Life on the Fast Track

Photo Credit:  April O’Hare Photography

 

Rocky Mountain Rollergirl Assaultin’ Pepa is a real derby leader both on and off the track. As a key player on a championship team, the creative director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and founder of fiveonfive magazine, this woman has taken the derby world by storm.

Chief Gladiator: First of all, do you do anything that isn’t derby related?

Assaultin’ Pepa: I currently work as a freelance artist for an ad agency. Thankfully, I found a job that gives me the flexibility to work on fiveonfive magazine and still have time for league work and skating.

My life is very consumed by derby, though, and luckily I have some great friends on the league to hang out with.  My boyfriend is also very supportive of derby which is great. I try to make time for my “non-derby” friends at least once a month, if possible.

CG: With all of these positions you have, it’s apparent that you’re very multi-talented—athletic, artistic and entrepreneurial. What is it about you that allows you to do all of these very different things so well?

AP:  I don’t know about being multi-talented, but I do enjoy a lot of different things. I’ve always been the type of person who keeps busy all the time and tries to get as much done as I can. I have a hard time sitting still for too long.

CG: How long had you been involved in derby when you got the idea to start fiveonfive magazine?

AP: I started derby in 2005 and created the magazine in 2008 because I thought there was a need for easy to find, useful information about derby.  For example, information about how to become a better skater and athlete and how to run and build a league business. Overall, I really want fiveonfive to contribute to the growth of the sport. If we all help each other, roller derby will continue to succeed.

CG: So we know you’re a graphic artist— if you started fiveonfive does this mean you’re a writer and editor too?  You make a lot of us look quite incapable with all these talents (just kidding!)

AP: No, my background is in graphic design. We are so thankful to have so many people contact us with story ideas and it’s really those contributors who make the magazine what it is. We are pretty picky about content but almost everything we receive is a perfect fit for the magazine. Since our contributors are part of the derby community, they really know what skaters want to read about. Miss Jane Redrum (retired skater with Fort Wayne Derby Girls) is our editor.  She has a background in magazine editing and is really good at it!

CG: Now, onto your next talent: graphic design!  You not only do this as your day job, but also manage a team of designers as Creative Director of the WFTDA.  Tell us about what it’s like to manage and design simultaneously.

AP: We have a great team of designers who really don’t need much managing.  This means there’s more time just to work and be creative.  I’ve done a few of WFTDA’s logos and ads, which is a lot of fun for me.  I have both visual arts and marketing degrees, and have worked in the field for many years. I just try to make sure that everything is readable and easy on the eyes.

CG: We take it you do design work for fiveonfive too?

AP: Yes, I layout the magazine and do all marketing materials.

CG: Now onto the most important part and the reason that brought us here—derby!  Tell us about your shining derby moments.

AP: Winning both the 2010 West Region Playoffs and the 2010 WFTDA Championships. The 2010 WFTDA Championships were in my home state of Illinois, so my dad was there to watch us win the Hydra. I can’t top that.

CG: As a leader off the track, do you feel the need to lead on the track as well?

AP: I’m pretty vocal on the track and like to take a leadership role when needed, but I’m also able to take direction and do whatever the team needs me to do.

CG: Because you hadn’t skated before trying derby, what would you say to others who are thinking of trying it and have no skating experience?

AP: Definitely try it! You won’t get the chance to find out how much you love it unless you try it. When I first started skating, I had no idea what I was doing and just had to ease into the sport. It was so new back then, so we were all learning together. Today it’s a little different for new skaters and not as easy to just jump in because the sport has evolved so much, but those of us who have been around for so long are able to teach new skaters and provide better training.

CG: Last (but certainly not least), how did you come up with your derby name?

AP: My boyfriend actually came up with it and I thought it was brilliant. My only concern was that my league mates would call me “Ass” for short, but luckily they call me “Pepa” (and just refer to me as “ass” behind my back).

Roller Boy Nation: Men Take to the Track

Photo Credit:  @2012 JonCobb Photos

While women dominate the realm of roller derby, men have caught on and want a piece of the action. Marcus Hart of the Drive-By City Rollers tells us how his lifelong derby fascination led him to the flat track.

Chief Gladiator:  Marcus, when did you first come across roller derby?

Marcus Hart:  When I was a kid there was a TV show called RollerGames.  It featured a bunch of derby skaters from the ’70s and ’80s who reunited to play a crazy version of the sport on a figure-eight track with a jump and this huge banked wall they could skate up to earn extra points.  And if the game went into overtime they released live alligators on the track.  It was totally hokey like pro wrestling, but it captured my imagination in a big way.

CG:  How did you get involved in a sport predominately played by females?

MH:  I was living in Los Angeles, where there is a very large and healthy derby community.  Remembering how much I loved RollerGames, I checked out some bouts at the L.A. Derby Dolls (banked track) and Angel City Derby Girls (flat track).  I had never been interested in sports before (the best way to get my eyes to glaze over is to start talking fantasy football), but my addiction to roller derby in all its forms was quickly rekindled.

