Apr 192010

Day three started with me running late. As usual. When, thank god, this hot bitch offered me a ride in the lobby of my hotel. Who would say no? She’s Estro Jen of the Angel City Derby Girls and holder of the title Best Ass In Roller Derby. I know I promised a close up, but I don’t really know her that well, so just make do with this candid and I’ll work on it, alright? Anyways, before we got in the car she warned me that it might be dangerous. It kinda was, but I enjoyed her enthusiastic careening through parking lots in search of espresso. It was a fitting way to start the morning. Plus, it gave me a chance to get to know the Estro behind the ass. Turns out she runs a skate shop in Long Beach, CA called Moxi. And…(wait for it) she wants to write about gear for LDG! Which is a gift to the world, because this chic really knows her shit. Because of her I bought harder wheels, and it was a totally fucking revelation (See below). No, but really. She also taught me a lot about toe stops and truck length and other stuff I can’t really use yet because I’m a) broke and b) too new to know the difference but that will come in handy down the derby brick road. And, she’s totally releasing her own line of lifestyle skates with Reidell like pronto. Skates with leopard spots and zebra stripes for street skating. With little ruffled hot shorts to match. No shit.

After Estro graciously delivered me to Camp, I went to her Beginner’s workshop on Skating Skills. The first half dealt almost completely with stops. Turns out my plow stop was all wrong. I’ve been making a full, two-legged snowplow like a skier, but really you’re supposed to push one leg out and keep the weight on the other. It looks almost the same, but not quite, and the benefit of doing this is that if you have your weight over one leg, you can use that to push back off again. If you have both your legs completely spread, your weight is in between your legs, and you have no power to move. You just gotta step. The we worked on transitioning from forwards to backwards which is something I really suck at. But she had us get in partners and, using the stability of another skater, I improved quickly. Only on one side, but hey, it’s a fucking start.

Then I shuffled off to Pivoting with Gingersnap. Have I mentioned how rad this chic is? Seriously, though. We did the whole class with our mouthguards in. Why? Cuz pivots gotta talk while they’re wearing mouthguards. Duh. We did some waterfalling drills and she made us keep screaming. We talked a lot about what the pivot actually does. Snap’s take on things is basically that every blocker needs to be communicating as well as the pivot, and that besides the whole star passing thing, the pivot is just another blocker. We got in lines and practiced rotating around a partner. We packed up and practiced rotating to the front. All the while screaming and touching. We did a lot of screaming and a lot of touching and a lot of rotating, and I feel a little more nimble about how I move through the pack and a lot more comfortable screaming. And I learned some things about the three second rule. Like how to get around it. Like you can press wrist to wrist and as long as the jammer isn’t trying to break through that, you’re good. I really want to hear a debate about the three second rule, though, cuz there’s a lot of ideas about it and people don’t seem to agree.

At some point I took a break and bought new wheels. They’re Atom Jukes, and I’m totally in love. I got a good deal on them from Gino at Lead Jammer Skates, who is personable and also really knows his shit. He totally talked me down from buying the expensive bearings and the Heartless wheels. I decided on these because I wanted something a little harder than what I skate on now (Sugars), but still pretty grippy. They’re wide, so they’ve got a lot of stability, which is important to new bitches like me. After all this retail therapy I really needed a nap to rest up for Team Thunder practice. Obviously.

I was exhausted but exhilarated during practice. We warmed up for a few, and then scrimmaged against Team Blood. We were playing a lot better than the day before, since we all knew each other a little better and all that shit. Quad let me jam, and even though I totally bit, it was fun, and I learned a lot in that one jam. Like about this whole “friendly side” side thing Quad is always talking about. He means that if you’re jamming and you come up on a pair made up of your teammate and someone from the other team, you gotta go on the friendly side, or the side of your team mate. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the hole on the other side looks bigger, no? Doesn’t matter. Cuz when your teammate starts banging that other bitch around, that hole is gonna close up and you aren’t going to have the benefit of grabbing on to that girl who aint your friend for an assist.

More rest. Or something like it. And then it’s go time. Bout time. Team Thunder vs. Team Blood and I am freaking pumped. Warm up was rad cuz Quad was skating with us, and just having him on our tail was a major motivation. Then shit got real. I already told y’all about our badass jammer On ‘Da Sligh. She was totally running shit. And we had this other jammer, a leggy blonde who’s name I can’t remember and who I just call Shameless, who was like Jane Be Nimble. But we weren’t keeping it together that well as a pack, and I was really sucking. Yeah, I was tired and sore and shit, but honestly, I was just out of my league. Every girl on both teams had been skating longer and better than me for the most part, and I was in the penalty box three times to pay for my lack of experience. And we lost. But I don’t give a shit, because it was fun and I learned a lot, and even though he must have been mad disappointed in me, Quad was still cool with me after. Yay Coach Quad, you fucking rule.

