COLUMN: Roller derby packing in spectators

Saturday Beat

Got my first dose of roller derby last weekend. Having never seen it or anything like it before, I had no idea what to expect.

The only summation I can come to is that it’s a cross between burlesque, short-track speed skating and hockey, and because of each girl’s willingness to take a bone-crushing bodycheck for a teammate, I found each and every one of them to be, well, kinda hot.

So much for sugar and spice and everything nice.

Guys dig that sort of stuff. Girls, sweat, loud music, the occasional sound of limbs crunching – it’s like a typical Nanaimo bachelor party. No wonder the stands have been packed in the league’s first season.

At first blush roller derby seems chaotic. Lots of fishnet stockings going around and around, bejeweled pink tank tops glistening in an otherwise dingy arena, the occasional yelp of a damsel in distress.

Sometimes, after an especially violent hit, a rogue boob will pop out much to the delight of the crowd. Unabashedly, its owner will slip it back in place and skate off to catch up with the pack, assuming she’s still conscious. If not, paid attendance definitely gets its money’s worth.

UFC can’t match that.

Fortunately, while perched trackside taking photos, I had the privilege of private tutoring from Nanaimo Nemesis player Lil’ F-Bomb, who had to sit out due to a busted coccyx (that’s a real body part by the way). Earlier in the season, she took a hit and fell awkwardly, followed closely by a blocker falling on her, introducing her skate to her lower tailbone. Ouch.

F-Bomb explained to me the premise of roller derby; speedy and often whispy girls called jammers try to skate through a wall of angry estrogen, some of it supersized, while trying not to get pummeled so hard their future babies walk around with ringing in their ears. If they manage to slip through ahead of the other team’s jammer, who is more than likely being scraped off the side boards with a spatula, they rack up a point for every player of the opposite team they pass.

As exciting as the action can be, the players themselves are just as entertaining. With names like Suckerpunch Sue, Flying Buttress, Lotta Knockers, Crown Jules, Carrie Rubbers and Dee Kapitate, the competition is matched only by the sexual undercurrents.

It’s like women’s lib with knee pads. Or, more acceptably, elbow pads.

In fact, roller derby is just that, but refreshingly retro in its bid to make a comeback. The earliest form of it occurred in the late 1800s to the early 1920s, when roller derby was more about endurance than extracting teeth from opponents. Eventually, participants got a little bored and started to smack each other around a bit en route to the finish line (take note, Olympic speed skating).

In about the mid-1930s, when America was game for just about anything that took its mind off the Great Depression, the sport took off. By the 1950s, it had become something of a cultural craze and was just as popular on theatrical stages across North America as it was on roller derby tracks. By the ’70s, when women were just hitting their sexual stride, theatrical elements were just as, if not more so, important as the sport itself.

Then came the ’80s with soul-extinguishing social constipation (I blame minivans) and everybody stopped having fun for 25 years, until the need for speed and cheap shots re-emerged in the form of today’s roller derby.

With a bit of luck roller derby will soon reach its peak like its heyday in the ’70s, but hopefully without the fuzzy dice, disco, butterfly collars and wood panel automobiles.

It’s well on its way. With more than 600 leagues worldwide and rules governed by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, roller derby is reorganizing, and the world will undoubtedly become a better, if not sassier, place for it.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com

Just Posted

A section of the rail corridor on Vancouver Island. (Black Press file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Put rail trail right overtop of the tracks

Removing tracks would be a horrendous expense, says letter writer

District of Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain, left, and Snaw-Naw-As Chief Gordon Edwards sign a memorandum of understanding outside Snaw-Naw-As Market on Friday, June 18. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Lantzville and Snaw-Naw-As sign memorandum of understanding

District and First Nation create joint working group

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Tilray announces new line of products offering more inexpensive choices for medical cannabis users. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo-based Tilray launches new medical cannabis product line

Symbios brand products offered at ‘better price point’ for medical cannabis products

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Regional District of Nanaimo is looking to repair sewage pipe in the Hammond Bay Road area, which was corroded by gas. (Black Press file)
Corroded sewer pipe along Nanaimo’s Hammond Bay Road will cost $5.5 million to fix

Pipe replacement and reinforcement part of $6.9-million infrastructure project

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Most Read