When you think of roller derby, what comes to mind? The matches they used to show on Saturday afternoon TV or that episode of Charlie's Angels where Farrah went undercover as a derby queen to catch a killer? Maybe it's the kitschy 1972 movie Kansas City Bomber starring Raquel Welch and her dangerous curves? Whatever image pops to mind, it's doubtful it's anything remotely contemporary.
Well, guess what, kids? Roller Derby is back and it's back with a vengeance. Tons of vengeance. In fact, I recently took in my first-ever roller derby match at the L.A. Derby Dolls' Doll Factory here in Los Angeles and left there with spilt vengeance all over me. I was soaking in it. It was one of the most fun nights out I've had in ages.
Going in, I was informed by the Dolls' press rep that the match my friends and I were seeing, the Baby Doll Brawl between the teams Witch Slap and Toil 'N' Trouble, would showcase the league's newer skaters, the JV squad, if you will. The A-list skaters, I was told, would be back in action at the big championship match November 8. Well, if the skaters I saw are the newbies then the real McCoys must be totally off the hook because the Witch-Slappers and Toil 'N' Trouble-makers kicked so much ass I got black and blue just watching them.
As the match unfolded, I concluded that if there were ever an athletic event designed to appeal to gay guys and lesbians in equal measure, it would be roller derby. For the Sapphic sisters, there are hot girls in not a lot of clothing kicking serious ass, which I'm told lesbians enjoy. For the boys, we've got hot girls in not a lot of clothing kicking serious ass and tons of campy showmanship. These hellions-on-wheels get that it's a show and a sport and they play to the crowd, big-time. My fave skater, a Salma Hayek-esque spitfire named Lusty Loveless, even belted the national anthem before the match. You don't get that from A-Rod.
I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face alter egos the gals create for themselves, with names like Knuckle Sammich, Marina Del Rage, Helen Surly Frown, Sulfuric Astrid, and my personal favorite Feara Nightly. During halftime, my friends and I tried to come up with our own derby names -- something intimidating that suited our personalities. I was going to go with Cower N. DaCorner, but then I realized that roller derby tracks don't have corners. So I'll have to cower somewhere else.
But roller derby's not solely about theatrics. There's an actual sport here, with real rules and strategies, and once you figure out the object of the game -- the "jammers" score points by skating past the "blockers" -- it's thrilling to watch. When a skater has a particularly successful jam -- as a lanky blonde bomber named Dash Assault did the night I attended -- the crowd can't help but jump to its feet in adulation. And if you're one of those sick puppies out there who enjoys watching other people fall over, wipe out, and get concussions, roller derby serves up the crash-and-burn like nothing else.
According to the links page of the L.A. Derby Dolls website, there are around 200 roller derby organizations nationwide. From Anchorage, Alaska to Honolulu, Hawaii to Portland, Maine to Jacksonville, Florida, gals are slipping on their skates, strapping on their pads, and letting out their 21st-century aggression all over the rink and each other. Other countries, like Canada, England, Sweden, New Zealand, Mexico, and Australia have also taken to the pastime, which is one of only two sports to be created from scratch by an American. (Basketball is the other.) Who knew? There are also a handful of men's teams like the New York Shock Exchange, whose MySpace page is so manly and titillating I'm surprised they don't link to it from www.SeanCody.com.
The way I see it, the comeback of roller derby couldn't have come at a better time in history. Who among us doesn't have a lot of pent-up rage they need to unload, even if it's vicariously? And at $20 a ticket, $2 for a soda, and $3 or a hot dog, a night at the derby offers plenty of bang for the buck. And for all the swagger and aggression on display, there's something warm and embracing about the atmosphere at the Doll Factory. These tattooed thrill-seekers are a family and they're more than happy to welcome you in, even if it's just for a few hours. These gals are so scrappy they even built the track themselves. When was the last time you saw a Laker pick up a power drill?
So do yourself a favor and go take in roller derby. If there's not an organization near you, squeeze one in on your next vacation. (Check out the full list of cities and organizations here). You'll also be able to get your derby on soon enough at your neighborhood multiplex. Drew Barrymore is currently prepping to direct a movie about the phenomenon called Whip It with Juno's Ellen Page in the leading role; SNL's Kristin Wiig and Juliette Lewis also star. In fact, Page was at the Doll Factory the night I attended and saw Witch Slap defeat Toil 'N' Trouble 79-67. Page was scoping out the scene and looking quite adorable, I must say.
I wonder if it's too late to work a make-out scene into the script between Ellen Page and Lusty Loveless. That'd really get some wheels spinning.