Roller derby in the UK: Meet the Dorset Roller Girls!
Above photos by Tim Churchill at www.tim-churchill.com
Do you often find yourself subscribing to a new fitness regime, only to find that a few weeks down the line, there’s a reason to throw in the towel? Have you ever wanted to start a new sport or activity, but felt too self-conscious or like you wouldn’t be fit enough?
At Bournemouth News & Info, we’re always on the lookout for people in the local area who deserve recognition for their achievements, and for new things to get stuck in to. So when I got the chance to chat to skaters from the dedicated and successful Dorset Roller Girls (and a couple of the guys from their newly-affiliated brother league, the Dorset Knobs) I couldn’t wait to meet the athletes and to learn all about the ‘fastest-growing sport in the UK’!
If roller derby sounds like something you need to try, Dorset Roller Girls (& Dorset Knobs) will be starting their 12-week ‘Fresh Meat’ programme this Sunday at the Sir David English leisure centre, from 1:30-5:00pm. For full details of what to bring and where to go, visit the event page here.
If you aren’t quite ready to strap on the skates yet but you’re intrigued to know more, or you simply want to watch some of the amazing action take place, DRG have a mixed triple header with rookie and inter-vanced bouts on the 25th April, in the form of ‘Mighty Morphin Derby Skaters’ – you can find more details and tickets for that here.
As the team were telling me, the skaters are not paid to compete. The grassroots ethos of ‘by the skater, for the skater’ means that roller derby is not about money, besides the small amount you contribute to play. The Girls have quite a few events lined up this year so to support your local roller derby team and for more information, follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for their website, which will be coming soon.
Do you think that roller derby is a growing sport? Why do you think that is?
Arty McSly (#88, Dorset Knobs): I’d say that derby is definitely growing as a sport, both internationally and in the UK. I think it’s got such a diverse appeal as it’s a sport for everyone; you can be tall, short, slender or stocky – there’s a position for you on the track to help your team. The rock and roll element as well I think appeals to a lot of us who weren’t particularly sporty at school, which is great as getting into sport as an adult can be pretty tough. The community element of a grassroots team as well is immensely fun – even when you’re not training together, the team spirit extends to getting involved in fundraising, publicising games… or just hanging out with other skaters. Failing all of that – it’s just a really exciting game to watch!
Wheels of Steele (#X23, Dorset Roller Girls): Roller derby is definitely a growing as a sport. It is refreshing to see a female dominated sport that caters to people of every body type and ability. I think this draws in a lot of people who have previously been put off sports by PE at school, as it takes something many people enjoyed when they were kids and expands upon it. It is definitely more than a sport, when you join, you don’t just join a league; you join a huge community… It is amazingly accessible, if you can’t skate, we can teach you. If you can skate but find that a full contact sport isn’t for you, you can referee. Don’t want to skate or are off with an injury? You can be a non-skating official (NSO). There is something for everyone. It is also nail-bitingly exciting to watch so the fans love it!
Naz T. B*tch (#118, Dorset Roller Girls): Well, a fact: it’s the fastest growing sport in the UK right now. That’s probably because they’ve introduced mens’ teams so it’s just doubling at a ridiculous rate now because the boys wanted to get in on the action. It’s a really exciting sport, it’s highly addictive and there are so many levels of progression that even if you come in at entry-level and you think you’ve got it sorted, there’s so much more. In fact, I think roller derby is more of a movement right now so being part of a movement is far more exciting than playing a sport that’s just been the same for generations – it’s constantly evolving and we’re part of it right now.
Strapping Young Beard (#429, Dorset Knobs): Yeah, I came in to be a ref then I was like, ‘right, when there’s enough men refs, let’s try and get a team going!’. We just encouraged each other so much and the Girls have all been the same, encouraging us… that’s one of the reasons why it is growing so fast.
What would you personally say have been the best moments of your time with DRG so far?
Wheels of Steele: It’s difficult to pick out one thing as we always have a blast together and there are so many little moments that have been fantastic! Passing my minimum skills was incredible – I had put in so much time and effort and finally passing and being able to skate with the more experienced girls gave me a huge sense of achievement. Getting my bout top was a pretty special moment too (skaters aren’t eligible for one until they have passed their minimum skills). Our B team had their first closed door bout the day after I received it and I was so nervous about the game. A team mate recommended I go and put on my bout top and stand in front of the mirror. I put on my Dorset Roller Girls bout top and felt like a super hero – the nerves just disappeared! We played fantastically the next day, too! Another great moment was playing with some of my team mates in a mixed scrimmage hosted by Bath Roller Derby Girls. This was my first public bout and skating in front of a crowd with my team mates by my side was the best feeling!
