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It’s fast, all female, sexy and it has gone mainstream. It’s roller derby, which originated in America in the 1930s.
Back then it was largely a spectacle with pretty women parading on roller skates and calling themselves by outlandish derby names.
Today it’s a sport that has spread to all parts of the world, including Japan, the West Indies, Australia and now South Africa which has leagues in most cities.
Its participants are still largely women wearing skimpy gear but the focus is more on the athletic side - although they still boast outlandish names.
This year will see the second roller derby world cup, this time in Texas in December. The first tournament took place in Toronto in 2011, and featured 13 teams.
South Africa will be sending their first team to the tournament and trials for selection are taking place today in Hillcrest.
The rules are fairly simple. There are two teams of five women who go around a circular track. Each team has four blockers and one jammer.
Points are scored whenever a team’s jammer passes the opposition’s blockers. Thus the blockers’ job is to stop the opposition’s jammer and to help their jammer through.
“Roller derby started in Durban in March 2012, after two girls from the league in Johannesburg moved down and started it quite informally,” said Szerdi Nagy, the league’s media liaison.
Last year the team moved to a permanent indoor venue in Hillcrest and the league is now up to about 40 players split into two teams, The Missfits and Eves KanEvils.
The sport struggles with misconceptions, one of them being that the game is just a rough-and-tumble free-for-all. However, the game is strictly regulated with legal areas of contact being from just above the knee to just above the elbow.
“It’s very strategic, it’s not just skating in a straight line and there’s no elbowing people, or smacking them in the face,” said Nagy.
Another misconception is that they are all just “rude, loud, tattooed freaks,” said Nagy.
“What people don’t understand is that primarily it’s a sport. There’s even talk of it becoming an Olympic sport.”
However, she says there are two distinct kinds of women drawn to roller derby.
“Some are here solely as an athletic pursuit, while others enjoy the the social aspect, the dress-up and having a derby name.”
Like most people, Michelle Lardant aka Miss Bitchell, the vice-captain of Eves KanEvils, first learnt about roller derby from the movie Whip It.
“I was blown away by this sport and I wished that I had the opportunity to participate in derbies in Durban. Then a few months later, I found out that I actually could, and I signed up straight away.”
Amy Bennett aka Captain Crash, the captain assist of The Missfits, skated with friends for a year before trying roller derby, where she found that her experience of skating in a straight line along the beach front did not prepare her for the rigours of roller derby.
“I used to skate with the girls from work, and then we heard about roller derby and we checked out the Facebook page. It sounded really cool, so I decided to check it out.”
The growth of roller derby in South Africa has seen leagues formed in Cape Town, Joburg, Grahamstown, Bloemfontein and Durban, which led to the decision to send a team to the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas.
“This will be the first South African team selected, and the first African team,” said Nagy.
The first round of trials for the team will take place in Hillcrest today at Hillcrest Primary School from 10am.
Selectors will be travelling the country choosing a squad of players that will eventually be trimmed down to 20 players.
“Our goal is to grow the sport and the exposure will hopefully lead to more people becoming interested in the sport,” said Nagy. - Sunday Tribune