I took Miss T and her friend to watch our local Rose City Rollers at the 2014 season opener tournament against Seattle’s Rat City Roller Girls. This was not what I had seen in the movies, where skaters speed around a banked track. Instead, this was flat track roller derby. The pace was slower and more complicated, with much back and forth and obvious strategy. Slow-er doesn’t mean slow. There was enough action in Bout 1 for triple-digit scores!
The night opened with a great show from Portland Taiko. The drummers hammered out engaging beats and dazzled us with their active movements. In the final piece, they all stood between two drums and took turns beating on each of them, twisting back and forth in time. And no one lost an eye!
After the drums, we listened to the National Anthem with hands over hearts (some in the audience actually cheered Camryn Carr when she hit the high notes – spot on!), and then all the roller girls came onto the track and circled for us, and then circled in opposite directions and slapped each others’ hands. It was a cacophony of spandex and dyed hair, glitter and tattoos and wicked grins.
Roller Derby is pretty popular here in Portland, and my brother says the Roller Girls are popular in Seattle too. They attract a city crowd, by the looks of the audience. People who have probably lived here all their life, sitting on stadium seats next to their parents and their kids. The audience is yet another example of what it means to be a Portlander: friendly, unpretentious, quirky.
Sadly, I had not picked up a program before we found our seats, so at first I struggled to understand how the Bouts worked, or how points were achieved. Tara overheard someone explaining it behind her, and she explained to me. The teams can send up to 5 skaters onto the track: one is the jammer (who speeds through and makes points), one is the pivot (who keeps the team together), and the rest are blockers.
Most of the skaters are required to stay in a group. They begin by finding a good start up position, with pivots from both teams in front. Pivots and blockers are trying to both 1) keep the other blockers from getting in the way of their own jammer, but also 2) trying to block the opposing team’s jammer. Like football. On wheels.
Both teams’ jammers start from behind, and must shoulder their way through the pack. Whoever gets through first has control of the play and can end it when she wants. Both jammers circle the track and come at the pack for the second trip through, and this time they start earning points. A point for each opposing team member that is passed, including those in the penalty box. From then on, it looks like the jammers keep skating in circles, racking up points, while the pack remains clustered: scattering when the jammers come through, then re-grouping when the jammers are circling. Lead jammer signals the end with her hands on her hips.
The penalty box was often full, as you can imagine with a full contact sport like this. Like hockey, the team simply had to function without a team member while that person was gone. In the first game, there was a time when the Heartless Heathers had only one person on the track!
Which brings me to the names. What a riot!
The teams were Heartless Heathers vs. the Throttle Rockets, Break Neck Betties vs. Derby Liberation Front (or DLR), Guns N Rollers vs. the Sockit Wenches, and finally the High Rollers vs. Grave Danger.
Their personal names were hilarious: Screaming Beaver, Ethel Vermin, Shock Therapy, Napoleon Blownapart, Untamed Shrew, Knots O’Pretty, Sher Nobyl, and Slamburger Patty just to name a few.
The numbers on their jerseys were not even conventional. Oh, sure, you had your 3, and 47, but there was also 070, H155, OXO, K2, 5150, 1.001 and my favourite: 16 going on 17. All this was printed on their jerseys. Imagine it!
The officials had their own crazy names on the back of their black-and-whites, and I was delighted to see one ref in a kilt! (Of course there’s a kilt: Portland is the home of the Unipiper, the bagpiping, unicycling, Darth Vader.)
Sponsors even fit the bill: Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example. PBR-Portland’s drink of choice! (not mine, of course, but it’s what you drink if you’re trendy) Also VooDoo Doughnut. You must have heard of it: home of the famous Maple-Bacon Doughnut!
The roller girls from both teams were tatted up and pierced and a load of fun. I’m so glad I finally got to go. I’ve been wanting to see some Roller Derby since I moved here. I had a good time, and learned something more about life. Which, if you’ve seen my blog tagline, is what I’m all about.