More than 30 years after its heyday, roller derby is back.
Photo by Karin Kovalsky
Your 30-Second Guide:
In roller derby, there are two teams of five players. Jammers are the stars. After an initial swing through the pack, they score points for each opposing player passed.
Roller Derby in Hawaii has an unmistakable smell: sunscreen and cigarette smoke. Most of the cigarettes are smoked while players get ready, lacing up their skates and strapping on their armor—heavy kneepads and black helmets covered in bright stickers. Tattoos and red-and-white tube socks are optional. But everyone wears mouth guards, a necessity when bodies start flying everywhere.
Natalie Hancock, a 5-foot-4 blonde who skates under the name Serenity Slayer, is a coach with the Pacific Roller Derby league. “The roller derby you see today is a true sport,” she says. “We practice hard and we’re not faking anything. The hits that we give the girls, the blocks, the moves we do, everything is completely real.”
Formed this February—after a split with another league established months earlier—Pacific Roller Derby is home to women from all backgrounds. There are military wives, a florist, an EMT, an environmental consultant, a bartender and an engineer, ranging in age from their early 20s to mid-40s. And while the league is full of robust personalities, the sport has encouraged a genuine camaraderie among its mix of members.
“It’s a really great way for women to get out there and be physical and bond on a different kind of level,” explains Alexis Morales, who’s known as Axle Greaser. “We don’t paint each other’s toenails and stuff like that. We drink beer and roller skate.”
Roller derby’s resurgence dates back to 2001, when a grassroots, all-female league formed in Austin, Texas. Since then, a rapidly growing, close-knit roller derby community has taken hold across the country. And at events like this month’s fourth annual RollerCon in Las Vegas—where Pacific Roller Derby will be Hawaii’s first ambassadors—leagues come together to network and, of course, “bout.”
League organizers hope that their Vegas appearance will draw Mainland teams to compete in the Islands. League chair Joanna Boyette, aka Ding.Ding?Ding!, says, “We’re going to have a lot of fun representing Hawaii. And do our best to get some really good teams out here.” Want to watch a practice? Visit www.pacificrollerderby.com.