Möther Leöpard: My best, best moment at DRG was last year when we played against Plymouth in the South West. We absolutely love Plymouth as a team, they’re such a good match for us and so much fun to play against, and it was just such a close bout and obviously that was a highlight. We lost by three points, but it didn’t matter because the atmosphere, the crowd were just unbelievable. It was just an insane experience! A big highlight for the whole team.
Naz T. B*tch: I think for me, one of the highlights was our first ever game. We were so green and full of enthusiasm and we didn’t really have a clue what was going on! We lost quite dramatically but we felt like we had such a good time. All of us were wearing the wrong wheels, it was really slippy,we had so much to learn… so that was really fun. As well as that, the home bout which was nail-biting, neck and neck. Coastbusters, where we beat Severn Roller Torrent, who we’d previously lost to- I think we really had something to prove there… Amazing crowd, noisy crowd – it’s hard to hear the ref calls when they’re shouting!
Strapping Young Beard: I’d say passing my minimum skills personally because I never use to skate, like Bunny I’ve only skated for about a year, and when I came, I’m sure the Girls will say I was like Bambi on ice, falling over all over the place! But I’d like to think I’ve got a little bit better since then. One of the biggest things is obviously starting the mens team, I’m not the main person involved but I’ve been helping out with that a lot, and it’s just been amazing to watch them come through and watch the people improve around me. Even the Girls, who’ve been doing it years, watching them improve… Proud moments like Coastbusters when they won… it was just amazing to watch.
Would you say that the sport is feminist? Why?
Arty McSly: Yes, I’d say that it is. To me, feminism means equality and empowerment, and roller derby is the embodiment of this… It’s amazing to see so many skaters grow in skill and confidence week on week, as they discover that not only can they skate, but that they can skate well. Many arrive with little to no sport experience, or worse – negative experiences from the scholastic environment. For them to be able to leave those experiences at the door and train in a sport that is led and driven by women is amazingly supportive, and makes me feel incredibly proud when I say that I play a female dominated sport. Many don’t understand the sincerity when I say ‘I aim to skate like a girl’, as most of my derby heroes are women.
Wheels of Steele: I think so. Feminism to me is about equality – women can do the same things as men and have the same rights and opportunities as men. Personally, I subscribe to the Caitlin Moran style of feminism – we are all people and should all be treated as such, it shouldn’t matter if our genitals are on the outside or inside or somewhere in between. With this is mind, roller derby is definitely feminist.
Möther Leöpard: I would definitely say it’s feminist… It’s predominantly a female sport at the moment – obviously there are more and more mens teams coming through. When I think about roller derby, I think of female empowerment. People gain confidence from starting the sport, also it’s one of the very few sports that you think about, and you just think female straight away. Think of a female sport, you think netball-
Naz T. B*tch: Synchronised swimming!
Strapping Young Beard: And roller derby!
Bunny Stomp (#737, Dorset Roller Girls): I think as well, it allows you to express your femininity however you want to. Some people really dress up and they wear hotpants and stuff, and I’m not like that but it’s also okay. One thing that really put me off school sports was that you always had to wear a skirt with those weird little pant-things but roller derby, it doesn’t really matter what you wear, it matters who you are as a person. Female bodies as well, it’s not like you have to be really skinny to do it or be a certain body shape, any type of body shape can play. It’s not one of those sports where it’s about how you must get thin or gain more muscle.
Naz T. B*tch: I think it celebrates being a woman without sexualising women. So again, that’s empowering those of any shape. If you’re slim and light you might be a really good jammer, if you’re heavier-set you might be an amazing blocker… there’s a place for you no matter what and it’s not about how pretty you are or what hotpants you wear, it’s a sport, it’s about being athletic. We often find actually that sometimes girls who come to us who might be in a not-so-good place in their relationship end up getting the strength to break up with that particular person that’s holding them back. We’ve seen it a few times and I think it’s a pattern in roller derby, it gives people the strength. I love the fact that it promotes equality, I love the fact the guys look up to us and we look up to them and it’s purely about the sport.
Strapping Young Beard: Yeah when someone says ‘you skate like a girl’, you take that as a compliment! The girls are such fantastic skaters and jealous of half of them for how good they are.
What health benefits have you noticed since the start of your time skating competitively (including mental health, physical health or both)?
Wheels of Steele: Roller derby has huge mental and physical health benefits. Before I started skating I dabbled with running and trying to go to the gym regularly in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ body… As a consequence of this I often felt bad that I couldn’t stick to a fitness regime and that, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t making any progress towards that idea of physical perfection. I wasn’t stretching properly and had developed muscle imbalances in my legs that resulted in my struggling to walk up or down stairs without pain or my knees giving way. A few months after joining DRG everything changed… I realised that if I wanted to be able to hold my own on the track and be a useful member of the team – I needed to be stronger, fitter and actually take care myself. I started going to the gym regularly and working on strength and endurance, I researched sports nutrition… In short, I educated myself about what was good for my body and what wasn’t. As a result I am stronger, fitter, faster and have better endurance and more energy than ever before. I can physically do anything I put my mind to, which is a huge benefit. I also appreciate my body for what it is – a miraculous machine that should be cared for and celebrated, not something to hate and feel ashamed of because it doesn’t fit into a particular mould. This change in attitude has led to greater feelings of confidence in all areas of my life – I am more mentally tough and resilient too. If I can make it through a scrimmage, I can make it through anything else life has to throw at me!
