Photos by Carlie Statsky
The Wheel Deal: Blockers keep an eye out for a jammer trying to pass them
Down & Derby
With their first bout just two weeks away, the Santa Cruz Rollergirls pledge to roll over the competition.
By Will Mosher
They embody the ideal of feminine beauty, they contribute to charity, and they can beat up your dad: they're the Santa Cruz Rollergirls, and you can expect to hear more from them in the future as they launch their first season in Santa Cruz.Roller derby is an extreme sport for women that combines the burlesque with a pastime developed during the Depression. It's camp on wheels. The players all have fictitious names like Lulu Lockjaw, Robin YoLife, Allison Chainsaw and too many others to list. They plaster their helmets with bits and pieces of personal flair. They come dreadlocked, pigtailed, wearing whatever they want, however they want.
Now their all-star team is going to represent Santa Cruz against other already established teams like the evil, soulless crew from Silicon Valley for the first time in Santa Cruz history.
But don't be fooled. Although a predominant feature of the sport is flashy players with clever names getting smacked into the ground, making it seem more spectacle than sport, it's also very real, and it empowers the women who play it.
Full-contact games like this are a rarity in women's sports. People can, and do, get hurt, and for that reason the girls have a policy of making sure every player has health insurance. Paramedics hover in the wings during bouts. Players also have to wear pads and braces that cover everything, even their bums.
Well, at least some of the time. One of the girls not wearing butt pads was knocked onto her backside during a recent practice. As she struggled upright onto her skates, one of the other players helpfully yelled, "Aw, did you fall on your asshole?!" But when they aren't being nastier than asbestos, they're giving back to the community. They're donating a portion of ticket sales to the Walnut Avenue Women's Shelter and helping out the Second Harvest Food Bank. Last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, they taught neighborhood kids to skate. Some of the rollergirls even have their own kids, and some are almost kids themselves. The members of the three teams in the Santa Cruz roller derby league (the Lost Girls, Beach Flat Betties and Fist Full of Dollies) come from all walks of life. Their census includes mothers, daughters, girls, insurance saleswomen, wives and doctors.
Roller derby has come a long way, considering it started as roller marathon in the '20s and went extinct for decades before being reborn in its newest, and wildest, incarnation. It actually started in Santa Cruz when Robin "YoLife" Hoff came from the Rat City League in Seattle this time last year. Finding Santa Cruz derbyless, she made fliers and posted ads on the Internet. She had about 80 applicants overnight. They began training last spring, which is why, today, they're ready to play.
"The higher meaning is that we're doing an extreme sport for women, which is really rare," said YoLife outside the Santa Cruz Roller Palladium. "Roller derby is exploding right now. I totally expect to be in the X Games in five years."
At its simplest, the point of the game is to get a team's "jammer" past the "blockers," who are led by the "pivot" as they volley around the track. Each time the jammer gets past a blocker her team scores a point. To stop the jammer, the blockers have to bump and maneuver their way into blocking her path, which always creates chaos. It's almost like a scrimmage in football, but all the players are heading in the same direction, they have wheels strapped to their feet and they have no football.
Their first bout with the Silicon Valley Roller Girls will take place on March 15 in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, and they expect to win.
"Bring it," said Kelly "Roxy Scarmichael" van denBerghe, addressing the Silicon Valley team. "We're the shit: take a whiff."
THE SANTA CRUZ ROLLERGIRLS' maiden bout, against the Silicon Valley Roller Girls, is on Saturday, March 15, at 6:30pm at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 adv/$18 door general and $10 adv/$15 door kids; 831.420.5260 or www.santacruztickets.com.
Meet the Rollergirls
Robin 'YoLife' Hoff
is the founder and regulator of the Santa Cruz Rollergirls. She was born and raised on the tough streets of Seattle, where she played with the Rat City Roller Girls, which made her a thug. She's getting her MBA but has a Ph.D. in the savage school of hard knocks. If you mess with her girls she'll go after you.
(Jessica Kyle) is a self-described "surfer-girl-turned-derby." She goes by Candie because she's a sweetheart, but she makes trouble on the track. Candie Hooligan gains her strength directly from her astrological sign (Taurus) and her savage Scandinavian heritage.
(Lindsey Seiler), a Santa Cruz native and insurance saleswoman, decided to join the derby when a friend of hers had four front teeth knocked out in a particularly nasty derby accident. Now she collects injuries at night while driving up the price of insurance for teammates and enemies alike (enemies, mostly).
a.k.a. Terra Haddad, chooses to celebrate her Egyptian ancestry by breaking faces. When she isn't playing, she's earning her Ph.D. in chemistry. Right now she's studying the asymmetric allylation of ketones, which she attempted to explain to a baffled reporter. It has something to do with medicine and saving lives. She's been best friends with Doctor Rocket since she was a teenager.
(Alexis Teplick) is a real doctor (a pediatrician, actually), which she says comes in handy in the rink. A caring person, she often feels like she's doing rounds while playing, and always makes certain that the other players aren't mortally wounded after catching big hits. She's been best friends with Cleopatra Catastrophe since she was a teenager.
Charlie Red Stick
(Janice Harper), born in Georgia and descended from Muskogee Indians, named herself after the Red Stick Warriors to honor her heritage without using cheesy puns. At 38 and with two kids, Charlie Red Stick uses her considerable skill and skating experience to outwit younger players in the rink.
(Kelly van denBerghe), one of the seniormost players at 43, brings her heart into the game and wears it on her tattoo sleeves. Her arms are covered in her son's drawings, which mash up against Japanese patterns. She's an impressive player who encourages everyone to play. "But," she says, "if you just want to look good on skates, then you shouldn't be skating."
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