As I became a fixture at local bouts, I always said, “Man, I so want to do this!  I wish men could play roller derby.”  Then about two years ago one of my Derby Doll friends told me about their Derby Por Vida classes, which are co-ed.  It was time for my butt to cash the check my mouth had written.

After about two months of bruising myself up on their banked track, a fellow DPVer told me about a new men’s flat track derby league that had just formed in Los Angeles.  That was when I joined the Drive-By City Rollers, and have been taking my bruises from the flat track ever since.

CG:  Did you train with women and men?  We didn’t know there were men’s leagues.

MH:  A lot of people aren’t aware of it, but there are men’s derby teams.  Unlike the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), which has about two-hundred member leagues, the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) currently only has about thirty.  And that’s worldwide.

Fortunately there are a lot of women’s derby leagues in Southern California, and all of them are very cooperative with Drive-By.  Our coaches are Angel City skaters, and our practices are open to female players who drop in.  The L.A. Derby Dolls also host co-ed pick-up scrimmages twice a week, which is a super fun opportunity to mix it up with men and women of different leagues and skill levels.

CG:  What was it like getting started?  Did you go through fresh meat training?

MH:  When I first started with the Drive-By City Rollers the league was very new.  It still is, actually, but at the time they had only been around for about eight or nine months. So there was no “fresh meat” program to speak of.  When I showed up at a practice and told them I had taken some DPV classes they were like, “Cool!  So you’ve got experience,” and threw me right in with the big boys.  I was spending more time on the floor than on my skates, but I was determined not to give up.  I ended up wrecking my ankle and was forced to go off-skates for three months.

By the time I was cleared to return to practice the league had recruited enough new guys to have dedicated fresh meat trainers, and they helped me level up my skills enough to feel like a player instead of a trip hazard.

CG:  What is fresh meat training like?  What surprised you most about it?  Did you encounter any unexpected challenges?

MH:  I was actually surprised by how much I loved fresh meat training.  I liked getting to know the other new guys, and struggling through the same challenges together.  It’s an amazing feeling to be skating with a bunch of dudes who can barely stay on their feet, and a month or two later having all of us jumping obstacles and transitioning (turning 180 or 360 degrees while skating).

Honestly, the thing that surprised me most about fresh meat training was the day it ended.  The trainers were like, “Okay, good work, guys.  You’re ready to be assessed for basic skills.”  I was like, “Wait, what?  No no.  I’m not ready!  I still have so much to learn!”  But the little birdies have to leave the nest, even if the trainers have to throw them out of it kicking and screaming.

CG:  Do you have an athletic background?

MH:  Absolutely not.  While the other kids were out playing soccer or baseball, I was the one watching Star Trek and collecting ALF trading cards.  Roller derby is the first sport I’ve ever played, unless you count an awkward late-’90s flirtation with Dance Dance Revolution.

Recently a friend asked me what books I had read recently.  I had to admit that I didn’t have a lot of time for reading since I was doing so much derby practice.  It was a horrifying realization, like, “Oh my God, have I crossed over?  Am I a jock now?”

CG:  Where are you currently in your derby career? Do you have any derby-specific goals?

MH: I am currently in a transitional phase in the Drive-By organization.  I’ve passed my basic skills assessment, so I’ve graduated from fresh meat, but I have not yet earned a spot on our travel team. My current goal is to get rostered on the team so I can play in bouts sanctioned by the MRDA.

CG:  Do men have derby names?

MH:  My derby name is “Spuds MacFrenzie,” which is a reference only other old people get.

Skating Across the States

Photo credit: Melissa Renaud

From jam skating to jamming, derby girl Tinisha Bonaby has spent most of her life on wheels and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chief Gladiator:  Where do you live/what team do you play for?

Tinisha Bonaby: I live in Houston Texas and play for Houston Roller Derby. Houston Roller Derby (HRD) consists of four home teams (The Bosses, Sirens, Valkyries, and Brawlers) and 2 Travel teams (Houston All-Stars and Knockouts).  I am on the Brawlers and the All-Star Travel team.

CG: Unlike many other derby players, you’ve been skating your whole life. Did that make things easier for you when you were first getting started?

TB: I have been skating since I was two years old, so it has always been a part of my life. My dad used to take my brothers and I to the skating rink pretty much every weekend.

I would definitely say knowing how to skate made things easier for me coming in. But I still had to practice things like endurance, agility, doing things with both feet, and other little special moves that I do now. To be honest, derby has made me an overall better skater. Some of the things I do today I couldn’t do with ease before starting derby.

CG: How did you go from skating to derby?

TB: I was introduced to roller derby by my dad, who is an avid skater himself.  My dad was at the Montrose Skate Shop to get his skates fixed and brought a flyer home.  It wasn’t until a year later that he reminded me about it and I started playing—I’m now playing in my second season.

CG: So tell us about jam skating.

TB: My dad and I both do jam skating (also commonly known as shuffle skating, disco skating, JB skating and dance skating).  If you watch the trailer of the movie Roll Bounce, you’ll get the idea of what jam skating is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig4HBVB0p80

There are national skate jams, which are big skate parties in different states that skaters nationwide are invited to attend.  I have a goal of skating in all 50 states and attending at least two national skate jams a year.

