Ever since Drew Barrymore made her directorial debut in 2009 with Whip It, we’ve had derby-fever. Due to one reason or another, we never made it to the Chicago Roller Derby. However, remembering from the movie that the sport has it’s roots in Texas, one of the first things I did after unpacking our apartment was look up the Houston Roller Derby. The opening bouts (games) were this past weekend, and they did not disappoint.
Although technically roller derby has been around since the 1930’s, the full contact, all female sport that we know it as today started in Austin, Texas back in the early 2000’s. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of bouts are played on a flat-track, compared to the traditional banked track used in Barrymore’s movie. Cost was the number one factor in the transition to the flat track, considering it takes a lot to build a banked track. Not only does it cost a pretty penny to build, the cost of securing a permanent building is also a hang-up. The Houston Roller Derby sets-up shop once a month in the Bayou Music Center with a removable floor and some neon green duct tape. Another benefit to having a flat track, is that it allows the spectators to be that much closer to the action. However, it is a contact sport and due to safety regulations you must be 18 or older to sit along the “crash zone” and before the bouts begin everyone must practice the “lift and cover” (a technique to save your drink should a jammer come barreling your direction).
Apparently, before the derby revival in Austin, the sport was more about entertainment and had the game’s winner fixed in advance, with lively costumes and satirical names. With the reinvention of the game, the bouts were no longer fixed, but the costumes and names remained, some of which included: Mary Queen of Skates, Sam I Slam, Mary Choppins and (my personal favorite) Erma Gerd. Several of the skaters were sporting battle paint on their faces to go along with their braided pig-tails (because you know nothing says, “I’m ready for battle” like braids and some face paint). Despite their playful appearances, once the whistle blew and the bout began these girls turned into beasts on wheels.
Each match is a double header, with 4 different teams, and throughout the evening the games had to be stopped twice for injury. Everyone took a knee while an the injured skater was escorted off of the track to a bench of fellow racers all healing broken bones from last season. Along with the last girl to get knocked, let me rephrase that, SLAMMED out of the game, any desire that we had to give the sport a try quickly vanished.
Though we wont be lacing up ourselves, we will definitely return for next month’s bout. We had a blast, and the do-it-yourself, keep-it-local, third-wave-feminism attitude of the game is right up our alley. If you live in a city with a derby league, then I highly recommend checking it out. If not, rent Whip It, and then get yourself to a derby city and attend a bout!