be heavy and too stiff however, and may still break under really intense pressure. That’s why alloys are very popular, since they provide flexibility and are lightweight. Bont even came up with the Quadstars as an answer to pricey skates, and the plates are nylon. Whatever your body weight and skating preference, there is a wide array of plates out there.

Now comes the nitty gritty.

I’m excluding Arius plates from this post, as these plates don’t have traditional trucks. Most plates have trucks, which look something like this:

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The trucks are vital parts of your skates, as they are responsible for your wheel mobility. You surely heard from veteran skaters to “loosen your trucks” to give you more range of motion and improve agility. Again depending on your preferences, you might want tighter, or looser trucks. The truck angle might play a part in how comfortable you feel executing certain moves, like hockey stops. A small angle provides more stability than a bigger angle. Some plates combine 20 and 35 degree trucks to provide the best of both worlds.

The part of the truck that goes into the plate is called the pivot pin. The pivot pin is inserted into a tiny plastic pivot cup inside the plate.

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Credit: Bruised Boutique

When the pivot cups wear down, the skates feel out of control. The pivot pin sits snugly in this cushion, without movement.

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Credit: Bruised Boutique

Now the kingpin goes through the hole of your truck. Your truck moves around the kingpin. In order for the entire mechanism to work out smoothly, and for the ride to be as comfortable as possible, cushions or bushings are placed on either side of the kingpin. Cushions come in several hardness depending on your skating preferences.

 

RollLineAccCushionsUrethane-2These cushions wear out over time as well. Think of them as dampers. Dampers reduce mechanical vibrations, and absorb shock. When they can no longer absorb shock effectively, it’s time to replace them.

Your toe stop is screwed at the far end of your plate, right under your toes.

Depending on the type of plate, the toe stop is both screwed in and held firmly in place with either a washer and nut, or with a nut on the side. The side nut can wear out and lose its grip over time as toe stops get replaced, and constantly tightened. The washer and nut aren’t so much subject to wear and tear as the actual metal piece that holds the toe stop can get stripped, and literally come off the nylon plate. This is a common issue for skates like Darts, R3s and such. In response to this problem, many skaters super glue their toe stops so that they stay put. Obviously this solution foresees a new plate in the future.

The toe stop itself gets worn out over time, and requires to be adjusted in height or replaced. Proper toe stop height is measured in fingers, depending on how high you like them. Put the skate on the ground, and lift the heel, place your hand sideways and measure how many fingers separate the back wheels from the floor. When the skates come right out of the box, the toe stops will be at a certain height that might or not work for you. You also may like to have one foot higher than the other. Just like loosening your trucks, or adjusting the softness of your cushions, everything depends on your skating preferences.

This pretty much means you should try out as many setups as possible.

Last but not least, and probably a big culprit for noisy and slower skates, bearings! These tiny little greasy circles are inserted inside your wheels to make them roll. Bearings get dirty when not cleaned regularly. If maintained properly, they can last a really long time.

510sLosUzFL._SX342_You must remove the bearings from your wheels before cleaning them. To do that, use a bearing tool or bearing press.

maxresdefaultOnce the bearings are out of your wheels, remove the plastic protective cap off the bearings so that the bearing cage is fully open, and the inside can be thoroughly cleaned with a special bearing cleanser. After the bearings are washed, let them dry, then put one drop of bearing oil in each bearing, close them up, and reinsert them inside your wheels.

bearingcoverremovalentretien_roulement_roller_demonte_en_01Lots of information… I know. I heard “as long as it works, why should I worry?”. Some skaters only know how to change their wheels, and their knowledge stops there. Just think of your skates like a car. Your car needs oil change every once in a while in order for you to continue to drive. Understanding your gear gives you the ability to prevent bad breaks from happening. Given the oh so many variables of derby, limiting a few of them is surely helpful.

If you really can’t wrap your head around the many parts that make your skates whole, at least go to your nearest skate shop once a year to make sure everything looks the way it should.

Remember… Safety first!

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My 6 Derby Wins

There’s a lot to be thankful for in roller derby, despite the sometimes unavoidable frustration of not being physically able yet to nail that skill perfectly, or win that mental battle. Whenever I feel defeated, I look back at six milestones of my first year in roller derby, and I feel better.

JRG_WEB_freshmeat1- I showed up to first skate

I bought gear, I put it on and I skated. I was terrified, I didn’t know how I would perform, and if I would even like it. I thought, well if I don’t like it, can I still return all this gear? I guess my commitment to derby started as soon as I pressed the “buy now” button on Amazon. I even watched “Whip It” the night before to give me courage to skate the next day.

2- I showed up to the second practice

Despite being so nervous, not knowing anyone, and still trying to figure out if I was meant to do this derby thing. The vets scared me. They didn’t really chat me up, they just watched me from afar, and sometimes told me I did a good job. I was so intimidated. Yet I felt so much freedom. I could glide, and do stuff I never thought I could do. Derby definitely opened that door of possibilities I didn’t know existed.

