When asked, at my first skating skills session, by the captain of the Roller Derby team why I’d joined, I didn’t want to lie… I also didn’t want to tell the truth, but she had sensed it, “don’t try and tell me you haven’t seen ‘Whip It’!” she grinned, “We’ve all seen it, and every newbie tries to say they haven’t!”
To my immense relief, she didn’t realise that ‘Whip It’ was actually the second reason; the main one was that I wanted my chance to do something really ‘cool’. I’m a ‘doer’ in many ways, but my ways are not, and have never been, ‘cool’ or independent; I write poetry (self-indulgent) and I’ve travelled, but I had Mat to guide the way and carry the heavy stuff. Roller derby, by anyone’s standard is totally 100% cool. Plus, I’ll have to skate on my own, get knocked over on my own and have my very own roller derby name. Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine! Ok, so it’s a team sport… I’m going to get a crazy amount of support, but, I didn’t join with friends or because of friends, I decided to go alone, just because. Progress.
Fast forward 6 weeks worth of 2 hour Monday night training sessions, 1 roller disco (musical themed) and a Saturday drop-in (with mostly teeny tiny kids) session, and this is what I now know about Roller Derby:
- It’s going to take over my life.
- These women are ‘my people’ and if we still lived in tribes I’d kill others to make it into theirs.
- You need to be comfortable with being a ‘porn star’ (Never going to happen, see No. 18 )
- I’m going to be able to cave giants heads in, armed only with my super strength thighs if I actually master the ART that is skating.
- I need to get quicker at putting my pads on. It took an entire 15 minutes in the first week, (wrist, elbow and knee pads only, imagine if I was an octopus) just from not getting which way they went on and which one was for my left hand and right hand, despite being told 3 times and their helpful ‘L’ and ‘R’ markings… Due to No. 18 I’m not going to link this to being an inevitable result of my gender, I am clearly just failing at life, plenty of the other girls are ready in a minute.
- Checking the skates you put on your feet will improve your performance. I spent an entire 2 hours, during my second session, in a pair of skates that made my right foot ache from the start only to discover, in the cool down, that they were in fact two different sizes in the same design! (As I do with a lot of things, I declared my obervation out loud and my tribe now know I’m a fool)
- Screeching and squealing and grunting while trying out difficult moves will make other people on the track laugh or stare at you. Always. Try to avoid. (Not managed this myself, so far)
- At some point, some bitch is going to try to push you over and it’s part of the game so you will have to take it, not throw a fit like the one in my head at the mere thought of it. (As for No. 18 I do not think ‘bitch’ is misogynistic when I use it, I also liberally use ‘dick’ to berate men folk. I’m all about the equality of gender specific insults.)
- When you play actual Roller Derby, not just skating skills for the scared, you will need to wear a gum shield and look like a chimp.
10. If you wear a skirt to training, in week 5, because it’s crazy hot, you will be mocked. Even if you are wearing starry hot pants under it and don’t even fall over once.
Two things happen in week one of significance, firstly, I get a sort-of ‘girl crush’ and I know that this is normally reserved for 13 year olds who are drinking for the first time and trying to show-off to a guy by making out with a girl (this makes no sense. Ever.) but I never did that! So, at 28, I am shocked to find how magnetic the roller derby girls are to me. They fascinate me precisly and solely because they are female. They are so energetic, uninhibited, raucous, inclusive and AMAZING AT SKATING! It shocks me to realise, that I have actually never moved in a community of females that are inspiring. Please read that last bit again, it appalls me to admit it, so consider just how awful that previous statement is!
I have never:
Seen strong and popular female leaders in the workplace (I have always worked for men or unpopular women)
Been close to a group of girls without there being snide comments about past relationships/current male friends that unsettles things (clearly, who is and isn’t loved by whom is a frequent source of envy/anxiety in many female groups)
Known a confident group of women who don’t focus on their appearance during every conversation.
(Important note: I know individually inspiring women, a shed load, but not groups, so don’t go getting offended!)