The after party was at a hilarious bar called the Horse & Cow. I was taken there by a carload of Canadians listening to Rick Astley, I shit you not. If I had never gotten out of the car, it would have been a great night. But then there was an amazing explosion of drunken rollergirls. And Navy dudes straight from a ball with girls in long dresses. And locals. WTF? Seriously, it was the most hilarious  crowd, and even thought the DJ sucked and played Bad Romance no less than three times I still danced my ass off. Did I mention there was a stripper pole? Oh, wait. Actually there were two.

Read about Day 1.
Read about Day 2.
Read about Day 3.
Read about Day 4.

Apr 152010

Okay, so first let’s get the whole magical Pacific Northwest scenery thing out of the way. It looks like this.

This is the view from a fucking parking lot, people. Taken with an iPhone with very little attention to composition. Shit just looks all majestic and amazing everywhere you look. But, really.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Blood & Thunder Training Camp. It’s a four-day derby trainingstravaganza. It’s twelve hours a day of derby. Those fantasies you have about your life being all derby all the time, it’s that. Girls from all over are here. Girls of every skill level and speed. Girls, girls, girls.

This is Black Dahlia. She is the first person you see when you get to training camp, and she totally runs shit. Day one, and I have started calling her the Queen of Knowledge, because I have asked her no less than five hundred thousand questions and she met all my queries with unflustered charm. Plus, she’s adorable. I promised her a crown with a shiny black unicorn spike to celebrate her reign. I have no idea how I am going to make that happen with the paper cups and cheap shampoo in my hotel room, but I’ll find a way. Yes, your majesty.

My first workshop this morning was Beginning Pack Drills with Quadzilla from Rat City. He is seriously rad, and he has the dopest skates I have ever seen. (Wait for it, cuz I ain’t givin that shit up just like that, y’all.) What did I learn from him? Oh shit. A lot. I’m new, so I’m all spongey and everything seems like a total revelation all the time. Deal with it. I learned to think of the inside line as the fifth blocker. He introduced me to the idea of thinking of the track as four lanes and distributing blockers accordingly. He told us that a jammer’s best friends are space and speed. Duh. I guess I knew that, but once I thought of it in such simple, pared-down terms, it really helped me focus on not giving the opposing jammer those things. That bitch can do without.

Then I went to an off-skates Land Drill Medley with Gingersnap, president of Gotham Girls and total fucking badass. Seriously, she made me do so many squats I almost cried. And hen she made us do some crazy shit where we did jump squats into push ups into mountain climbers. She showed us a bunch of different kinds of push ups. Whatever, she showed us a bunch of shit, but the best thing about her was her take-no-prisoners attitude. She was all, “unless you are seriously injured, you need to do every exercise every time. Or else you don’t need to do derby.” Fuck yeah. She’s also totally obsessed with core strength, which is a stance that I love. When someone asked her why their back hurt she said, “If your front hurts, it’s because your back isn’t strong enough. If your back hurts, it’s because your front isn’t strong enough.” I am always trying to say this to people, but since I am a pussy rookie and not a total fucking derby matriarch no one listens. Thanks, Gingersnap, for the burn in my thighs and also the personal vindication. That sounds dirty, but it isn’t. She’s married, okay?

Ahhhhh, lunch. I was starving because it took me freaking twelve hours to get to this coast and I had only had nutritional shakes and protein bars for twice that time. But I had no car. GINGERSNAP TO THE RESCUE! Who says New Yorkers aren’t friendly? Anyways, we got lost no less than a dozen times on the way to lunch, but it was a good time and I learned a lot about the history of Gotham and life and times of Ms. Gingersnap along the way. In like 2004, she saw the Gotham Girls skating in this weird marine god themed parade they have in Coney Island called the Mermaid Parade. When I say she saw the Gotham Girls, I mean all six of them! Six! Ginger is one of the two remaining skaters from that time, and you should basically worship her for making this sport happen for the rest of us. And then we ate Thai food and talked about her latex allergy. I smartly advised her against using condoms.  Yes, I am a genius.

Soooooo, then I tried to go to an Intermediate Jamming Workshop with Estro Jen. Fail. No, but really. Intermediate and I was instantly out of my league. Oh well, it gave me time to take notes for this little masterpiece. And to admire Estro Jen’s form and mad teaching skills. When I say form I mean her skating, of course, but she also might have the best ass in roller derby. Yes, I will try to get a close up tomorrow. Here’s a preview.

