Roller Derby: Hell on Wheels
A few Friday nights ago I was lucky enough to go see a live and vicious Roller Derby bout at Sydney’s Olympic Park. I got what I paid for; fishnet stockings, face paint, glittery short-shorts and screaming fans, but was surprised by the sports(women)-ship, comradery and skill showed out on the rink. Roller Derby seems to have burst out of nowhere as the newest cult social/sporting activity for women (perhaps thanks to Drew Barrymore’s Whip It!), with a growing membership and larger crowds at their games then ever before. I managed to catch up with two of the Sydney Roller Derby League members; ‘Haterade’ and ‘Bacardi Bruiser’ to talk rules, costumes, and Derbys undeniable appeal to hordes of young women. So if you’re tired of your pole-dancing classes and want to step it up a notch, read more…
1. So, Roller Derby. How do you actually play and what are the rules?
Bacardi Bruiser: There are 2 teams of 5 that compete on a rink. One person on each team has a star on their helmet (The Jammer), and they score points by passing members of the opposing team (the Blockers or The Pack). Whoever scores the most points, wins.
“Derby is a full contact sport; you use your own body to 'block' the opposing Jammer. It is both offensive and defensive as you also try and help your own Jammer through.”
There are A LOT of rules, and you are penalised for breaking them, by either a minor penalty, or a major penalty (1 minute in the sin bin). It is a very fast paced game, and teams must stay within the looped track at all times.
2. There are plenty of team sports out there - Roller derby might seem like and unlikely choice. So what attracted you to the game?
Haterade: I loved the idea of a sport that was played on rollerskates, and that was unapologetically full contact! People do get hurt, we have all had bad nights, but we always get back on our feet. Contact sports like this are not usually that is readily available to women. I really enjoy the athleticism and strategy of the sport, it's both physically and mentally challenging. And I find it much easier to push myself while skating endurance laps than I do when running 10km!
Bacardi Bruiser: I've played a lot of different sports in my life. When I first started Derby, it was just another excuse to skate. I used to play ice hockey and also rollerbladed as a child. What attracted me was that it was real, and it was tough and that women from all walks of life played it. I liked the personalities and the showmanship, the whole atmosphere. Girls who play Derby pull off some incredibly athletic feats, but also don’t taking themselves too seriously – it’s the perfect mix of fun and skill.
3. How do you guys train, and how often to you play?
Haterade: We train three to four days a week, and our training regime includes off skates training with strength, speed and fitness work, on stakes endurance and drill work, team drills and scrimmage - which is like bout day, but in a training environment. It is important that we keep training hard, to minimise injuries and to keep improving our game, so we can bring it on bout day!
Bacardi Bruiser: This year we have also teamed up with SHECAMP Group Fitness for Women to do an off-skates fitness training once a week. During the season, we play games with home team approximately every 4-6 weeks, and there are also games additional to those for skaters on our representative team, the Assassins.
4. How many teams in your comp, and is there an international comp for the winners of the local competition?
Bacardi Bruiser: The Sydney Roller Derby League (SDRL) consists of four teams:
- The D'viants
- The Screaming Assault Sirens
- Team Unicorn The Horny Rollers
- The Beauty School Knockouts.
The best skaters from these four home teams form our representative team, The Assassins, who compete against leagues from across the country and also from New Zealand. The Assassins will be representing SRDL at "The Great Southern Slam", which is the Australian National Championship, in June 2012, in Adelaide. The top 18 leagues from Australia and New Zealand will compete for the title.
Haterade: Internationally – I was lucky enough to represent Australia at the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup in December 2011, where we placed 4th! The Australian team was a selected through a tryout process that allowed women from across the country to try out for a spot on the team. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the international governing body and they set standards for rules, season and safety, and determines guidelines for the national and international athletic competitions of member leagues.
5. We have heard that Roller-derby is a fierce game, but that you can also make great friends. Do you find that you are a close team?
Haterade: Playing roller derby is not just skating and training, the skaters also run the Organisation - everything from gaining sponsorship, managing media coverage, league promotions, fundraising, accounting, administration, developing training plans, putting on bouts - everything is done by the skaters, (once again – its really a team effort!). Working with so many strong and capable women has resulted in many great friendships that I hope will last well beyond the time that I am skating.
“A saying that goes around a lot of Derby players is that ‘Roller Derby saved my soul.’ And it's clichéd, but very true.”
Bacardi Bruiser: Yes, we are a very close! I've been involved in many team sports (soccer, baseball, touch footy, volleyball, ice-hockey) and none of them compare in the least to the friendship and camaraderie I have gained from Roller Derby. I started with a league on the NSW North Coast (Coffs Harbor) and only transferred to Sydney in 2011. I moved to Sydney literally knowing nobody here. It was an instant family and I was welcomed immediately, no questions asked, no judgments. A saying that goes around a lot of Derby players is that ‘Roller Derby saved my soul.’ And it's clichéd, but very true. Twice it (and the friendships it involves) has gotten me through some really horrible stuff that was going on in my life. I love all the girls in my home team (Screaming Assault Sirens) to bits and our team get-togethers are always epic!
6. Tell us about your uniforms, player pseudonyms, and the whole theatrical side of Roller-derby?
Haterade: I love that we can have a bit of fun with what we wear while still playing a legitimate sport. It is also great to be able to adopt an alter-ego when on the track – ‘Haterade’ is more physical and aggressive on the track than ‘Melissa’ would be! The bright outfits, face paint, fishnets, and the pseudonyms make for a fast and highly entertaining spectator sport. I think that the outfits and the ‘girls on skates hitting each other’ gets some people to their first game - but it's definitely the athleticism and strategy that keeps them coming back!
“It's a massive deal to choose your Derby name; it's one of the hardest things for a new skater!”
Bacardi Bruiser: Our uniforms for our home teams are amazing! They are all 'themed' to fit in with the team name. This year we have new league uniforms which are also our representative team uniforms, which have moved towards the much more athletic "sports singlet" and shorts image. They look fantastic, (but they are also practical!) Our pseudonyms are a traditional part of the sport, and I guess it can be fun to have that alter-ego and detachment from your normal identity. It's a massive deal to choose your Derby name; it's one of the hardest things for a new skater! There is always going to be a theatrical side to roller derby, at least in the near future. It's one of its big draw-cards, that it's a whole night of entertainment when you go and watch a bout.
7. Roller Derby as a sport seems to be having a revival in Australia and around the world. Why do you think women in particular are taking to this game, which was originally invited by male sportsmen in Depression era USA?
Haterade: Women these days are looking for fun team sports to keep them active, busy and to potentially meet new people. Roller Derby has a lot to offer and I find once women watch a bout they are really keen to strap on a pair of skates. It also has this creative fun side that I think is really exciting, you can be someone entirely different for the night!
Bacardi Bruiser: Roller Derby is the fastest growing women's sport in the world. I think what attracts a lot of women is that it's open to anyone. It’s not elitist and you don't need to have played half your life to make it at the top level. It's also empowering, playing a full-contact sport, and it really does give you a lot of confidence in the rest of your life. I think it's also that it is (for the most part) still an all-female sport. It's OUR baby and that sense of ownership can be a big draw card for some people. Part of it is also the entertainment value, and doing something athletic that is a little outside the square.