Fishnets and Face Plants : My First Roller Derby Experience
Way back in 2010, we watched a fabulous movie called “Whip It”, directed by Drew Barrymore. The movie focused on a shy, retiring character called “Bliss” who discovers the sport of roller derby and, to her surprise, finds out she’s quite good at it. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie – girls racing round a track on roller skates, wearing short clothes and touting stage names like “Maggie Mayhem”. The movie was fun, but we didn’t give it a second thought and didn’t even think that roller derby existed outside the USA.
Fast-forward to 2012 and a friend of mine Facebook invited us to South Africa’s second roller derby. What? It turns out that roller derby is alive and well in South Africa, thanks to a visionary lady who not only watched “Whip It”, but who believed there was a market for it in South Africa and made it her mission to start a league here.
And so it was that we found ourselves in Wembly Arena, in Johannesburg’s industrial south inner city on a cold Saturday night, trying to decide whether we’d be rooting for the Raging Whoremones or the Thundering Hellcats in the C-Max Death Row Demolition Derby. Roller derby is a counter-culture unto itself and a big part of the sport revolves around team names, individual names and outfits.
The Raging Whoremones took to the track with bright pink helmets, button-down mini-dresses and, in many cases, leopard print panties. Fish-net stockings appeared to be optional! The Thundering Hellcats were kitted out in bandy yellow socks, equally short skirts and shorts, facial war-paint and kitty-ear-themed breast-plates (well, that’s what they looked like from the stands).
Not personally knowing any of the skaters, we really weren’t rooting for one team over the other, but in the first half (lasting 30 mins), it became pretty clear that the Thundering Hellcats were whipping the Raging Whoremones, so we chose to root for the Whoremonal underdogs! Teams consist of 5 skaters and points are scored when one nominated skater (known as the jammer and identified by the star on her helmet) breaks through the group of cyclists to lap the track ahead of the other team’s jammer.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but when there are 4 members (sometimes, er, substantially sized) of the opposing team trying to block the jammer’s progress, things can get a little messy. Pushing, shoving, elbowing and tripping up all seem to be part of the game – you do what you can to stop the opposing jammer breaking through.
Gasps of “Ooooh”, “Ahhhh” and “Ouch!” rang out from the 1000-odd spectators each time a skater took a fall – and there were some heavy, heavy falls. How there were no broken bones is anybody’s guess. Miraculously, only one skater was escorted off the track with medical assistance but I’m guessing most girls would be sporting some pretty impressive bruises the next day.
At half-time, the Thundering Hellcats had a substantial points lead over the Raging Whoremones, thanks mostly to the offensive, “go get ‘em” approach of their jammers. The second half bought a performance reversal though as we screamed and cheered for the Raging Whoremones, who started skating equally aggressively and stole a narrow victory from right under the Hellcats’ noses.
We’re not sure when the next South African roller derby will be, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be down there to cheer on the teams! Come to think of it, it’s the kind of sport I could see myself doing, but I bruise so easily I’d be terrified of the shape I’d be in afterwards! On reflection, I’ll stick to a supporter’s role – it’s so much safer!