This is Coach Pauly. He’s some weird cross between the don of roller derby and a zen master. Seriously, he’s always using all these new age-y, nature-y metaphors and shit. It’s kind of amazing. I took this workshop with him for beginners called Know Your Role and it basically blew my mind. He had us do drills and scrimmage without skates on. I was so fucking irritated about having to take my skates off at first that I almost didn’t realize that this man is a Total Fucking Genius. For us new girls, skates are in the way. We are always thinking about our skating and sometimes the rest of the game just goes out the window. Scrimmaging without skates is exhausting, enlightening, and it made roller derby seem a lot more like football to me, which made me love football a little bit. Anyways, every team in every corner of this globe should take their skates off at practice sometimes. It’s an epiphany.

What next? Well, I did some non-derby things that no one gives a shit about and then I went back to the venue to scrimmage. Because I do not give a fuck about making a fool of myself, I tried out for the bout team. Some of the other bitches trying out could not only skate circles around me, but they could do so while smashing into me repeatedly. Needless to say, it was rad and it was chaos. There were girls of every skill level. No one knew anyone else, so for us new girls it was pretty disorganized, but fuck it. We’re all here to learned. I jammed more tonight than I ever have. I got my ass handed to me, and I feel pretty fucking thankful about it.

That’s all. Since you got all the way to the end, I’ll show you the holy grail of skates and my new most envied objects on the entire planet, Quadzilla’s Skates.

Doesn’t it look like the light of heaven is shining down right on these babies? That’s because it is. By the way, when I told Quadzilla that I was totally in love with his skates he said, “get in line” and then showed me the gold-plated trucks. For fucking serious, y’all.

Read about Day 2.
Read about Day 3.
Read about Day 4.

Apr 152010
Old School

Old School Roller Derby Brawl (www.teachingtheoutsiders.com)

So you see a bunch of hot girls in fishnets and hot pants and knee high socks with fear-striking names printed on the backs of their shirts and quad skates on their feet. At first you think WTF? Is that some sort of crazy roller skating gang? Close. When you finally realize they are the wonderful ladies of roller derby, you either know NOTHING about it or you think its like the roller derby of old with brutal brawls and skates to the face.

Well I’m here to correct you.

So there are two types of roller derby: Flat track and Banked track. The banked tracks are the slanted, bowl like tracks. Their rules are a bit different but the game is essentially played the same way. What I’m going to explain is flat track roller derby, the thing I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to.

First off, there’s the reigning body of flat track roller derby: Women’s Flat Track Derby Association or as its better known by derby girls WFTDA (often pronounced whiff-ti-duh). They are the ones who make up the rules, rankings, requirements, and all official things that most leagues abide by.

Helmet panties

Pivot (left) and Jammer (right) for purchase at (www.Sincityskates.com)

So once, seconds before a bout, a guy asked me “So do y’all have a ball or something? How exactly is this played?” For all of you reading this who are in the boat with him here is your basic explanation.

Now to throw you right into the pool of sweat and fishnets, here is some derby terminology you will need to know:

Jam – Roller Derby is played in two 30-minute halves, which are broken down into 2-minute sessions called jams. Between each jam, teams have 30 seconds to get their new line-up onto the track. If they don’t make it, they play without the people missing. They don’t let this slide. My team once didn’t realize they were letting us have another jam so we had our jammer, who just happened to be the wonderful Rock Bottom, and 1 blocker while the other team had all of their members.

Pack – this is a group of 8 ladies – 3 blockers from each team and 1 pivot from each team. They are always fighting for position and control of the pack. This is where you will see the best hits.

Jammer – this is the lady with the star panty (yes the helmet covers are called panties) on her head who scores the points. She is typically the faster of the girls on the team and takes most of the hits as she tries to make her way through the pack. The best jammers I’ve encountered are the smaller girls who can get real low to the ground to dodge those hits. They also are expert jukers. Baby Face Assassin from Houston Roller Derby is 4’10 ½ and a helluva jammer.

Pivot – this is the lady with the stripe panty on her helmet. She calls the plays and helps control the speed of the pack. She can usually be found in the front of the pack. They also serve as the “last line of defense” for jammers who have passed the other blockers. Pivots are often the panty-chasers of the team.

Lead Jammer

Lead Jammer (www.ratcityrollergirls)

Blocker – These are the pantiless (only in terms of the helmet covers, mostly) ladies. They are responding to the calls of the pivot, stopping the opposing jammer from making it through the pack and helping their jammer get through. Often when fighting for position these ladies throw some mean hits and take down some blockers in the best of ways. I focus in on the pack while the jammers are making their way around.

Lead Jammer – this is an amazing status that all jammers fight for. Lead jammer is awarded to the first jammer that makes it out of the pack successfully and without any penalties. Lead jammers have the ability to call off the jam by tapping their hips. You can identify them by the ref on the inside of the track following them with one hand raised and the other pointed at them. This is something I envy, as a relatively newer derby girl, I tend to stick to blocking and I watch our lead jammers with the greenest of green looks.