CG: Now tell us about jamming.  Have you always been a jammer since you started playing?

TB: I am what you call a versatile player. I can block and jam.  I go in wherever my team needs me.  My first year on travel team I played mostly as a blocker, but this 2013 season I have definitely been a main jammer for Houston.  And I am pretty happy about it because being a jammer for Houston’s travel team has always been a goal of mine from the very beginning. Blocking is always fun when I get a chance to.

CG: What characteristics in a derby athlete make for a good jammer or blocker?

For starts I think everyone is capable of being a jammer if they really want to. You have to have the strong desire to jam. I don’t really think it’s fair to say someone “looks” like a jammer or “looks” like a blocker and should only play this one position.

I encourage newer players to try both positions, so that they can determine if they prefer one over the other.  But I would still keep in mind as you become comfortable in your dominant role on your team that it still pays off learn how to play positions. Ask to switch it up from time to time—you might be surprised at what you’re capable of.  For me, when I had my very first chance to play jammer, I already knew that was the position I really wanted to get good at. And from that point I started working on my endurance and different toe stop moves to get better.

So I guess if I was to sum all this up as a jammer you want to be confident, hardworking, have a positive mind set, an open mind to trying something new, and the ability to keep going when things get difficult.

Characteristics for a blocker are pretty much the same. As a blocker you should be just as tired as your jammer after each jam. You should work just as hard to stop that opposing jammer and/or play offense when needed. Work on being light on your feet and being able switch directions quickly. Don’t be afraid you push and pull your teammates around too.

CG: How did you come up with your derby name?

TB: Initially, I had a hard time choosing a derby name because I really just wanted to be called by my real name.  It wasn’t until the first time I scrimmaged with the more experienced derby skaters that I was given the name Freight Train. Becky Booty, a skater I accidentally back blocked while I was jamming, gave me the name. The amount of force behind the hit knocked her down hard. Then that’s when I overheard her say “If she doesn’t have a name yet, I am just going to call her Freight Train!” I was like Freight Train sounds pretty cool I think I’ll go with that.

CG: How did RollerCon go?  What exactly goes on there?

TB: RollerCon 2013 was awesome!  This was my first time going after hearing about it for the past three years. Basically RollerCon is a roller derby convention put on by a league every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a week-long event consisting of derby games, classes, drills, and spectating.  There are also themed dance/pool parties that happen nightly.

For me, it was like one big week long derby camp.  I did a little bit of everything, but mostly scrimmaged. The scrimmage games are fun to be a part of and watch. You get to play with all kinds of people on funny named teams.

CG: There are rumors that you might be part of Team USA.  Is this true?

TB: Team USA is a roller derby team consisting of the best of the best players in the US. Anybody from any league, no matter how big are small, is able to try out for the team. This team represents the USA when competing against different countries in the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup. The first roller derby World Cup was held in Toronto, Canada December 2011. The next one is going to be held in Dallas, Texas December 2014.

For now, being a part of Team USA 2014 is definitely a possibility. Currently there are three tryout locations. I made it through the first cut at the ECDX and was able to scrimmage with the top 32 girls from this specific tryout.  All I can say is I did the best I can do. Hopefully I made a good impression and showed the coaches that I can do it. There is hope in my heart.

You can follow Tinisha’s Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/freight.train22.

Skates for Sale

DC Rollergirls teammates Helena Handbag and Velocityraptor had been talking about starting a roller derby skate shop for years and finally said, “What are we waiting for?” In February of this year, the women opened Department of Skate in DC, happily serving derby dames in the city and its surrounding areas.

Chief Gladiator: Hellie, where in the city is your shop?

Hellie Handbag: It’s in Chinatown, so it’s centrally located and derby players from Virginia and Maryland can easily get here, too.

CG: What made you and Raptor want to open a derby skate shop?

HH: The two of us are total skate nerds and we love derby equipment.  We love all the gear—the plates, the wheels, and putting everything together.  We also love introducing people to derby.  We get people coming in off the street asking, “What’s roller derby?”

CG: Do either of you have retail experience or have either of you started a business before?

HH: No to both!  We just always thought it would be a lot of fun and we knew there was a definite need for a skate shop (the closest full-service derby shop is located in Brooklyn, NY.)  It’s definitely a big time commitment, especially because we both have full-time jobs.  Sometimes we still can’t believe we did it.  Not having experience was actually somewhat advantageous because we were really open-minded and willing to try almost anything without hesitation.

Also, we’ve found that owners of skate shops across the country (technically our competitors) have been unbelievably helpful throughout this process.  Normally, you’d think that your competitors wouldn’t want to help you or reveal any of their secrets, but the friendliness of derby transcends into business.  We can call and ask other derby skate shop owners questions anytime, and they are more than willing to help us.

CG: What is the most challenging aspect of owning and running the business thus far?

HH: I’d say just finding the time to get everything done.  I work full-time and play for the DC Rollergirls, so it’s difficult to squeeze everything in.  Also,  knowing how much merchandise to order is tricky.  When we don’t have what the customer is looking for in stock, I feel like such a failure!  It’s hard to keep everything in stock all the time.  Raptor and I work it out time-wise and we are SO lucky to have Rebel Yael to staff the shop during the day.

