I Am a Roller Derby Girl in Honolulu
Injuries, drama, dedication, victory—associate editor Tiffany Hill laced up her skates to rumble in Honolulu’s fastest-growing sport.
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A Bone-Crushing Beginning
I listened to upbeat music on my iPhone as I headed to my first practice. I was nervous. I met up with Alexis Morales, better known as Axle Greaser, or Axle, and Frances McGee, Abominatrix, or Abomb at the Kamiloiki Park hockey rink in Hawaii Kai. When you think of a derby girl, you picture Axle. She’s fierce, built and loud, with a pierced nose and tattoos. She’s also patient with beginners, and hilarious. With tight curls and funky socks, Abomb is petite, agile and a skillful jammer.
This past summer, I was one of Axle and Abomb’s first fresh-meat skaters, the affectionate term for a derby newbie. The two helped me lace up my skates and adjust my trucks. They gave me strips of duct tape to put over the toes of my skates. (While Mainland skaters don’t use it, duct tape is essential in Hawaii, where gear gets beaten up quickly from skating outdoors.) After putting on borrowed gear, I stood up and stepped onto the track. I felt like a shaky fawn taking its first step. The last time I’d been on skates was, oh, the third grade. It had been awhile. I gripped the wall and fell down, just trying to stand there. I eventually made it around the track, and caught what, at the time, felt like some solid speed. I’m doing it! After crash stopping into the wall, I looked over at them, with their fancy moves, making it all look easy. That’ll be me one day, I vowed. Afterward, we grabbed dinner at Azteca. Over tacos, they schooled me in Derby 101: I’m going to fall, a lot, but everyone started where I did. It takes time. Derby is painful, but awesome. Duct tape is your best friend. “And we don’t go home and dress up for the after-parties,” said Axle. “You wear your uniform and don’t shower.” I had entered the curious world of roller derby.
I was hooked immediately. The New Girl practices on Tuesdays and Saturdays became the highlights of my week. It was slow going, to say the least. I learned the intricacies of derby stance: feet shoulders-width apart, bent knees, butt out, chest up. “It’s like you’re squatting over a toilet,” Axle and Abomb would say. “Get lower.” They also taught me how to fall, properly. Double-knee falls and the more frequently used single-knee falls are a new girl’s best friends, at a time when gravity is your worst enemy.
My third practice in, I was still conquering the basic skills. But not before falling backward (literally, and metaphorically). I fell hard that day on my left arm. It hurt significantly worse than the other, million times I had fallen. This is not good, I thought, suddenly feeling ill. I continued skating, but, by the end of practice, I couldn’t move my arm without flashes of pain shooting upward. Driving home was excruciating. The next day, I went to my doctor, and I had an X-ray taken. It was official: I had fractured my elbow. Well, I made it to 24 before breaking anything. More than anything I was frustrated. Frustrated I couldn’t skate, frustrated by only being able to use one arm (it’s hard to wash your hair). For three weeks, I wore an awkward white mesh sling and had countless people ask if I had won the fight, followed by two weeks of physical therapy (thanks for your help, Carol!). I’d be damned if I’d end my fledgling derby career that way. So I dusted off my skates, laced them up and gave it another go.