Strapping Young Beard: Both. My physical health has just increased incredibly. I’ve been doing it a year and I feel fitter than I ever have. I’m 33 now but it’s weird that I remember my teenage years and I was skinny. I’m not skinny now but I’m healthier. Mental health, it’s just the Girls are so encouraging, the guys when I started as a ref were so encouraging and that just boosts your confidence. Everyone has issues with their body, and for derby your body doesn’t matter. You are just encouraged to be you and that does you immense amounts of confidence.
Möther Leöpard: For me, massive changes in strength. I think having other people on the team who are pushing themselves encouraged me to push myself. Back when we first started, I was definitely a lot lazier! I never did off-skates training really, and now we’re taking it a lot more seriously. We’re doing all the strengthening, conditioning, people go to the gym and do outside lessons and things like that and it’s just helped no end on the track. Especially because I’m a blocker. It helps with things on the track like stopping, just having the leg muscles to stop quicker.
Naz T. B*tch: I think a lot of people join roller derby because they think it’s a great way to get fit, and it is because it’s hard- you burn 600 calories an hour and we do it for five, six hours a week! But when you start playing, and when you start playing at a higher level, you’re like ‘I think I’d better start going to the gym and getting really fit so that I can play roller derby at a higher level…’. Personally if I don’t do roller derby for a couple of weeks because I’m working away, I go nuts! I feel down and I get kind of angry and frustrated and derby is a way to release that without being overly aggressive just for the sake of it. It’s a real energy release and nothing feels better than being surrounded by your teammates and knocking girls off the track… In a friendly way of course, unless it’s bout day and then the gloves are off!
Strapping Young Beard: In those sixty minutes the gloves are off but afterwards everyone’s friends again, it’s just amazing. It switches so quickly.
Bunny Stomp: Loads! For starters, I wasn’t unfit but it uses so many different parts of your body skating and you can really feel where your muscles are starting to grow and stuff. Little things like you’re more flexible, so it’s not all about strength, it’s about balance and all kinds of stuff but I think for me, the biggest thing was actually the confidence it gave me, because when I started I was really, really anxious and it does give you that confidence, being able to skate like: ‘I can do something that most other people can’t do’… In real life, it could give you that confidence to go for that job interview or something, like ‘you can do this!’.
What would be your advice to anyone who is nervous or unsure about trying roller derby?
Arty McSly: I’d say really don’t worry about not having any experience, or not being athletic… What matters is the passion and enthusiasm you bring with you. If you want to skate, and join an amazing community of people drawn together by a love of skating, then do it – don’t write yourself off before you give it a chance. You have no idea how amazing you could be on the track.
Wheels of Steele: Give it a go! The worst thing that can happen is that you find that it isn’t the sport for you, while the best thing that can happen is that you fall in love with a new and exciting sport and make new friends. The roller derby community is incredibly supportive and full of wonderful people who will help you to achieve your goals. Don’t be scared, just strap on those skates and give it a try, it could be the best thing you ever do.
Naz T. B*tch: Some of our most valued skaters, throughout the time that DRG has been in existence, could not stand in skates when they started. So no matter what level you’re at, there’s always a role for you here. It doesn’t have to be on skates, you can enjoy being part of the team and enjoy the sport and not have to get down and dirty on the track. Just try it!
Möther Leöpard: I’d say that it’s such an open, welcome and friendly environment… there’s not a single team I’ve met who hasn’t welcomed or been friendly… It’s like the friendliest sport in the world, I’m just gonna put that out there! I reckon that could be true though… There’s no need to be self-conscious or anything because as soon as we see new people, we make an effort to talk to them, give them advice and everybody’s so eager and that’s what’s great about it.
Strapping Young Beard: Everyone remembers the day they started, and they couldn’t skate and falling over all over the place… but they’re not gonna laugh at you, they’re gonna help you get better and support you. They’re gonna teach you how to fall over if you do! It’s great.
Naz T. B*tch: As well, if you’re a mature person over the age of thirty-five like I am, roller derby is a sport for you! Don’t think that you’ve got to be a young whippersnapper to play this because a lot of top skaters on top teams across the world are past forty and it’s not about being lithe and young, it’s about being fit and strong and understanding the game and there’s a lot to learn there.
Spectator tickets for Mighty Morphin Derby Skaters have now gone on sale! Come and see some derby skaters with… http://t.co/2HDM445bgL
— Dorset Roller Girls (@DorsetRG) March 13, 2015
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