Flat Track Measurements

Flat Track Roller Derby Track Measurements From WFTDA

Now that you have the terminology, let’s explain how the game works.
First the blockers and the pivots (the pack) line up at what is called the pivot line and the jammers at the jam line. The ref blows one long whistle and the pack takes off. He blows the whistle two short times and the jammers take off. Remember only the jammers can score points. Now the first pass through the pack the jammers are fighting for lead jammer status. After getting through, the jammer loops around the track and goes in for a second pass aka the first point-scoring pass. Each subsequent pass in the jam is a point-scoring pass. The jammer gets a point for each player of the opposite team they pass. Jammers can also score an extra point in what is called a grand slam. This is when one jammer laps the other. It is quite an amazing feat of teamwork to witness.

Penalties are frustrating but awesome at the same time. The most common penalty I’ve seen is elbows. When you “engage” or hit another girl on the team, you can’t use your elbows at all. This is a problem a lot of people struggle with including yours truly. You also can’t use your feet (tripping) or your head or your forearms or hands. The second most common is cutting the track. When any player gets knocked out of bounds they have to come in behind the person that knocked them out without having passed anyone else they were behind. There are more obvious examples like going through the middle and gaining position but most often its getting pushed out of bounds and coming back in at the wrong spot. And the third most common penalty, in my opinion, would have to be back blocking. This is when you are behind someone and pushing them or hitting them from behind. This penalty is probably common because we have a phrase “sit on her” which is where you put your butt on a girl trying to pass you and keep it there. If she does anything other than trying to step around you, she gets called for it. For more on penalties see official rules.

Well there you have it folks. The lowdown on the hoedown. Roller Derby is quite possibly the most amazing thing ever. And if you think you can’t do it, come out to a bout. It’ll change your life. I promise.
Support your local league!

Apr 112010

When I write this I am sitting on a train going south, trains are amazing in the way how I can see the landscape fly by outside and still walk around and have my own little space. X2000 is the fastest train of Sweden, and that is where I am, in the distant north where I was born. I flew from a sunny glammed out LA, a packed Doll Factory, skating my little Legit heart out against the banked girls of LADD to a Sweden, where the spring slowly is hesitating, one step forward, two back. Yesterday it snowed in Stockholm but today I could lace my skates on and skate down to the station to hop on the train to head towards the third largest city of Sweden called Malmö. Malmö just started Sweden’s fourth roller derby league, and I am there to meet with some of the girls and talk derby. It has only been two years since I skated my first bout, but the two best years of my life…

I found derby a little over two and a half years ago, and it was not in Sweden at all, I found it when I was just returning from a very crazy summer in Berlin, I needed some substance in my life, I wanted to find a passion that was filled with more than just words and no action. I needed to find something that made me smile with my eyes and that wasn’t about getting myself too drunk or writing self-loathing poetry.
In the middle of all this I had a great neighbor who was friends with Deadly Aim (former Rat City now Oly Roller) and asked me why I just did not try Roller Derby. Without even knowing what roller derby was, more than girls on quads knocking each other over while wearing short skirts, I bought a rookie package from some online shop. From that day and on I rarely drank, I quit smoking (and I had smoked for almost 14 years) and I went vegan. I tend to do things to extreme when I fall in love, and I fell in love with roller-skating, and later on with roller derby. After two months of going to all of the skate rinks of the Seattle area and mimicking the moves of random girls with striped socks, I found Jet City.
I was scared and shy; I was sure I would be laughed at and fall flat on my face. I wore stretch jeans and an oversized Misfit t-shirt, and I think I might have fallen on my face, but I ended up being accepted to Jet City’s booty camp and later trying out for the league.. Trixxie Trah’em, one of the best and scariest blockers of the league, always used to practice hits on me. I was always that scrawny and tall girl, I never imagined that I one day would be feared as a blocker on the track. I jammed my little heart out that first year, and I don’t think I ever really considered being a good blocker until I got on Rat City a year later. But I believe you can become anything if you really put your mind to it, it is all in the hard work and passion.
And it is not easy, I have fallen asleep some nights crying, feeling like I am not good enough, but when my jammer tells me she feel safe with me in the pack, I know it is all worth it. I feel good about being me, I feel good about wearing my team’s color on the track, and I feel good about roller derby. All the strong women that makes me believe that I can be what I want and strive to be, women I love on and off the track. I love how I can shit talk with Krissy Krash on the track just to lean my head against hers afterwards, because I know she is one of the good people. We all belong together, they love me for who I am just in the same way I love them. What is there not to love??

Oh and by the way, the Malmö girls got me real drunk after a little skate session.