Field Theory by Hadyn Green


How to make a derby

"Ha! They've trapped you!" she laughed. "You showed a vague interest and now they've got you!" I went to protest but she was right, I had been caught.

It was the second time I had spoken to Scheisse Minelli, from Auckland's Pirate City Roller Derby (home of the famous "take it off and go in your undies" game-ender). The first time was a few weeks ago when Scheisse had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas where she, Lucy in Disguise, and Lux Vengence (from Wellington) had attended RollerCon.

It was a brave hotelier who signed up to provide accommodation for RollerCon. Even in Vegas 1,500 Derby Girls in one hotel, crazy. "You'd get into the elevator and you'd see the girl next to you had tattoos so you'd just ask ‘who do you skate for?'"

Disguise and Schizzy

How Roller Derby is organised in New Zealand is interesting. Scheisse is right, they trap people. But it's hard not to be. Beyond the "Derby Widows" who volunteer so they can hang out with their partners, fans will get asked if they want to help out with organising and – BAM – they're in. Beyond that, though, it's the camaraderie.

You can always tell a Roller Girl. They're not the tough-looking cigarette-smoking switchblade-flicking rockabilly punks of their alter egos; though they may look like that. Usually they are laughing and horsing around with friends. Because Roller Derby isn't about making enemies and being the toughest skater (at least off the track it isn't), it's about a community driven sport, with tight networks and friendships.

I don't know if they know it but the Derby Girls are mirroring every other developing sport in New Zealand. Teams where the players swap in and out to make up numbers, players across the leagues and across the country know each other and socialise together, bigger areas (like Auckland) support new start-ups (like Christchurch), they run on volunteers and donations. This is where New Zealand's two-degrees pays off.

As Thigh Voltage said on Twitter:

Less than 6 months ago I went to watch Richter City Roller Derby play and thought it was the most exciting thing i'd ever seen. In a weeks time I GET TO PLAY FOR THEM. Holy shit. Thats pretty exciting.

Pirate City have started their season with an exhibition bout: School of Hard Blocks. Yes, that does mean Roller Girls dressed in skimpy school uniforms. But "exhibition" doesn't mean it was slower or softer in any way. Scheisse boasted about her brand new figure-8 bruise she got after landing on someone's skate.

Part way through the conversation I realised I was actually talking to Hannah; and Hannah referred to Scheisse like Jack does to Tyler Durden. But again that's how it works, on the track they are tough competitors who will smash their way through to get the win, off the track they are themselves again, hanging out with their friends.

Schiesse lives with Lucy in Disguise (formerly Miss Evelle) and it helps with their combinations when skating together, but doesn't hinder them when they have to smash each other either. And then it's a family thing too. Kids come to support mums and end up holding up signs between rounds: "I get to go along and scream and be rude and nobody tells me off!" (in the States they have leagues for kids too).

And now there's social media. Facebook and Twitter let the skaters connect, gain fans and trash talk better than any other sport previously has when it started.

How did I get trapped? I'm going to be MCing the next Richter City bout. I stupidly went to training without a name and the girls thought that "Keith Quim" would be good, you know you're in when they give you a dirty pun name. However, instead of that slightly disturbing mental image, I'm going to be Bullet Surprise.

If you want to go and see some Derby:

  • The Christchurch Rollergirls will be in action tomorrow today (12th Sept), 6pm at Cowles Stadium, tickets on sale at Cosmic Corner ($12). "Virgin Evil and the Silent Assassins are combining forces as the ‘School Assassination Squad' against the Cell Block Brawlers and the Filthy Habits as the ‘Hellbound Harlots' for this exhibition match."
  • Wellington's Richter City kick off their season with Skate of Emergency on the 19th of September. " Don't miss the thrills and spills of this nail biting battle between the backside kicking beauty queens, Brutal Pageant, and their ruthless leopard print rivals, Smash Malice."
  • Auckland's Pirate City has its first bout is on Oct 3rd and then an exhibition at Armageddon over Labour Weekend before the big Halloween Havoc match against Richter City.

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