It's freezing at the indoor karting track. In the waiting area, with the pool table covered in papers, it's merely cold. Past the barrier and out on the concrete track you can see the breath of the skaters as they blast around the newly-created oval track.
"You can get a lot more speed in the straight-aways here" says referee and trainer Danger Danger. "But you gotta watch out for those tyres because you could break a leg on those."
I put it to the back of my mind that a man called Danger Danger is offering safety advice (he would later remind someone that skating while holding a glass bottle is very dangerous) and focus more on the skaters. It's a grading session.
Richter City Roller Derby are aligned to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) and with that comes responsibilities and rules. Skaters must pass a number of skill requirements before they are allowed to skate in bouts, this includes sections on: basic skating; falling (there are four different ways to fall); balance and agility; skating with others (play nice!); and blocking. It's part assessment and part risk management. You don't want to send fresh meat into a racing pack of skaters; they'll get mown down. Training for the skill assessments is drilling the skaters until they have the muscle memory. There's no time to think in Roller Derby.
The skaters congregated in the middle of the track, amongst the stock car parts, go-karts and other racing paraphernalia. Off to the side a mechanic worked on his car, his grinder throwing off impressive showers of sparks. This seemed right. It's like Rocky working in a dingy gym and punching sides of beef hanging in an abattoir.
The coaches are going over the drills while Amy and I stand with Danger Danger and Justicier. I can't help it; I have to ask about uniforms. And I get the best response to a uniform question ever:
I think frilly panties are in at the moment
Stripy socks are too. Later Suffer Jet would let it slip that this training session is more well-dressed than most, possibly because of the cameras.
The two teams are (as you may recall) Brutal Pageant and Smash Malice. Malice were supposed to take the first bout easily but they lost. And since then Pageant has gained in skills and confidence.
"We're gonna go 4 and 0!" exclaims Ruby Deathskates, referring to the upcoming bouts in September and October. "And then we're gonna beat Auckland" she continues with a bravado that I was hoping to hear. But it was harder to get that quote than you'd think.
If the last bout showed anything it was that even a blood sport like Roller Derby can't rip friends apart.
For example, hypothetically, let's say your fiancé watched your first bout and then, after you lost, he said that your opponent was awesome and that you should skate like her and that at the next bout he might wear a t-shirt with her name on it. You can imagine that this could cause some on-rink animosity (as well as some terse discussions at home). But not even this (not actually hypothetical at all) situation could cause a rift or start a rivalry.
In fact when Mike went to get a photo of the two skaters from that story he couldn't get a good shot because they were laughing with each other too much.
In fact my whole "intense rivalry" angle is blown out of the water when I'm talking to Lux Vengence.
H: "So have the skaters in Smash Malice been angry since the bout, are they waiting to get revenge on Brutal Pageant?"
LV: "You really want us to say 'yes', don't you?"
LV: (shakes head)
Thank goodness for Ruby and Wax Assassin. If anyone was going to cause a rivalry it's these two. Admittedly they are on the same team but both are out for blood (figuratively) and both really want to win.
But will we ever see them go head-to-head? Maybe. After their humiliation at the hands of Brutal Pageant many of the skaters from Smash Malice couldn't handle it and dropped out (a slight embellishment but let's keep going). The intake of fresh meat (the generic name for new skaters) has meant that there can still be two full teams but that in order to make it a fair fight some of the more experienced skaters might have to switch teams.
"But I really like my dress!" was the first complaint from Wax Assassin. That and she loved winning. "I can't wait for the [Halloween] Derby against <a Auckland, my girlfriend skates for [the Pirates] and she's pretty good too". Will it be a problem going up against her? "Nah, you get two Derby Girls going against each other and…" she then indicated with a reference to her elbow that there would be violence.
The <a Richter City Roller Derby's next bout is on September 19 at the Wellington Basketball Association Courts. They run on volunteers so if you want to help out, go to the site and drop them a line. That includes anyone who wants to become fresh meat.