The Slayground. Even the name sounds ominous. I will admit, when my friend Shae talked me into going, I was more than a little nervous. It has been a long time since I was last on skates and has never tried skating on a banked track. For those looking to tackle this beast, be warned: This is not an adventure for beginning skaters.
It is, however, an AMAZING experience for roller derby skaters who are visiting Florida and have the time for a day trip. (For those of you that have never played, derby skaters train every day of the week, either off-skates or on. When planning a vacation, many of them will look for places to skate and/or local teams that will allow them to drop in for a practice or two while they are in the area.)
The rink itself is not air-conditioned. It’s not even a rink as you may know it – it’s a warehouse with a banked track set up inside and run by local roller derby team Deadly Rivals Roller Derby. They don’t take credit cards (bring cash! $10 to skate. Exact change preferred) and they don’t have skates for you to rent. Bring your own skates as well as knee pads, wrist guards, elbow pads, a helmet, a mouth guard, and a large water bottle. (They have a water fountain, but you don’t want to have to climb in and out each time you want a drink.) Be prepared to sign your life away with a ton of legal paperwork removing the league from any liability as well if you get injured. The skate sessions offered there are drop-in team practices, meaning their team will be their practicing and you can join in on the drills. On the Saturday that we went, they had a number of new banked skaters so they went through all of the basics with the more advanced skaters while I tooled around trying to get my bearings again (I was there for moral support for my friend who was prepping for her first banked track game.) I was really lucky in that one of the league members seemed to make me her project that day and helped me get up and on the track so I could at least give it a try.
Things I didn’t know about skating on a banked track:
1. Skating the straightaways are SOOOO easy. You get some great speed going with minimal effort at most.
2. Skating the apex (the curved sections of the track) is very difficult. You almost come to a complete stop and have to really move your feet to get around the curves.
3. Crossovers don’t work the same. If you’re making a left turn, you’ll do opposite crossovers in order to get around.
4. The track is very slick, particularly on the painted sections. This makes falling a ton of fun though, because you just slide right down the track into the center.
5. Falling is less painful! It makes sense once you think about it – due to the angle, you’re not falling as far as you would on a flat track.
6. Falling is much LOUDER on the banked track. The angle of the track combined with the dead space underneath creates a loud BOOM every time you hit. (Knee falls weren’t too bad but the one time I fell on my rear instead, it sounded like I was going to fall through, though the track felt stable underneath me.)
7. Stepping to dodge people is much more difficult. If you need to go left, you start sliding down the track if you’re not careful. If you go right, you’re climbing up hill.
So how did I do?
Let’s just say that skating roller derby is not a career choice available to me at this point. I had a ton of fun though and highly recommend it to any visiting skaters in the area or locals looking to make a day trip.