CG: On the upside, what has been the most fun part of owning the shop?

HH: One of the most awesome things, which I hadn’t even anticipated, is helping the new derby girls prepare for boot camp.  They come in to get their gear for the first time and helping them choose everything and fit them is SO much fun.  We have a skate maintenance class for beginners, too, which is always a great time.

CG: Have you had to advertise a lot?  How have people learned about the shop?

HH: Luckily, word of mouth in the derby community travels fast.  We do use social media, but for the most part, word of mouth is working really well because derby women talk to each other a lot.  Also, there are no full-service derby shops close by, so we don’t really have competition in the area.  It’s much more of a hassle to order skates online because you can’t try them on, so derby women are fortunately so happy to have us—it’s nice to be appreciated.

CG: Speaking of ordering online, do you plan have an online store?

HH: Our website is still in the works, but we do plan to have an online store and ship nationwide.

CG: What made you fall in love with derby so much that you even got the point of loving the equipment?

HH: The cool thing about derby is whether you’re tall, short, tiny or big, there’s a place for you and there’s something within the sport that you’ll excel at.  It’s like the anti-sport or something because really anyone can practice and be good at it.

CG: Tell our readers exactly where they can find you so that they can pay you a visit if they’re in town.

HH:  We are at the corner of 6th and H Streets, NW a block from the Chinatown-Gallery Place metro.

 

 

Derby Down Under

                                            Photo Credit: One Rock Studio

Aussie Susy Pow made the transcontinental move from the land down under for a chance to play roller derby in the U.S.  She told us how the sport differs across the world and why she’s convinced she needs to stay in America to reach her derby goals.

Chief Gladiator: Susy, how are you liking it in America?  When did you move here?

Susy Pow: I moved here in December of 2012, so it’s only been about seven months, but so far it’s great.  I miss being close to the beach, but I’m enjoying playing roller derby here so much that it’s not so bad.

CG: What part of Australia are you from and what did you do there for a living?

SP: I grew up in Sydney, but before I moved here I was living in Newcastle, which is a couple hours north of Sydney.  I was in business school when I moved, so I put it on hold for now, but plan to finish.

CG: When and how did you decide to move here?

SP: Last July I went to Las Vegas for a roller derby convention and met a guy who I ended up dating.  We were playing in a co-ed scrimmage and I knocked him over—that’s how we met.  I had been wanting to move to the U.S. and since he and I were still together, I decided to move to Baltimore.

CG: Where does roller derby fit into the picture?  How long had you played in Australia and were you sure you wanted to play here?

SP: I moved to Baltimore, where I play for the Charm City Roller Girls All-Stars. I wouldn’t have even considered moving to a city that doesn’t have roller derby, that’s how intrinsic it is to my life.  I’ve been playing in Australia since September of 2009. I had watched some of Charm City’s bouts online and contacted the interleague liaison about playing for the all-star team.  She was really receptive and excited at the prospect of me moving here to play, which made things really easy.

CG: Did you have to try out when you moved here?

SP: I had to meet a couple testing requirements, but there was never any thought in my mind that I might not pass the tests.  I’ve heard that try-outs and waiting periods can differ between leagues, so I’m glad Charm City was so welcoming.

CG: So how does derby differ here in the states?

SP: We follow the same Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules in Australia, but only WFTDA members can compete in playoff and championship games and there are only 197 members. The training here is much more intense with higher expected skill, effort and buy-in to the team. Here we train at least three or four times a week and workout outside of derby. Charm City’s coaches are regularly paid to travel and coach other leagues, including those in Australia. The quality of play in the U.S. is much higher— I feel 180,000% more challenged here.

CG: What about the social aspect?  Does that differ at all?

SP: The involvement of the players is much higher here than in Australia.  There, most of the money we raise comes from ticket sales, whereas here we do a lot more community outreach through fundraisers and also a lot more team bonding. Tonight we have a bar crawl and it’s the fourth one we’ve had since I’ve moved here.

CG: Sounds like it’s a great way to make new friends.

SP: Actually, I don’t even really have any friends outside of roller derby!  As soon as I moved here, the team organized a sleepover and a thrift shop outing so that I could get to know everyone.  We were friends instantly and I feel completely comfortable with every team member.

CG: Is derby as popular in Australia as it has become here?

SP: Not quite, but it’s getting there.  It’s just a bigger microcosm here, but that could also be because there are a lot more people here and the game has a longer history in the U.S. than in Australia.

CG: What are your roller derby goals?

SP: One of my biggest goals since I started playing derby has been to continue to improve and play at increasingly competitive levels.  When I started skating in 2009, I had been basically sedentary since the age of 12, so to discover that I’m actually really good at something physical is motivating.  Back then, seeing things that top level skaters did seemed unattainable to me because I had never skated before, but I’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

CG: Do you feel that you will be able to play at competitive enough levels back in Australia?

SP: Not right now, which is why I may end up staying here.  I have to decide at the end of this year what I’m going to do because I put business school on hold, but I really don’t see myself being able to improve with such leaps and bounds back home because I thrive on being able to pull from other people’s skills.

