Sport mixes fishnets with hip checks
Local women’s roller derby started humbly in 2006. It’s grown into a league that attracts more than 1,000 fans a night
The athletes have names like Cinder Hella, Toi Box and Micki Mercury. The teams have names like Faster Pussycats, Riot Girls and Rain Valley Vixens.
Welcome to the edgy, fastpaced niche sport of roller derby, an underground sport that is taking off not just in Vancouver, but across North America.
The sport started humbly here in 2006 by a group of women who gathered at one of their homes. No one dreamed it would grow into something people would pay to watch.
The product of all their spunk and hard work is display today as two homegrown teams vie for the local championship at Minoru Arena in Richmond. That game will be followed by a grudge match between Vancouver and a visiting horde of roller girls from Calgary.
The cold concrete surface at Riley Park Community Centre vibrated with action and pumped-up girl power during practice Thursday. On the track, Lisa Suggitt, who runs a roller skate shop near Commercial Drive and a website called Rollergirl.ca, was doing flying leaps over another player. Unlike the 1980s pro wrestling-style TV incarnation of roller derby, the Vancouver league doesn’t feature staged bouts.
“There is nothing fake about our sport,” Suggitt said between running drills. “The girls are amazing. It’s like having a big girl gang.”
Although it’s definitely offbeat, roller derby has all the hallmarks of a regular sport, including referees, coaches, practices involving drills and scrimmages, point scoring in games, penalties and a 27-page rule book set out by the U.S.-based Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Some of the more recent bouts in the Vancouver area have drawn crowds of more than 1,000 spectators partly because there is nothing boring or sedate about the spectacle. It has kind of a campy, burlesque, satirical punk feel to it. While wearing team T-shirts and helmets that denote their positions, the girls can be dressed in short dresses, fishnet stockings or wildly striped knee-high stockings.
You are apt to find a few more tattooed, pierced and dyed girls here than on a regular sports team.
Then there is the rink-side beer garden. That might help to draw the crowd too.
If you were to watch it, you would see a bunch of women in opposing team colours racing around a flat track in one direction. Simple, right?
But there is strategy among the chaos. There are 10 girls on the track at any one time, five from each team. Each side has a jammer, identified by the star on her helmet, who scores all the points and four blockers who try to prevent her from scoring.
Although it is difficult for the untrained eye to see, each of the blockers has a unique role. The key player, identified by a stripe on her helmet, is called a pivot. Like a quarterback, she calls the plays.
Michelle Lamoureux, who competes as Micki Mercury, remembers racing home from church on Sundays as a kid to watch roller derby on TV.
“I remember putting on old metal skates, the kind that go over your shoes, and heading down to my basement so I could be a roller girl. I broke my tailbone doing it. That is when it all began.”
She knew she had to try to get a league up and running here. So in 2006, she put an ad on Craigslist, a group began to meet and a league was born.
Lamoureux loves the aggression. When the games first started here, “we used to say I’m sorry a lot but now there is no sorry in this.”
Andi Struction, who has a dancing and acting background, played team sports all her life but never found anything she could really latch onto until this rolled along. Other sports were either not competitive enough or didn’t have enough showmanship. For her, roller derby is the perfect mix of sexiness and stridency.
“It’s a full-contact sport which is unusual for women. We don’t see many women bashing the crap out of each other. It’s very empowering.”
She says the sport is attracting all kinds.
“We have nurses and stay-athome moms and construction workers and lesbians and girly girls and everything in be- tween,” she said. “We definitely have the party girls and the rock ’n’ roll girls and the punk rockers, but speaking for myself, I work in an office. I don’t have any tattoos or dye my hair.”
The Terminal City Rollergirls helped bring the rough-and-rumble sport of roller derby back from the dead.