The Roller Derby girls get my instant admiration and adoration because this is a place where they have forgotten the weird ‘code’ of women folk and are just bad ass skaters, laughing and living in the moment. I know instinctively, skating will be my secondary lesson from hanging around with them.
Second thing, Gyspy (Captain) who’s showing me how to weave (in and out of cones) is cracking up, doubling over, and yelling “move your hips” fruitlessly again and again while I hit into each cone. Realising I have no idea what she means she gets ahead of me and grinning widely proclaims, “just watch my bum and follow” I finish the track flustered and scarlet (It would have been rude not to follow her instruction and I am jealous of what I saw and embarassed I looked!) she can tell, “Are you just really British?” and I nod sheepishly.
Next exercise is a relay and Gypsy demonstrates what we’re going to do; mainly skate and drop to one knee, then two… when, suddenly, some other alien move is thrown into the mix. I notice all the new skaters look worried, we have definately not been taught that move in the last hour and a half. I try to ask what the move was, unfortunately a skater from each team has already gone and I’m next so I figure it’s best to just watch the guy from my team carefully (guys come to ref) to my absolute horror as he gets to that weird move Gypsy starts shouting, “Porn star! Porn star! Porn star!” and the sound reverberates around until it’s at stadium proportions. I am in blind panic. I don’t want to join their tribe, I want to go home and hide. I wildly measured the distance and people and knew there wasn’t a chance I could leave without being knocked down or noticed. So, I play the ‘cool’ card and just do it. I did the porn star. Picture it: skate, skate, skate, at full pelt, drop to 2 knees throw head to floor and arse in air. Skate back. Easy. Beetroot face gave absolutely nothing away.
Mooks, the coach, is skating around checking my moves and casually drops in, “So, are you going to start coming to Sundays?” Being asked to go on Sundays is like being given a free pass to the holy grail that is a shot of being on the Arcadia’s Roller Derby Team (at the moment, I only attend general skate skills on Mondays, Sundays is full-on Derby practise). I am immediately a head full of fizz. Think, Christmas eve tingles. Imagine, a face full of chocolate cake. Unfortunately, my mouth does not prove this, it simply throws a firmly formed, “no!” out. By week 6, the answer to the question, which is now being echoed by team members is the same. I do not know what is happening! (Fear is the logical answer, I don’t want to fail or worse disappoint)
When I drove home after week 3, and that first exhilirating request to start going to sundays, all of the following things happened: I grinned like a goon, let every single driver who wanted to turn into the road turn, I had both windows down fully to breathe in the delicious smell exuding from the McVities factory, laughed aloud at my hair whipping my face sang, fiercely. As I neared the end of my journey Lana Del Rey’s ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ was playing, it’s a brilliant, close-to-the-bone ditty and I found myself thinking, if girls were all put in skates as soon as they had managed to take their first tentative steps, with the same passion that guys are introduced to football, Lana’s lyrics would not ring so true!
‘This is what makes us girls
We all look for heaven and we put love first
Somethin’ that we’d die for, (it’s our curse)
Don’t cry about it,
This is what makes us girls.
We don’t stick together ’cause we put our love first’
Let’s face it, all that crappy pivoting in netball isn’t going to inspire the same level of trust as is required when flinging your fellow female around a derby track so she can fly passed the other team. Plus, you won’t be able to wear fishnets or paint your face when you do netball. Also, with Roller Derby, who cares if you have no hand-to-eye coordination?! Alas, I digress! Point: this is a sport when you need to ooze confidence, that confidence is likely to follow you off the track. Boys are out until all hours playing football while at school, girls are just hanging around waiting to be noticed (Barbie has a lot to answer for!) it needs to stop, they should be breaking wrists skating instead.
Oh yeah, I’ve only fallen over once in 16 hours worth of skating.
Finally, my derby name should probably be Kelamity but I think Baby Blitz is better… Maybe I can pull it off? Got anything better? The best on my team is Kinderella, by a mile, but works even better because her surname is actually Kinder.