Lady Jaye and I went to the premiere bout of the River City Roller Girls. The event was called “Seasons Beatings” and started at 8PM. The Abominable Snow Women (in white) took on the Disco Shockers (in black). There was plenty of four-wheel skate action to go around for everyone.
Lady Jaye and I have followed roller derby for awhile. I watched RollerJam at the flip of the century, and we both watched “Rollergirls” on A&E. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, the competition is between two teams. Each team fields five players. One player from each team is designated the pivot, and they mark the front of the pack. You can pick out the pivot by the striped helmet or helmet “panty” they wear.
The last person from each team in play is called the jammer. The jammer has a star on their helmet, or some other obvious symbol. They start at the very back of the group, and leave after the rest of the pack has started. The jammer is the only player from each team that can score (more on that later).
Everyone else is a blocker. They, uh, block. They are also responsible for assisting their own jammer by making room for them or by doing badass maneuvers like the whip, wherein they clasp forearms with the jammer and rocket their usually-lighter jammer teammate to the front of the line. Jammers can bump, shoulder, or obstruct other players. They may not use their hands in any other way but to keep their balance. You often see blockers clasp their hands to avoid reflexively pulling another player to the ground. And then reflexively stomping on their face with skates on.
Okay, so you have the pivot at the front, and the jammer at the back, and all the blockers in between. Whistle blows, pivots and blockers take off. Second whistle blows, jammers skate at high speed towards the pack. The jammers score points by breaking through the pack, circling around the track, and then through the pack again. For every member of the opposing team that they pass, a jammer scores one point for their team. Jammers can continue to circle the pack and rack up points until the lead jammer ends play by placing both hands on their hips or after two minutes has expired. Each round of play is called a “jam,” and each match is called a “bout.”
There are two types of tracks on which roller derbies are held. There is the banked-track, which allows for faster velocities and more flamboyant crashes. The track is protected by a rail, and derbyists, especially on RollerJam, flew over these rails with aplomb. I think the expense of building and maintaining a banked track — in addition to the increase of skill required by the players — keeps most grassroots derby leagues on flat tracks. Tonight’s bout was held on a flat track, and I reckon their future bouts will be as well.
Okay, enough jibber jabber, and on with the pictures.
The opening melee after a jam starts. You can see the pivot in the black helmet with the white stripe, and the opposing team’s jammer with the white helmet and the star.
The Disco Shocker’s jammer “Gwen Danzig” calls off the jam.
The Abominable Snow Women’s jammer “Pistol in Pantyhose” struggles to get past the Disco Shocker’s jammer “Sue-age Spill” and blocker. Pistol is getting an assist from her teammate in white. I really like Pistol’s spirit and talent, she always hauled ass even when her team was way down in points.
Gwen gets whipped by her teammate. Aw yeah.
Power and poise — there was some good skating tonight. Then again, I can’t skate for shit, so what do I know?
Roller derby is awesome because it is simultaneously super competitive and makes fun of itself. The props (one lady busted out a chainsaw during the team introductions) and the costumes help offset the sometimes brutal but always intense nature of the sport. Even the refs were in on the act, wearing fishnet stockings or giving themselves stage names.
The mid-game (sorta) event was Richmond Lucha Libre, or Mexican-style wrestling. It was amusing, and the announcer really hammed it up for ultimate effect. They didn’t take themselves seriously either. The villain was proclaimed the Richmond Lucha Libre Champion of the Universe and even insulted one of the female coaches to the point of a one-lap-around-the-flat-track race, with the coach pounding the wrestler to the floor many times.
“Not the face! Not the face!!
The event itself was held at Skateland. We arrived about thirty-five minutes early and there was a serpentine line out the door. Everyone was checked for ID (beer was available), with hands being marked denoting your drinking status. We had to sign a waiver when we got through the first door because spectators could — and did — sit as close as three feet from the action. There was at least one incident near me where a player skid into the fans. Fucking awesome. We surrendered our tickets at the second door, and then we were pretty much let loose, to sit or stand anywhere we wanted.
I felt like this aspect could have been handled much better. I think if portable bleachers were installed we wouldn’t have had fans so close to the action, which in turn would have mitigated the need for waivers, which meant no big ass line in the rain with people getting frustrated and confused before they got inside.
The skating was good, although I have to admit I’m more of a fan of the banked-track. It’s faster and more risky. I had a great time. I took almost 250 pictures, and still had time to scream myself hoarse. I was very pleased to see so many people show up that had no idea what roller derby was about or how it was played. Lady Jaye and I explained the principles to more than a few folks, and to see newcomers to the sport is very encouraging. I hope the lines and the seating format don’t keep people away from the next bout.
Speaking of next bouts, when is it? The main problem plaguing the River City Rollergirls league isn’t their fanbase or facilities, but the lack of communication. If we hadn’t mentioned it to our friend Rangerette, who works with four of the RCRers, we would have never known about this bout. The RCR has a very sparse home page (linked earlier) and then a mySpace page. At the very least I want scheduling information on upcoming events/bouts or even an idea on when that information will be available so I can revisit the sites at that time instead of randomly popping in and hoping for new info. There is a blog on their mySpace page that has mostly announcment information, but it also contains team announcements. A bout/event announcement-only Yahoo! Group or similar would be awesome. RCR if you are reading this, I am willing to help. I also want to come out and take more pictures, during practice or a future bout.
All in all, we loved it. I can’t wait to go to the next bout. I even bought a t-shirt (fucking cheap, too, I would have paid another $5 or $10).
Rock on, River City Rollergirls.