By Anni Caporuscio
That’s right, roller derby is alive and rolling on Kaua‘i.
Two years ago, for Christmas, I got a pair of roller skates, all set to skate the Kapa‘a multi-use path. But then I saw a flyer for roller derby newbie training camp and I thought how fun it would be to wear pink and skate with other women, maybe get some knee socks.
I am now hooked on the fast-paced, organized chaos of derby. And on showing off my derby bruises.
The flyer had a pretty tough looking woman on it, and roller derby indeed has a reputation for tough aggression, brawls, bruises, reckless behavior and wit. While all this may be true, derby is an empowering team sport that brings women from all walks of life together for athletics and friendship.
All the women at the Garden Island Renegade Rollerz — Kaua‘i’s roller derby team — say their favorite thing is the support their teammates have for each other.
Maelstrom said she “wanted a contact sport and Kaua‘i didn’t have rugby.” PGs said “she loves competitive sports but it’s the wheels that grabbed her.” The team’s co-captain, The Carnie, said she “loves that it’s mentally and physically challenging as well as great fun, but it’s the team and opponents that keep me hooked.”
The founding and history of roller derby was primarily driven by ratings. It all started in 1930s Chicago with stadium promoter Leo Seltzer pitting teams of two in endurance races skating the length of the Atlantic Ocean, a mere 57,000+ laps around the track. Noticing the crowds reaction to bang-ups, by the 1950s, roller derby became a contact sport and they took the show on the road.
In an effort to drive up ratings in the 1970s and 1980s, roller derby became a scripted flashy event on television, much like WWF. Players donned pseudonyms, shiny outfits, had planned crashes and dramatized rivalries that drove the viewers wild. You know, the Bay City Bombers? LA Thunderbirds? (Sorry to break it to you: it was all a show.)
The modern roller derby movement began in the early 2000’s in Austin, Texas. By 2006, we saw the formation of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the largest governing body of derby sports. There are more than 1,800 worldwide roller derby teams, mostly consisting entirely of women skaters, although there are mens’ roller derby associations, and junior leagues (under 18). It is even being considered for the 2020 Olympics!
These days, roller derby is a marriage of the earlier athleticism and the later flash. Meaning, there’s still fishnets and pin-up art, witty names and costuming, and some full on contact sport. Its popularity has spread as a women’s grassroots movement.
Kaua‘i’s GIRR are typical to teams the world over: They are women-organized, women-coached, women-supported. They do their own fundraising, and organize their own bouts. They do their own strategizing, workouts, advertising, outfitting. In short, it’s all about the ladies.
The official rules of flat track roller derby are detailed in a 75-page handbook, but to sum up: Each of two teams puts four blockers and one jammer on the track. The jammers have to get through the blockers and around the track. On her second go through the wall of blockers, she begins to collect points for each opposing blocker she passes, for a total of five points per pass. Blockers are playing defense, trying to prevent the opposing jammer from passing them, and simultaneously playing offense by helping their own jammer through. Advanced blockers will also try to break up the opposing wall by knocking them down, being a “gnat” and getting in the way, etc.
Players get sent to the penalty box for illegal play like the wrong sorts of hitting, throwing elbows (you may only hit with hips and shoulders), cutting the track, blocking while skating backwards, and more. For lipping off to a referee (there are up to seven per bout) a player can be expelled.
Since there is only one team on Kaua‘i, the GIRR travel to play official bouts. The state of Hawai‘i has seven teams that organize several bouts per year, including a Battle of the Islands every August, in which each team plays every other team, a veritable mayhem of color, war-paint and camaraderie.
The GIRR practice Thursday and Sunday evening at the skate rink in Kapa‘a if you want to watch, and get ready for some live action derby, a triple header on May 21 at the Mayor Baptiste Sports Complex skate rink.
Visit gardenislandrenegaderollerz.com or their Facebook page for more information.