A few years ago, I wandered into a sports arena in Virginia’s D.C. suburbs and discovered roller derby.  The Cherry Blossom Bombshells and Scare Force One — the top two teams in the DC Rollergirls league — were cruising around an indoor skating track, elbowing one another, dodging body checks, wiping out, and getting right back up again. It was a kick-ass dance on wheels. The skaters wore short skirts, heavy makeup, and fishnets. There were lots of tattoos, blue and pink hairdos, and bruises.

I was enchanted. I dressed up as a roller girl for Halloween that year. (I bought skates specifically for the costume. I only fell down three or four times.) But after that first magical evening in Virginia, I never made it to another DC Rollergirls event. Shame.

Fortunately for me, roller derby has arrived Joburg. Last night the C-Max Roller Derby League put on its second-ever derby bout: the Death Row Demolition Derby at Wembly Stadium in Turffontein. The bout featured the Raging Whoremones against the Thundering Hellcats.

I was so there.

Packed house at Wembley Stadium, a converted ice rink in a gritty industrial section of South Jozi.

I won’t go into lots of detail about how roller derby works. (If you want to learn more, rent the movie Whip It.) But here are the basics. You’ve got five girls on a team. One member of each team, called the jammer, skates around the track and tries to break through the line of the other team. Each time a jammer does this, her team gets a point. The team with the most points at the end of the bout wins.

Roller derby is more than a sport. The costumes, the irreverent team member names (e.g., Slam-U-Well Jackson, Blitzkrieg Banshee, Whiplash-Her), the rock-and-roll music…It’s more of a cult phenomenon than a sport. And it involves women kicking ass. Roller derby is the perfect sport for Jozi.

The photos I took of the Death Row Demolition Derby are not my best. Properly photographing roller derby requires more concentration than I was willing to devote on this particular Saturday night. But such is the beauty of the sport: Even mediocre roller derby photos look cool.

One of the first “jams” of the derby. The Raging Whoremones are in pink and the Thundering Hellcats are in yellow.

Roller derby skirts are even shorter than my mini-kilt.

Tough chicks.

The Thundering Hellcats jammer rounds the bend after scoring a point. The jammer wears a star on her helmet to distinguish herself from the other team members.

This is a horrendous photo but I love the story it tells.

The Raging Whoremones came out on top in a stunning come-from-behind victory. (Although I must admit that I rarely knew the score. Wembley Stadium needs a scoreboard.) There were many spectacular jams and many spectacular falls, but I only saw one skater get hauled off the track by paramedics.

The Jozi rollergirls are still new, and haven’t yet reached the skill level of the DC Rollergirls. But I was impressed. The league sold 1,000 tickets to last night’s derby — quite an accomplishment for only the second Jozi roller derby ever.

There seem to be more referees than competitors. I don’t understand why.

I have serious respect for these girls. The things they do on that track look difficult and scary. (Give me a set of boxing gloves over a set of roller skates any day.) And I would NEVER be brave enough to wear one of those microscopic skirts.

The awards ceremony at the end of the derby. These women are kick-ass competitors, but they’ve also got great sports(wo)manship. That’s because they’re ladies.

I can’t wait for the next derby.

Note to the C-Max organizers: Please sell t-shirts. I’ll be your first customer.

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