CG: We saved the most important question for last.  Did your derby name make the move with you or did you leave it behind and start fresh with a new one?

SP: Right back in the beginning I had a derby name, but quickly discovered it was already taken by a retired skater from Texas and uniqueness was more important at that time.  So within a few months of joining Newcastle Roller Derby League, I dropped the derby name and went with my real name. Skating under your real name seems to be becoming more prevalent.  There are three skaters on CCRG’s All-Stars who skate under their real names, but I didn’t feel like I was leading any movement when I swapped back in 2010.

Girls Who Skate Together Stick Together

Angel City Derby Girl Melissa Berglund takes us through her roller derby journey and tells us how her teammates have become her family.

For Boston native Melissa Berglund, aka Ghetto Fabu-Lez, moving to Los Angeles was both a dream come true and a challenging change, as she was far from everything familiar.  Fortunately, the athlete discovered her passion for roller derby and with it came new friends who became family.

Chief Gladiator:  We must ask you about your ghetto fab derby name, Ghetto Fabu-Lez.

MB:  The nickname “Ghetto” was given to me by my teammates freshman year at Vermont. I was in the locker room one day and the song “Ghetto Superstar” came over our stereo system. I started getting DOWN in the middle of everyone. I like to dance and am kind of a clown. It stuck like superglue (against my wishes). Since that day all my friends back east have only referred to me as Ghetto. When I moved to LA, I did not anticipate that name following me. Eventually, however, my derby friends found out and it was all over and became my skate name. I decided to doctor it up a little for derby.  My number, 617, is the Boston area code because no matter what, Boston will always be my home.

CG:  We’ve heard you were a star ice hockey player from a young age.  Tell us more.

MB:  I am from Boston and was an ice hockey player for my entire life.  I was only two when I started skating and eventually played at University of Vermont.  After college, though, I stopped playing and skating and became a gym rat for several years.

CG:  So you’d been off of skates for some time when you found derby.  How did you find it and what was it like to get back on skates?

MB:  A friend of mine in Boston had a flyer for the Derby Dames, so she and I went to a game and I fell in love with it.  They only had one tryout a year for the team, so I waited until I moved to LA in 2008 to play.  In LA, I found the Angel City Derby Girls league in its developmental phase and joined immediately.  It felt great to get back on skates, although ice skates and roller skates are really different—roller skates are a lot heavier and less agile.  When I put them on, they felt like boats on my feet in comparison to my hockey skates (which are extremely light).

CG:  In addition to learning to roller skate, you had to learn the rules of roller derby. Was it difficult to learn a new sport when you had been so accustomed to playing hockey?

MB:  It was actually really bizarre to learn a new sport when I was almost 30.  All my life I had been so familiar with ice hockey, as well as with other sports because I had played them or watched them so often.  With roller derby, though, I had to start from scratch and learn a whole new concept, which was challenging and fun.

CG:  Do you think it was easier for you to pick up on the game because you’ve always been an athlete?

MB:  I do think that it may have been a bit easier, but what I love about roller derby is that it really runs the gamut as far as types of women who play and, what their backgrounds are.  Some people have really athletic backgrounds and others don’t.  Some are 19 and some are 45 with kids.  What’s great is that anyone can play, they just have to like the physical contact part of it and not be afraid to get their hands a little dirty.

CG:  What was the league like when you joined?  Has it changed?

MB:  Angel City was in a transitional phase in 2010 when I joined.  They had just lost a lot of skaters, so there was a lot of room for new skaters to advance quickly.  After fresh meat training, I was on the B team and was soon put on the all-star team because they needed more bodies.  It was literally sink or swim, but it gave me the chance to prove myself early on.  I now play for the all-star team, the Hollywood Scarlets.  Since I started, the league has grown and matured immensely in every possible way (number of skaters, level of competition etc).  It has basically reinvented itself.

CG:  You’re the first derby girl we’ve interviewed from LA.  Because you’re not from there originally, was it a shock to move there?  How has roller derby affected your experience?

MB:  I had always wanted to move here to get involved in production, but the social scene here can live up to the stereotype and is not really up my alley.  I like to have fun, but am so glad that I have roller derby because the girls I’ve met are down to earth and share the same values.  We do almost everything together and some of us even live together.  Even though we range greatly in age, we’re all like sisters and share the same interests.  It’s really refreshing to have a tight-knit group like this in a city like LA.

CG:  Wow!  With that being said, do you think you’ll stay in LA long term?

MB:  In November, it will be five years since I’ve moved here.  I told myself that I’d stay for five years, but I’m definitely not ready to leave.  I’m not sure if it’s a direct result of roller derby, but it’s possible that without my teammates, I’d be ready to move back to Boston.  My roller derby experience here has literally changed my life and gave me a built-in family.

Getting up to Speed: Derby Gear

Chief Gladiator:  So you want to play derby and are ready to assemble your first gear kit.  Part of a solid start and strong derby experience comes down to selecting the right equipment.  What do the sport’s experienced athletes recommend?  We asked blocker Lauren “Shadow Cat” Salvador of the Electrocuties and the Denver Roller Dolls all-star travel league, the Mile High Club, to give us a lowdown of what’s in her bag.

