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Photos by Mariah Wilson

Roller derby harder than it looks

By Kristy Koehler, April 5 2019—

“Step one: Learn how to roller skate,” says Krystina Edwards, AKA Honey Smacks, director at large for Chinook City Roller Derby. “It’s a lot harder than it looks when you’re getting started.

“You almost need a visual reference sometimes to explain roller derby,” she continued.

A roller derby match is called a jam. Each team has four blockers and one jammer out on the track at the same time during the two-minute jam. The jammers attempt to lap the rest of the group.

“They’re trying to get past those blockers on the other team and each time subsequently that they’re coming around the track getting past, they’re scoring a point for every opposing player that they’re passing,” says Edwards. “As a blocker, your goal is trying to stop the other team’s jammer and trying to help your jammer through. Instead of moving a ball or a puck around, you’re physically moving one of your teammates around the track.”

Roller derby has a reputation of not being for the faint of heart. With predominantly female-identifying athletes, the sport allows women to embrace their physicality. Team names like the Kill Jills and the Barbed Wire Betties accompany logos reminiscent of feminist icon Rosie the Riveter but with bandaids, bruises and skull tattoos.

“I’ve watched some of the ‘70s-style roller derby,” said Edwards. “It definitely used to be a much scarier sport. But, given the physicality of it, there’s a pretty strict and well-enforced set of rules in place as far as what’s legal contact.”

Edwards says players can’t hit people above the collar bone or below the knee, nor can they use anything from the elbows to the tips of the fingers to impact opponents.

“Given the fact that you can get moving fairly quickly and people are constantly making contact, over the last 15 to 20 years that this has really been evolving again as a newer sport, they’ve really worked to refine the rules on what makes the game safe and fair and approachable for new people,” she said.

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the international governing body for the sport of women’s roller derby. The association was founded in 2004 and manages international tournaments and rules of game play. Calgary Roller Derby is a member and has a high-level team that competes internationally. They also have house teams that play other recreational teams in the city.

In order to play roller derby, there’s a set of minimum skills needed, explains Edwards — not the least of which is roller skating itself.

“Especially with our generation, not a lot of people grew up roller skating or playing this sport, so a lot of us are just learning to roller skate for the first time,” said Edwards. “And then you’re out on the track trying to learn this new sport while trying to learn a physical skill.

“In order to make sure people are safe — for themselves and for everyone else they’re playing with  — you have to kind of learn that minimum skill set to start playing the game.”

New skater intakes involve intensive training on roller skates, learning how to balance and manoeuvre.

“Even for people coming from ice skating or rollerblading it’s definitely a different balance as far as manoeuvering,” said Edwards.

For Edwards, one of the most fun things about roller derby is the nicknames people give themselves.

“Being a quirky, fringe sport, it lets you take on a different persona,” she said. “The funniest thing I find about it is you’re in the game or when you’re at the event and you’re always referring to people by their roller derby name, you sort of miss out on learning what people’s regular names are. It really does make it unique — having nicknames that people go by that can capture your personality a little bit.”

More information regarding Chinook City Roller Derby is available on the league’s website.



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