The Roller Derby scene in Durban
WE CAN DO IT!
You move on the ramp past the monster rush, avoiding the shoves and pushes, while chasing for points and glory all within minutes. In this game you need a touch of attitude, a reliable pair of skates and team mates willing to grip and grit.
Roller Derby is a child of the old school era where roller skates were donned to many a rink and roller derby event. Like its dirty cousin, the skateboard, Roller skates have survived the advent of roller blades to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. I tried every means possible to investigate any whiff, sound or trace of a Roller Derby league or team in Durban (and KZN overall) and I have not been lucky enough to spot the rare tough girl on skates phenomenon. I rarely see girls on skateboards and am a lone skater myself. I have heard whispers about wanting to get something started and I believe the girls in Durban can do so much more than don bikinis on our beaches. I’m heavy into alternative sports and love the thought of bringing back mini skirts and the punk ethic with it. Roller Derby is the athletic tattooed freak ad the ultimate nod to feminism that makes it arouse an extreme revolution in sports. Yes, Roller Derby is now much more than just a favourite past time or the hobby your parents used to love. In this day of mainstream it is Superwoman (and man, if he is willing to don skates) with athleticism and entertainment unleashed on a ramp.
So what’s the game all about? Roller Derby which harks back to the 1950’s began as a theatrical past time and later developed into a more sport responding to the idea of subverting definitions and acknowledging women of different colours and nationalities. Today it has spread its punk ethics and third wave feminist ideals to countries like Denmark, Sweden and Germany. With hundreds of leagues around the world, this sport has taken its tattoos and stockings into the contemporary arena with a focus on building athleticism and organisation with elements of entertainment.
Derby games a number of two minute ’jams’ in which two teams (which are made up of five members) on quad roller skates skate on a banked/flat track. The players include the jammer (who is responsible for scoring points) three blockers (who act as defense) and one pivot (who acts as the lead blocker and as the last line of defense). On the track, the pivots and blockers lead the beginning of the game, followed by the jammers (some distance behind them) who unleash their speed on the ref’s second whistle. The jammers then have to muscle it through the other skaters to make a full lap and rejoin the skaters. Once they rejoin, a point is earned for each member of the opposite team that they’ve legally passed. The other players must attempt to prevent the other team’s jammer from passing and scoring while trying to help the jammer on their team pass the other team’s players. The contact part to the sport comes in the form of legal hits (which include pushing to the ground).
Now I may not have a Durban team of Wind-riders to boast about in this article, but I’m going to do my best to endlessly ramble on about this empowering power sport. Much like the Suicide Girls or the Guerilla Girls, Roller Derby is a world away from plastic girls and takes a stand in scrapping away all notions of what identity should be. Roller Derby changes the world and perceptions about women and can be viewed as a response to the superficiality of our times. Roller Derby chicks have bodies that ignore perceptions of class, race and ethnicity. Deceased writer Stieg Laarson often reflected on powerful women in societies overwhelmed by their strengths. He created the introverted and highly intelligent Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander who reigns among the finest tough females in popular culture.
There are obviously some challenges we face in getting this sport up and running such as support in female sports, availability of venues and organization. In South Africa, we have women participating in wakeboarding, surfing and skateboarding...all alternative sports. The difference, and one of the challenges facing Roller Derby, is that the other alternative sports mentioned above have both male and female participants with more of a male presence dominating. Roller Derby on the other hand has a larger female presence with fewer males and a strong feminist outlook which might not get the sponsors too excited.
And without sponsors it becomes difficult to equip and train teams and to build the venues needed (it would be awesome to see them pop out of nowhere like post world cup soccer facilities). Though I have seen quad skates being sold at the Skate Shop at the Durban Beachfront, I’m not aware of any quad skate dealers in SA, so availability and the expense of quad skates is a bit of a thorn.
Fortunately the seeds of change have been sown and as a result South Africa now has its own Roller Derby organization in the form of the C-Max Roller Derby League. This organization (which was founded in 2010) assists in supplying much needed equipment and setting up training facilities, and is going strong in both Durban and Cape Town.
There is an absolute need for commitment, media support and getting potential sponsors like Iron Fist for example to put their heartless skulls (absolutely a reference to the awesome labels) into supporting Roller Derby. Fortunately for Durban the C- Max Roller Derby has expressed interest in starting something in 2012 and is currently recruiting volunteers and referees, so hopefully we could get the skates rolling on this side of the coast!
Durban is a place of possibilities, open to every sport (hey we almost bid for the Olympics) and rocks in diversity. Committing to being a Roller Derby girl means empowering yourself by creating your won identity and reworking your body and attitude to your own sense of freedom. In some strange way (at least for me) Roller Derby is like some kind of furious dance on a ramp re-enacting how women have to negotiate their way through the world. It can thrive because it doesn’t identify or point out any differences and you don’t have to be pigeon holed into any category. The only thing that stands is your skill, grit and strategy. This is it...this is where women fall and get up!
Photo by Liz Kasameyer (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ComeAndGetIt136421 766.jpg)