Uniform

SC:  Our uniforms are matching tops with our names on them and leggings. The price for jersey top can range from $30-70 depending on the quality of the material.  For travel teams, you need both a home and away jersey, so the price can really add up.  The most recognized brands in the derby world are Derbyskinz and Iron Doll.

Helmet

SC:  Helmets usually run about $30-40.  Most skaters go with a skateboarding type helmet, although some prefer a hockey-style helmet as it offers more protection. You can take the lining out to wash it. Triple 8 is probably the top selling brand.

Mouthguard

SC:  I wear a Protech (now called SISU) mouthguard. It’s super light weight and I can talk and drink water without ever taking it out, which is very important. Most veteran skaters that I know wear them.

Pads

SC:  Of all the pads, knee pads are most important because you fall on your knees most often.  For kneepads I prefer the Killer 187s, but there are a lot of good brands out there. They can feel bulky to new skaters and make your crossing feel kind of weird, but they’ll protect your knees and that’s the most important thing.  I’ve been wearing mine for over a year and haven’t had any problems.  Some people are harder on their gear than others, so it really varies on how long it takes to wear them out, but you can always duct tape them together.  Pads give off an offensive odor, so I add some vinegar to the washing machine when I clean them.  And in between cleanings, I beat back that smell with an Odor Gladiator in my bag.  It costs around $100 for kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

Skates

SC:  Skates vary widely in price depending on customization and quality of materials.  Here’s what makes up a roller derby skate:

Boots

SC:  Boots have become very high-tech.  You can get boots that, when heated, mold perfectly to your feet.  These are more expensive, but you have fewer problems with chafing and blisters because they fit so well.  Generally, when you’ve been playing for a long time, you want to invest in nice skates.  Bont and Riedell are really well known for their skates and often sponsor players.  There are even Bont and Riedell all-star teams.  A pair of high quality boots like these can last for years and are between $200-400.

Plates

SC:  While skaters prefer lightweight plates, nylon and plastic plates often don’t hold up very well, especially with bigger skaters.  Personally, I wear the Sure Grip Avenger Magnesium plates because they are both lightweight and durable.  They cost between $160-180.

Wheels

SC:  The wheels you put on your skates will depend on the surface you’re skating on, the position you play and what type of performance you’re looking for.  If you’re skating on a sticky surface like a skate court, you’ll want harder wheels to increase speed.  And if you’re competing on a harder surface like concrete, softer wheels with grip are usually better.  “Grippier” wheels are best for beginners, as their muscles may not be conditioned to keep them planted firmly on the ground as they skate.  I wear Atom Omega 2.0s and absolutely love them, but I skate on skate court most of the time.  For a wood or concrete surface, I would probably go with something slower like a Poison wheel.  There is a store called Derbyville near where I live in Denver that has a wheel library.  Derbyville allows you to rent wheels for $10 until you find ones that work best for you.

Bearings

SC:  Your local skate shop can help you pick out a bearing.  Just make sure to clean them every once in a while, or if you’re lazy like me, give your friend $5 and have her do it for you!

Gaskets

SC:  These go on under your knee pads and help hold them in place, because nothing is worse than your kneepads slipping down when you fall. They’re about $20 but a worthwhile investment.  I’ve also seen some girls wear volleyball kneepads under their derby knee pads for extra protection.

Foot booties

SC:  I also wear eZeefit booties (as do many of my teammates) to reduce rubbing and blisters.

Insoles

SC:  Finally, adding insoles to your skates can keep your feet more comfortable and keep you going longer.

Chief Gladiator:  Well there you have it!  Thanks for sharing this great info, Shadow Cat!  We suspect wearing quality and well-maintained gear helped contribute to your 2012 accolades as Most Feared Skater and Bruising Altitude MVP!  Good luck this season!

Photo Credit:  Pixel This Photography

High Impact: How athletes are taking roller derby to the next level

Roller derby has come a long way since its days of theatrical personas, hits and blows, and has evolved into a legitimate competitive sport.  Ten years into its revival, athletes continue to take the game to the next level through intense physical training that makes it even more fast-paced and competitive.  Emily Lucks of Denver’s Rocky Mountain Rollergirls tells us what these women are doing to change the game and keep each other on their toes.

Chief Gladiator: Emily, tell us how you got started playing roller derby and what the scene was like then.

Emily Lucks: This will be my sixth season—I started playing in 2008 for a team called the Chicago Outfit.  The day I started was actually the team’s first day of practice, so I was able to grow with the team and help develop it.  Back then, there were a lot fewer teams and less expectation as far as athleticism and competition.  It’s definitely been interesting to see the changes in the sport throughout the past several years and how expectations have changed.

CG: What are these new expectations?

EL: Well, if you’re playing at a higher level of roller derby (not a recreational team), it’s really about becoming super athletic and upping your game both physically and mentally.  Like any sport, you have to diversify, so that’s what we are doing outside of practice.  Rather than just skating, we do off-skates training to keep ourselves in shape and mentally sharp.  We also have skills-focused practices to ensure that we all stay on top of our game.  Most every team has started to increase their level of training, so the game is shaping up to be very legit.

