This article was first published in Derby Oz magazine.
Photo by Smasharazzi
The Ten Funnest Things About Derby.
To describe Roller Derby as, “a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track…” et cetera, et cetera, which is what you’ll find on Wikipedia, really doesn’t give an outsider any insight into why Roller Derby is the fastest-growing sport in the world. It’s not just the gameplay that makes it amazing, it’s the “aura of Derbyness” around our great sport that makes it so phenomenal and so unique. This author decided to pinpoint what are, in her humble opinion and in no particular order, the ten funnest things about Roller Derby.
We have cool names. I love words. It’s why I like to write. Words can be clever, insightful, cutting, witty, suggestive, and sometimes all those things at once. So when I found out that the manager of my son’s rugby league team was not always called Mike, but sometimes called Dirty Menace, it was like a compass finding North. With our Derby names, we get to live out a little bit of fantasy that most of us don’t get to embrace in our day-to-day lives. For instance, I get to be a Hogwarts student (a really smart one at that). Derby names can make me nod my head in “hell yeah” admiration at their cleverness, or laugh out loud at their wittiness. Our alter egos are not something that “mainstream” sports embrace, and I realise it’s not something every league, or every skater, agrees with, but I love the fact that we have them. It makes us special, and it shows the world that we’re just a little bit clever really.
We play dress-ups. Let’s face it – Derby outfits are the best sporting attire going. Personally I’m not into tutus, but if that’s your scene, then I say TUTU IT UP WARRIOR PRINCESS! My team’s uniform consists of a sexy skate dress that I would NEVER wear in public otherwise. The rest of what we wear is up to us. Yes, some of us love fishnets, some of us don’t. Some of us have stage makeup, and some of us prefer to go mainstream – like our unique names, it’s not everyone’s scene. If you want to wear compression tights, like a hard-core elite athlete, do it. But some Derby girls want to have a bit of fun with what they wear on the track, and if they’re willing to risk a little fishnet burn, then good for them. And, by the way, you ALL look hot, no matter what you’ve got on your bod.
We are for everyone. I’m pretty sure my league is not unique in the fact that we accept, and embrace, people from all walks of life. Derby does not care what colour your skin is, what your background is, or your sexual orientation. We do not care if you are tattooed or a clean-skin, a bogan or a socialite. If you want Derby to be for you, it’s for you, and in this era when demographers try to pigeonhole us as much as they possibly can, I for one find Derby’s inclusiveness like a breath of fresh air.
We respect differences. I’ve seen fresh meat who seem to take to Derby like a duck to water. I struggled for almost a year before I mastered a Tomahawk stop, and seeing fresh meat who master it in a few weeks makes me just a teeny bit green with envy. But the fact is, Derby doesn’t care. Derby will embrace the girls who get it right the first time, and it will also be patient with the ones who take a little longer. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to pass your basic skills test. If you want to be here, we want you, and we respect you all the more for never giving up.
We are free-thinkers. Now, this is not based on any scientific evidence, but it seems to me, from my short time in the Derby world, that our little community is a teensy bit more intellectual, more inclusive, and more progressive than the rest of the community at large. I know that I can express an opinion, related to Derby, politics, or life, and even if it’s not agreed with, my opinion is respected, and an intelligent discussion can ensue. Maybe I’ve seen too many trolls on the Interwebs, but yeah, it seems to me that Derby peeps are pretty cool that way, and are way smarter than the average bear.
We knock the snot out of each other, and are best friends afterwards. We take our sport seriously. I laugh at the nay-sayers (most of whom have never seen a derby bout) who think that Derby is not a “real” sport, that our sport is akin to entertainment wrestling. I challenge anyone to tell a Derby girl to deliberately lose a bout. I promise you, it’ll be the last thing you say before your jaw is wired shut from the high block you’ll receive. We can have immense love, respect and friendship for one another off the track – even as we’re waiting for that whistle at the jammer line – but you better believe it girlfriend, on the track I’m putting my body on the line to make sure I beat you. And afterwards? Afterwards, it’s back to free-flowing, unadulterated, pure-as-the-driven-snow Derby Love.
We have amazeballs fans, volunteers, refs and NSOs. I love our support crew. After every scrimmage, and every bout, I try to thank every volunteer and ref I see. Because they’re not doing it for the fame, the glory or the money. They’re doing it because they love Derby, and because they want to give their time so we can skate. How awesome is that? And, in return, if we can give them the most amazing spectator sport ever conceived, well I for one think that is a fantastic trade.
We have the ultimate stress relief. I never would have said this before I started Derby, but I love getting hit. The idea of actual fisticuffs scares me to tears (as opposed to Feisty Cuffs, who’s an awesome ambassador for our sport), but on the track? BRING IT. When one of our league’s big hitters slams into me, and I maintain my balance, seriously, YOU HAVE MADE MY DAY. I love that feeling of power being expelled against me, almost as much as I love the feeling of expelling all my power against my opposition. And if I can help our team score a point or two in the process, then even better. Even when I don’t feel like going to training, I make sure I go, because whatever monkey has stolen my mojo, I can be sure that a few big hits given and received will send that primate back to the jungle where it belongs.
We get to look cool, even if, secretly, we know we’re not. OK, here’s a confession. I’ve never been a cool kid. I’m a bit like my namesake, Hermione, who only became cool because she got accepted into Hogwarts, and even then was outstandingly dorky to her fellow wizards. I only became cool when I got accepted into Derby. And I’m sure some of the chicks in my league are going, “WTF, she’s so not cool.” Yeah, I know I’m not. But everyone outside of Derby thinks I’m cool just because I play it. And, to me, that’s pretty bloody funny, because I’ve never been allowed to hang out with the cool kids, until now.
We get to wear wheels on our feet. This one speaks for itself really! We get to go really really fast! It’s like a roller-coaster, only people are hitting you. Hell yeah! The first time I managed to skate without falling, I felt like I was flying, and it was awesome! And you know what? When I get a bit of speed up, I STILL feel like I’m flying! Why would anyone do a sport in sneakers? It really baffles me.
We have after-parties. Yes, I know this is the eleventh item in my list of top ten funnest things about Derby. But really, even if you can’t forgive my appalling disregard for numbers, who doesn’t love an after-party? My league gets to patronise our amazing sponsor, the Colonial Hotel at Werrington, (yes, this is a blatant plug for the best pub in Western Sydney), the Colonial staff get to wear league t-shirts, and we all enjoy a great meal, have a few drinks, reminisce about some great bouts, and strengthen those bonds of Derby love. Any sport with an after-party as part of the official program has got to be a fantastic way to spend a Saturday night.