If the thought of roller skating recalls memories of timidly holding hands with your crush around a twinkling skating rink to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” then please be cautioned. This is not your older sister’s brand of roller skating, unless your older sister is a bad ass.
Enter the OC Roller Girls. This Roller Derby revival league is shaking up Orange County and leaving no prisoners behind. Created in June of 2006, the league has rapidly grown to consist of 50 girls, four teams and now three completely sold out bouts. The fourth is takes place April 21.
“A lot of the girls are tired of their day jobs and daydreaming about something else,” said OC Roller Girls founder Heather Shelton, who goes by Disco Dervish. “This is an outlet where you can get physical and dress up and wear fishnets. You can walk around and get all of this attention and feel like a rock star.”
According to the OC Roller Girls Web site, the game consists of two teams of five skaters that face off on the track. All skating is done counter-clockwise and blockers stop opposing jammers from passing them, while jammers score points when they successfully and sometimes viciously pass their opponents.
The hardcore contact sport leaves lots of bumps and bruises. Sometimes players even get the occasional fishnet burn imprinted into their legs after a drop onthe skating rink’s cold hard floor.
“Bruises are going to happen,” said Shelton. “The girls take pride in their bruises because they’re a sign of battle. They show their battle wounds off to each other and in almost one year we’ve only had two broken bones.”
Still, with such an aggressive sport Shelton takes precaution in making sure that her players are out of any real harm’s way.
“It’s a very physical sport and we’re very serious about what we’re doing,” said Shelton. “There’s a lot of training that goes into it. There’s a lot of testing that we do and the girls can’t participate in the bouts unless they pass the skills test.”
Among meeting a minimum attendance requirement, potential players must master the skills test. This test includes knowing what’s legal, learning how to hit properly, and learning how to fall.
From one-knee falls to whole-body falls, mastering the art of falling is essential to the sport. One wrong fall can result in a serious injury and no matter what happens, proper roller derby etiquette says you never cling to someone else when you’re about to take a tumble.
“That’s a no-no in the league,”said 32-year-old Kiki Price, who goes by Brik Wall. “If you’re falling you can’t take anyone down with you, you go down on your own.” Shelton, a 32-year-old executive assistant of the Pacific Opera House, created the league after relocating from Tucson, Arizona. Looking for something to distract herself, Shelton drew inspiration from the Roller Derby bouts she frequented while living in Tucson.
She decided that it was the right time to bring the sport to Orange County. Starting off by recruiting players through Craig’s list, Shelton got plenty of women to answer the call. The OC has welcomed the sport, including the pain that comes along with the game, with open arms.
“I think people are surprised about the sense of community there is and how welcoming everyone is,” said Shelton. “The perception is that we’re tough but amongst ourselves everybody really cares about each other.”
The team has recruited a number of diverse participants. From mother daughter pairs to college students, the league’s demographics are all encompassing. They even managed to lure the Orange County District Attorney into the sport for a little while, and a 92-year-old grandmother is one of their top fans cheering the girls on at every bout.
“There’s a place for everybody. Roller Derby crosses the economic level and all types of social levels.” said Shelton. “We’ve had people from white collar and blue collar backgrounds and everybody seems to enjoy the sport.”
For newcomers interested in the sport the players say that the amount of effort given is one of the most important skills. Price, who works as an executive assistant to the president of a prominent Orange County business, says that to play the game you have to conquer your fears before stepping into the rink.
“I’m an athlete, but going into the game with a mindset of ‘I’m gonna get hurt’ or someone’s going to knock me down’ you’re not mentally aware of your skating and anything can happen to you,” said Price. “If you go out there and you’re ready and you’re focused and you’re checking your surroundings, you’ll know it’s all good.”
For fresh meat, the term the Roller Girls use to refer to new players, the sport is intimidating until you break your body in with the first fall.
“I was really scared at first but after my fall the fear just went away,” said 36-year-old Grashonda Price, who was introduced to the OC Roller Girls by her sister Kiki.
“I fell hard, really hard, but I just got back out there and now I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay.”
Taking out life’s aggression in the skating rink is just one of the perks that comes with being an OC Roller Girl. Players leave the mundane boredom of daily life behind. Away from day jobs, kids, boyfriends, and school, these women channel their alter-egos and in turn, kick some serious ass.
For Rebecca Day, who goes by Jacquelyne Hyde, her day job persona and roller derby alter ego are as different as night and day.
“Here I can get out on the track and knock people down and it’s okay,” said Day, a 31-year-old sales representative. “I come to practice sometimes feeling a little crazy about life, and when I leave, most of the aggression is gone.”
Still, amidst the fierce athleticism and the heavy bruising, there seems to be a real camaraderie among the women.
“They’re helping each other through all the different stages of their lives,” said Shelton. “Some of the women are in their twenties or their thirties. Some of them have kids and they want something for themselves. These girls are looking for something interesting and here, they get fifty new friends that help them find that.”