A Girl’s Guide To The Roller Derby

I am admittedly not the most athletic lady alive. Last time I was on wheels was at a friend’s 8-year-old birthday party at the local roller rink. I held onto the outside rail and eventually ditched the rink altogether to eat a soft pretzel on the sidelines. That’s why I am obsessed with the roller derby, which the New York Times is dubbing a new trend even though it’s been back with a vengeance for years. It’s awesome to watch girls tearing it up out there on the rink—even if I can’t. From the punk-meets-club kids style to the quirky team names (Texecutioners, Mason Dixon Roller Vixens), roller derby is faster and sexier than it was in the ’70s. Here’s what you need to know about “jamming.” [New York Times]

  • Roller derby is a contact sport based on formation roller-skating around an oval track. In the 1930s, promoter Leo Seltzer trademarked the name Roller Derby and soon, matches for cash were held in many cities throughout the U.S. and sometimes even broadcast. The sport went through several boom-and-bust cycles between the 1930s and the mid-1970s, when its popularity fizzled.
  • About seven years ago, roller derby resurfaced in Texas as an amateur, women-only game, played not on the expensive banked tracks of the olden days but on any el cheapo flat surface. The new derby is simple. There are two halves—each 30 minutes—during which each team has five players on the rink at a time in two-minute shifts called “jams,” hence the nickname “jammers.” They skate counterclockwise and there’s one jammer per shift, who scores a point each time she laps around an opposing skater. It ends up looking like human bumper cars.
  • Participants decided to spice stuff up by taking krazy stage names like Hoosier Mamma, Eva Destruction, Cykosis, and Skid Ho. Plus, they broke out the fishnets and mini-skirts. Today, more than 15,000 skaters compete in 300 flat-track leagues from the US to Australia. The rapidly growing popularity has made the game way more violent, competitive, and for the first time ever…totally legit. [New York Times]
  • Teams from the West have dominated the short history of modern roller derby. The first champions, the Texecutioners, were from Austin, and their successors, The Kansas City Roller Warriors, were from right around the corner. But this year, the Gotham Girls of NYC entered the tournament as the favorites. Their star, Jean Schwarzwalder (aka Suzy Hotrod), is covered in tattoos, plays guitar in the punk band Kissy Kamikaze, and has been sponsored by Manic Panic.

To find out how to get involved in a league in your area, check out Derbyluv.com or Skatelog.com. Or if you’re happy on the sidelines like me, check out where you can catch tournaments at the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association official website. See you on the rink!