3- I skated my first 27/5

I gave it my all. I didn’t make the 27 laps. I barely crossed over. But I pushed. I skated around that track for five full minutes! That was such an accomplishment. I felt lots of love that day from my fellow freshies, who pushed just as hard. I felt love from the more experienced skaters, who went through the same motions years ago. I felt like I belonged to the league, and the journey would be just a fantastic adventure.

9812e3efb94b15a9391d48db0d0b24d34- I experienced my first really painful derby injury

I heard, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when”. My injury was the typical “freshmeat kill your tailbone by falling really hard on your ass” ordeal. I couldn’t sit down properly for a good month. I destroyed that sucker. Thank God, nothing broken. But still, it hurt. I felt that constant nagging reminder that I had voluntarily enrolled in an extra-curricular activity that would leave me limping and cringing at some point. The tailbone was the beginning. It healed and I bought better buttpads.

Injuries are part of my story even before starting roller derby. No one wants to suffer and break bones. I had to ask myself, do I want to keep going? Do I want to go through the motions of maybe experiencing an injury that will keep me off skates for a long time? I had to be sure I was ready for it. I had to face that reality.

5- I failed my minimum skills

I wrote another post on the subject which you can read here. Basically, I am grateful I failed because I wasn’t skill ready to move forward. Failing gave me the opportunity to work on my basics, and practice until I was comfortable to be out there.

dcd04fbd3613b481d85c3f8896ecdc1c6- I got hit

I held my derby stance, sucked my stomach in, and bam. I got hit. It was a hard hit. Right on my side, sent me flying and I landed straight on my ass, wondering what the heck had just happened. During these few seconds, I made sure I was still in one piece. Then, I got back up as quickly as I could, and I finished practice. I still remember that hit to this minute. It left me breathless.

These wins help me keep things in perspective. They help me stay grounded. They help me enjoy every second on my skates. They push me to be better. They brighten my day. Every time I face a challenge, I think of that moment where it was just me and the track. What did I do? I learned that taking a break to reassess isn’t quitting. I learned that my body is my weapon, and my best asset, and I must be good to myself. I learned that my mind is my biggest opponent. I learned that day by day, I improve.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your wins?

🙂

Aggression: Find and Nurture your Inner Fire

3550583Roller derby is an aggressive sport.

Aggression is defined as a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.

Many people think of aggression as something bad, violent, rageful. They picture Hulk, smashing everything in his path, ruining lives and making little kids cry.

While roller derby requires aggression on the track – there’s no “sorry” in roller derby – this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be an asshole. There are ways to make opposing players’ game a living hell while not making stupid mistakes and be sent to the box, penalizing your team in the process.

Hitting right is hard. The more I watch and play derby, the more I think of it like a game of chess. The speed of the game forces me to act quick but the strategy behind each move actually requires me to take my time. Calculated hits are the most effective, and they’re performed with the perfect dose of aggression.

How do I become aggressive?

Remember the good old days when asked to hit another skater for the first time?

“Come on, hit me! I can take it!” the vet said to me with a big smile.

I was a shaky mess. I rolled slowly, and prepared myself for contact. I aimed at the hips. When the time came to actually touch her, I stumbled. My stance was shaky, and my balance wobbly. I had no power and no momentum. Deep down, I was looking hard for a reason to get mad at her enough I wanted to hit her. I barely brushed her with my hips and didn’t feel powerful at all.

While I struggled, the vets were really excited to hit us freshies. They didn’t look mad at all when they hit us. They actually were smiling, and looked very relaxed. We stood like chicken awaiting slaughter, and they came at us hard. One hit sent me flying. Woah, so that was what it felt like to be hit on the track… So we thought. Later the vets said they had hit us at 25 percent.

What must it have felt like to be hit at 100 percent!?!

Fast forward to scrimmage. Hits aren’t tempered anymore, and I’m feeling the full effect of being smashed into like a pinata on Cinco de Mayo. Woah. I never thought my body could withstand hits like that, and not immediately shatter like a porcelain doll.

As I learn to hit hard and effectively, I realize that aggression comes with commitment. Hesitation will kill me. I commit to hit a blocker and I don’t stop until I’m done hitting her. I focus all my energy and power toward that hit.

Aggression also comes with repetition. Muscle memory is my best friend. I have to hip check doors and walls to understand how low my body has to go and how my hips move to hit hard and legally. I work with my body to perfect the move. I try to go as fast and as hard as I can every time.

Aggression comes with control. I won’t be effective if I’m scattered. Like a car racer trying to pass an opponent, I must know myself, including what I can and can’t do. Throwing myself without any control will result in penalties, injuries, and possibly, an expulsion from the game.

Aggression comes with confidence. I know exactly how my body is going to move as I’m preparing to hit. I keep my stance low and use my hips to achieve the biggest hit in a legal target zone. I don’t give into fear.

The best way to find and nurture your aggression is to channel that angry energy and work on your skills. Learn to hit in a legal target zone! No one like headbutts and back blocks. A vet skater once said that aggression comes after you’re fed up with being hit all the time. This part is true. I noticed it myself, I really don’t like to be hit without hitting back as hard as I can. This took time though. I learned to brace myself at the beginning, and I took hard hits in weird places that left me breathless for a few seconds.

