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.
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.
I literally learn something new everytime I read your blog, Heather. Way to go! And I totally LOVE your title/name of the team. How fun! Hope your weekend has gone roller-derby-well.
Thanks Kathy. Yes, roller derby names are awesome. When I dressed up as a roller girl back in the day, my name was Mason-Vixen. (I stole that from one of the girls I saw in the DC league.) Glad you learned about something new 🙂
Can only agree with Kathryn… and next time I’m going within only to be one of the 1000 pervs.
You should definitely come next time Chuck. You would love it.
Oh and by the way, Sean gave me a free hat thanks to you. Much appreciated!
I’ve heard of the Jozi Roller Derby league. Would love to go to a match. Sounds like such fun!
Hey Meruschka, I meant to post something about it on the book club page but forgot! Will try to keep you posted next time. Here is their facebook group though: http://www.facebook.com/pages/C-Max-Roller-Derby-League/149098481787489
Thanks Heather! Do let me know next time you go!
Will do, definitely.
LOL you know you had me doubting my English when I saw the title of this post!
Haha. I love that name.
Heh! Roller derby is characteristic for the number of refs it needs. There are at least four inside and three to four outside the track. That count doesn’t include non skating officials (nso’s) who’re penalty trackers, score trackers, scoreboard operators etc etc
its manpower heavy and means that even if you can’t skate, you can get involved in one way or another if you wish to join the fun 🙂
Hey, thanks for the info! Yes, the refs certainly seem to have fun too and I love their outfits. Good times all around.
Used to watch Roller Derby on a 15″ B&W TV when I was a kid back in the 50″s. Baltimore has a team called the Charm City Roller Girls (tame name). For better names google 30 Amazing names from the international roller derby database. My favorite — Susan B. Agony. Second fav — Artillery Clinton
Wow. Artillery Clinton is good.
What an evening…. completely new to this o’lady…. but i loved the vibranz that filled the venue…. xx WELL DONE to everybody involved…. !!! xx
Thanks Loraine, I appreciate the comment!
Thank you so much for coming and supporting South African Roller Derby. We are constantly learning about this incredible sport and feel so privelaged to be a part of it. To answer your question about the refs, the reason there are so many as they all have different jobs.Head Ref, pack refs,jammer refs,having to check for points and penalties at all times.It is a very complicated game but the more you watch , the more you will know. See you at the next one 😉 <3 C Malice #22 Proud Captain of the Raging Whoremones (C-max Roller Derby League South Africa)
Thanks so much for the comment, C Malice. I still have a lot to learn. I will definitely be back. Congratulations on your victory!
It was definitely awesome, despite a horrendous sound system and no score-board. Love the pics though! I did my level best with my little HTC, but I’m so glad there were so many great photographers there so I can remember the night in slightly better resolution. Looks like at one point you might even have been taking shots just a few feet from where me and my group were sitting!
wow – I have lived a sheltered life! I have heard of the words roller derby but would never have guessed……
Haha. It’s one of those best-kept secrets.