CG: How have these changes in training changed the way the game is played?

EL: Players are definitely stronger and much more agile, making the game more competitive and faster.  I’m still amazed when I see it, but it’s pretty commonplace to see some people do some pretty athletic tricks. Also, the rules have evolved, not necessarily as a result of the way we train, but it certainly changes the way we play.  There are no longer minor penalties, there are only major penalties, so players have to be much more responsive.

CG: What does an average weekly practice schedule look like?

EL: We have a lot of practices, but players aren’t required to attend all of them.  We just offer a lot, so hopefully people have an easier time fitting them into their schedules.  In addition to this, several of us have also started to train in CrossFit about five times per week.  I usually attend 3 practices per week and do CrossFit five times a week.  Here’s what our roller derby schedule looks like:

Monday: league practice/travel team practice

Tuesday: skills-focused practice/new players practice

Wednesday: travel team practice/league practice

Thursday: skills practice

Friday: speed skating practice/off-skates training

Saturday/Sunday: scrimmages/games

CG: What does off-skates training look like ?

EL: It’s pretty fun, actually.  We each take turns leading a workout (we work out in a warehouse) and use whatever equipment we can find.  Sometimes we do Tabata training, which is like interval training.  This works on strength, speed and stamina.

CG: Does the intense practice schedule increase team camaraderie?

EL: Yes, noticeably so.  The team dynamic and the way we are able to strategize is much stronger when we work hard and stay focused both on and off the track.  Teams that really work together and that have been together for a long time are stronger.

CG: Before I let you go, I have to ask you, since the sport is becoming so serious, are you going to start using your real name in place of your roller derby name, Sweets?

EL: I know a lot of other people are starting to do that, but I love my derby name.  It’s so easy to take things seriously and forget that the sport is still fun and playful.  Roller derby names are what makes the sport so unique and they also keep it light.  Life is serious enough!

So You Wanna Play Roller Derby?

Have you ever wondered how women get started playing roller derby and what it takes to make the team, or better yet, make it to the top?  We got the 411 from one of Seattle’s all-star jammers, Angee Foster (aka Jalapeño Business), on everything from buying your first pair of skates to how to reach the point where you can truly rock the rink.

Chief Gladiator: We’ll start with the basics. What team do you play for?

Angee Foster: I play for the Rat City All-Stars in Seattle. The Rat City league has four home teams and an all-star program with an A and B team.

CG: What is your derby name and how did you come up with it?

AF: Jalapeño Business—I was at a practice once and someone said  “all up in your business” but I thought she said “jalapeño business.” I felt so stupid.

CG: Makes for a great derby name though! So how did you get started playing derby?

AF: When I lived in Tacoma, Washington, my sister and I went to a rink for an open skate night.  I had just graduated from college and didn’t have a good exercise routine, so I was happy to try something new.  I had never skated much, so I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed it.

There was a sign for a speed skating class, so I went to it the next day.  It was me and a bunch of 13-year-old boys.  The coach there was the coach of the roller derby team.  He asked how old I was (you had to be 21 to play and I looked really young), but I was 23 and he told me to come watch the Dockyard Derby Dames practice. They had had try-outs the week before, but I worked hard and was playing within six months.

CG: What was your first bout like?

AF: My first bout was exhilarating.  I loved it!  I played blocker most of the time, but I had my sights set on jammer and I had been practicing jamming, so I got to be jammer for two jams.  My first bout was at a small rink and I had tons of friends and family in attendance. When I jammed, I was not very successful and I took lots of hits and fell a lot and I could hear the crowd “Ooohing” and “Ahhhhing” as if they were watching a boxing match. However, I still enjoyed it and relished the challenge and popped back up after each hit.  I think that being a jammer has special mental challenges along with physical challenges, but determination adds a lot to a jammer’s overall success.  You have to be able to brush off a bad jam and maintain a positive, can-do attitude. You can never let the opposing blockers feel that they have your number or that you will give up.  I learned that early on.

CG: What key factors have led to your roller derby success?

AF: Although it’s not necessary, I do have an athletic background. I played soccer during my youth and I draw parallels between derby and other sports all the time. Other keys to my success are determination, hard work, and fundamental skills. I have been lucky to have great coaching that focused on developing my basic skating skills. Just like in other sports, mastery of foundational skills is often what separates the best players from the average.

CG: How do you suggest someone get involved in roller derby?

AF: First, you have to get all the gear. Roller derby players need a helmet, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads, a mouthguard, and skates. I work at Fast Girl Skates and we gear up skaters from all over the country. Here in Washington, derby is becoming so popular that there are a lot of avenues you can take to get into it.  In Seattle there are practice only squads and recreational teams that you can try if you just want to play for exercise or learn the sport. There are leagues in many small towns across Washington and across the country. There may not be as many options to play in other cities, especially recreational options, but there is usually some way to learn the sport, as roller derby women are committed to sharing their passion for it with others.

CG: What should somebody joining a team expect as far as time commitments?  Also, is it expensive to play?