When the body is strong, and the mind focused, aggression is like this fire that burns bright and bold on the track. You affirm your dominance over your opposing players, and provide the best weapon for your team. Once the game is over, you hug and congratulate everyone.

Hitting people is also pretty awesome. So what are you waiting for?

If you want to read more on aggression, Treble Maker wrote a great post on the subject, available here.

🙂

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Exercise Mindfulness to Be a Better You

61a6fed4121cd8c456ca5fdf3351b2a0Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (Webster Dictionary).

Simply put, mindfulness means awareness.

How does awareness help in roller derby?

Ever watched these kung-fu movies where there’s a blind character, whether it’s the hero or some badass sidekick, and he can kick ass as if he possessed a million eyes? The guy is usually super chill, but one blow from him can send you flying into outer space before you know it. He can also fight better than people with 20/20 vision.

We won’t go as far as playing roller derby while blind, but we definitely want to send people flying while remaining as calm and focused as possible, and perfectly AWARE of what’s happening around us. Whether we’re blocking or jamming, we need to process countless thoughts, feelings, and sensations at once.

Successful athletes of all disciplines practice mindfulness to reach their full potential. Simple breathing techniques can lower anxiety, and help with clearing the mind and body of negative thoughts and emotions, such as fear. A composed skater will always perform better than a scattered, short-fused one.

How do we turn into killing machines on the track?

Let’s take a minute to travel back in time to the very first day you (and I) strapped skates to our feet. If you never skated a day in your life, needless is to say the endeavor felt freaking weird. We weren’t born with wheels!  Some impressions about the pads? They were bulky. The Velcro stuck way too much to your clothes. Your knee and elbow joints were in that angle you couldn’t keep your legs and arms fully straight anymore. The wrist guards prevented you from using your hands and seamlessly uncapping that bottle of Gatorade. You fell backwards a lot. The contact with the floor was hard, very hard. Your muscles and bones hurt in places you didn’t know it could hurt like that. Holding the derby stance for one full minute made you want to vomit. Your leg muscles felt like jello. You were stiff, very stiff, and while veterans told you to relax, you got stiffer! What about your breathing? Do you even remember how you breathed?

Setting aside bodily sensations, how did you mentally and emotionally handle these new challenges? Did butterflies fly havoc in your stomach? Were your palms sweaty? Did you talk to yourself on your way to practice, and convince yourself it was a good idea to show up and gear up? Did you talk to yourself again after gearing up and setting foot on that oh so slippery rink floor? Did you suffer from anxiety? Did you cry? Did you laugh? Were you excited? Did you experience a high from accomplishing something you didn’t know you could do before?

If any of these sound familiar, you exercised mindfulness. You were fully aware of what was going on with you that very day.

Sadly, our fast paced lives force us to be on auto-pilot for most of our daily tasks. We just don’t take the time to be aware of simple yet essential things such as breathing. As such, maintaining a high level of awareness takes training.

How do you train your mindfulness?

Start small.

Set your timer on one minute, and close your eyes. Find a quiet place, where you won’t be distracted by people or noises, and adopt a comfortable position. When ready, start the timer, and focus on your breathing. Push any distracting thoughts away by being solely dedicated on your inhale and exhale. When the minute is up, assess how you did. Did you feel pain or tension in any part of your body? Did your mind wander?

It’s okay if you achieved only ten or fifteen seconds of pure focus while the remaining forty-five to fifty were spent trying to get there. That’s perfectly normal. Like anything, mindfulness takes practice.

The purpose of the exercise is to focus on one thing, your breathing, to allow yourself to be completely present and aware of your body and mind. As you get more accustomed to the exercise, you can gradually increase the time.

Now the one million dollar question comes.

How do I exercise this mindfulness amidst all the chaos on the track?

Baby steps. It’s gonna take work. The way I practice it is whenever I get a quiet moment, on my commute to work, at work, as I take a walk, I focus on my breathing, and try to shut down any distractions. I find it easier to do with headphones on, but the exercise should be practiced in natural conditions too. This allows me to fully feel my body. It helps me clear my mind.

I practice mindfulness as much as I can outside of derby practice during daily routine activities, so when I’m at practice, it’s almost like second nature. I practice right when I wake up. I let my mind wander, and gently bring it back to my initial point of focus, my breathing. I practice when I wait in line, or when I’m stuck in traffic. I choose a cue (my commute really allows me to be focused) on my way to work, and shift my brain into mindful mode.

Someone on my team much more skilled than me, and with more years of experience, once told me that being aware is like opening a door of possibilities. I let go of all the crap the day has thrown at me, and the crap I throw at myself too, to be fully there during a jam, for as long as two minutes.

Once the whistle blows, it’s like the timer I set. If I’m aware of the present moment, I can better control my reactions. I can be responsive to my teammates yelling orders. I can move to where the OJ is coming, or if I’m jamming, to where the next blocker is.

The key is to start small and practice often. Countless scientific studies have proven that mindfulness helps balance our activities, thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions to minimize stress so you can become your best self.

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