Roller derby can’t really be called a fringe sport anymore.
With hundreds of fans filling Nanaimo’s arenas this past spring for roller derby bouts, it’s fair to say that the Nanaimo Nemesis and the Harbour City Rollers have instantly become two of the city’s favourite teams.
“We’re a hockey town, so it’s nice to have a sport that other people are catching on to,” said Karly Sue, a Rollers player who goes by the derby name “Suckerpunch Sue”.
Roller derby is certainly a fan-friendly sport, with fast skating and hard hitting.
“It’s something new. It’s different to the community,” said Amy “Rosie Hitts” Bond of the Nemesis. “It’s very unique in that it’s all women and I think there’s a lot of women who are inspired by that and a lot of people who are just generally intrigued.”
There’s no better opportunity to catch the action than this coming weekend (July 2-3), when the inaugural Vancouver Island Rookie Roller Derby Tournament is contested at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.
Six teams – the Nemesis, the Rollers, and entries from Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and Comox – will try to win an historic championship.
To do so, they will have to win a series of games, known as bouts. The action involves a ‘jammer’ from each team trying to bust through a pack made up of teammates and opposing players.
“You see a big mass of girls on skates and then you see two girls trying to skate through them as many times as they can,” said Ravenna “Pretty Wicked” McColgan of the Nemesis. “So you see a lot of hits, a lot of girls going down. You see some great action.”
Rollers player Mel Langeler, also known as “Forna Kate”, said she loves it when the fans are yelling and screaming, and she’s happy to oblige them with a little showboating.
“If you can throw a trick out there for the fans, it just makes it more fun to watch,” she said. “Although a lot of it is strategic, a lot of it is just bashing people around and wearing tiny outfits. It’s the nature of the sport. It’s both.”
The Rollers have found that balance better than most, as they were the winningest team on the local rookie-league circuit. But the challenge will be greater this coming weekend against more experienced squads, Vancouver’s Terminal City Roller Girls and Victoria’s Eves of Destruction.
Kassandra “Kazzinova Krusher” Brown of the Rollers said she has no doubt her team is championship material. The team has been working on strategy, she said, and has also been holding longer practices to build up endurance.
“We are as ready as we have ever been,” Brown said. “I’m fully confident that my team is going to go out there and not only win, but do their best and have fun.”
The Nemesis, meanwhile, recognize they’re the underdogs at the tournament. Nanaimo’s self-styled “Darlings of Derby” have never won a roller derby bout, so they intend to make some team history this weekend. Bond said her squad will have its full roster together at the right time.
“A lot of the girls are studying the strategy on a daily basis and we’re really putting it into use,” she said. “We’re just starting to pull together as a team and working in unison.”
McColgan has also noticed the improved teamwork – now is the time when it will pay off.
“We’ve played our season, we’ve met the teams, we’ve played them,” she said. “We’re ready to go into this tournament and give ’er.”
No matter what happens this weekend, Nanaimo’s first roller derby season has been the most fun some of these women have ever had.
“Once you actually see us out there, you know how much fun we’re having,” Sue said. “You see the passion.”
This weekend at the NIC, they’ll share that passion one more time with all the people who have helped make roller derby an instant mainstream sport in Nanaimo.
“I hope it’s crazy. I hope it’s sold over capacity and the crowd is screaming and going insane,” Langeler said. “This is their last chance for the summer to see derby so I hope they all come out.”
Not many sports let fans get this close to the action. Spectators at the inaugural Vancouver Island Rookie Roller Derby Tournament Saturday and Sunday at the NIC are welcome to bring a lawn chair and watch the bouts in the track-side ‘suicide seating’ area.
Games start at 10:30 a.m. both days. First action for the Harbour City Rollers is Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Abbotsford’s Reign Valley Vixens. The Nanaimo Nemesis take to the track at 3 p.m. against either the Eves of Destruction or the Terminal City Roller Girls. The other team entered in the tournament is Comox’s Rink Minx. Sunday’s final is slated for 2:30 p.m. For additional schedule information, please click here.
There will also be intermission concerts Saturday at 1:45 p.m. featuring Foreign Influence, and Sunday at 1 p.m. featuring Krome.
Tickets cost $15 per day at the door, but they are on sale until the end of the day today (June 29) through the Port Theatre box office for fans who quote the coupon code “United”. Call 250-754-2550 or click here.