AF: As far as time commitments, every team varies.  Some teams travel, others don’t, and every team has a different practice and training schedule.  Because I play for the all-star team, the time I dedicate to playing is pretty significant.  We are required to practice three times a week, we have a scrimmage once a week, fundraisers, meetings and our games are every two to three weeks and they often involve travel.  We also are expected to miss work for games sometimes, which could prohibit people from being able to play at all.

Every month we have to pay dues, which vary by league, and of course we have to have equipment.  If you were to get the cheapest possible gear and skates, you’d pay around $300, and anything better is obviously a lot more expensive, so it does get pricey.  The hidden cost of it, though, is missing work.  If you miss work, you don’t get paid and that is costly.

CG: Who do you get in touch with if you want to play

AF: If you want to play derby, you’ll have to do some research to see what is available in your area. I would venture to say that all big cities in the US have roller derby leagues. More and more small towns also have derby.  Search the internet, contact everyone who offers derby in your community. You can start by visiting the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s website (www.wftda.com) and search for leagues and teams in your area.  Be persistent because derby leagues are run by the skaters themselves, so sometimes they don’t reply right away. Checking their derby email isn’t their day job.

If you are considering derby, but you’re hesitant to invest in all the gear, see if the roller rink in your community offers group skating lessons.  If you go and skate regularly and you enjoy skating and working on skating skills, that is a positive sign that you might enjoy derby.  You can participate in group lessons without any equipment.  You can even rent skates!

CG: Thanks for the great scoop, Jalapeño Business!  And good luck jamming this season!

Odor Gladiator Introduces Roller Girl Nation

As we travel the country to share the good word about Odor Gladiator, we are privileged to be able to meet so many athletes and learn about a variety of sports, including ones that often fly under the radar of the masses.  One of these is women’s roller derby– while we knew it existed, we didn’t know that it had morphed into such a serious sport during its revival in the last decade.  Unlike the staged roller derby competitions that many remember from the 60s and 70s (hearkening professional wrestling with fake fights and all), today’s roller girls are strong athletes and tough competitors who are dedicated to growing the sport and establishing and preserving its legitimacy.

Roller Derby’s Roots & Revival

Women’s roller derby made its debut in the 1930s and grew in popularity throughout the 40s and 50s, becoming a hit on television.  By the 1960s, many televised events were staged and skaters portrayed colorful personae for entertainment value.  After going through decades of changes, the sport had practically disappeared by the 1980s.

In the early 2000s in Austin, Texas, a grassroots revival began and within five years, there were more than 50 women’s teams throughout the country.  In 2004, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association was established to provide a uniform set of rules and requirements, which further legitimized the sport.  There are now hundreds of leagues in the U.S., most of which are part of the derby association and align themselves with its  philosophy, “By the skaters, for the skaters.”

Rejecting Stereotypes

Despite its new identity, there are still stereotypes attached to women’s roller derby that athletes hope to dispel as the sport continues to grow.  Konnie Kordish, a blocker for the Backwoods Rollers in the NOVA Roller Derby League in northern Virginia, said, “The sport draws all types of women, though the one thing they all have in common is that they’re athletic and have a true passion for the sport.”

Kordish, whose derby name is Steeltown She-Ra (Steeltown after her Pittsburgh native husband and She-Ra to give it a cutesy princess element), is taking the seriousness of the sport to the next level by starting to use her real name on her uniform.

“I like my roller derby name and I like that having it is something unique about the sport, but I’m starting to use my real name on my shorts because people are starting to take us and the sport more seriously and I want to keep that up,” she said.

One encounter that really resonated with Kordish was when a man attended his first bout and said to her afterward, “Wow, I always thought these things were staged, but you guys are real athletes—you’re badass!”

Survival of the Fittest

Another preconceived notion that many seem to have about roller derby is that the women aren’t real athletes and therefore don’t train like athletes.  Kordish, however, quickly dispels this myth, as her team’s intense training regimen inspired the entire NOVA league to follow suit.  The Backwoods Rollers started doing CrossFit together, which is an intense strength and conditioning workout designed to increase speed, stamina and strength.

“We saw results immediately after starting CrossFit,” Kordish said.  “We went into a bout and won 111-48—I think the other team was just dumbfounded.  We were so much faster and stronger.”

The Backwoods Rollers aren’t the only team who has upped its game—other teams in the NOVA league now train in CrossFit and Kordish has seen teams nationwide start to seriously train in order to take the sport to the next level.

“Everyone is really committing to fitness and wellness, which is making the game that much more competitive,” she said.

A Common Cause

In addition to dedication to the growth and improvement of the sport, roller derby women are all committed to bettering their communities.  Teams choose charities to fundraise for at their bouts and often volunteer their time off the track as well.

“One thing we all have in common is that we want to give back and help other people,” Kordish said.  Recently, NOVA Roller Derby asked spectators to bring puzzles to a bout that would be donated to a nonprofit center for Autistic children.  Athletes also traveled to DC to volunteer at Food for Friends, putting together food packages for people who are sick and can’t get to the grocery store.

Despite stiff competition, roller derby women stick together and pride themselves in putting their communities first.

Check back with our blog for more Roller Girl Nation, which will delve into the underbelly of the world of women’s roller derby—you won’t want to miss it.