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Roller derby: an underground sport getting its skates on

Posted by on 29/06/2018

As The Surfaris’ Wipeout blares from a PA system at a rink in Reservoir, and crowd members in rockabilly dresses, bandanas, and leopard print casually drink beer, the alternative environment of Australia’s increasingly popular sport roller derby is very clear.
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One woman with the player name “Bleeder” is set to enter the rink wearing a Day of the Dead skeleton mask. Clearly this is not your average weekend community sports match.

This is the underground world of roller derby, the brutal game played on skates where women bowl each other over at a sweeping pace. The sport, where a “sisters of anarchy” banner is draped on the walls.

Private schoolgirl by day, and derby crusader by night, 16-year-old “Ace of Sades” aka Sadie Mason has swapped her tee-bars for skates. She is one of many women taking part in Australia’s growing derby culture and is not shirking the brutality of this full-contact sport.

“It’s pretty hard-core. [There are] plenty of bruises,” says Mason, “but you know the pain doesn’t matter. There’s just nothing like roller derby.”

Mason has become so involved in the sport she is pushing to take on the rest of the world, with Australia set to take part in the 2015 Roller Derby Junior World Cup in Seattle.

Without knowing it until this year, when she discovered her natural talent, Mason has been a perfect fit for the sport ever since she was a child.

“I used to love Rollerblading when I was a lot younger, but then I stopped when I grew up” she said. Once Mason saw Drew Barrymore’s 2009 film Whip It, her fate with the sport was sealed.

“I saw the movie, and I was like ‘that’s the most awesome thing ever’… So I followed through by joining a league and then figured it out from there.”

To go to the world cup you must be able to meet a set of criteria that demonstrate skills of the highest standard.

“There are a set of requirements that are made by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association which is like a world body. So you have a specific standard; certain levels of contact, certain levels of endurance, and other personal skills,” Mason said.

Mason’s derby life is in stark contrast to the environments she finds herself in at her Toorak school.

“It definitely does not fit in at all, let’s put it that way,” she says, “my school is all about their netballers, and they’ve got their aerobics girls … but I guess that’s why I love it, I love the contrast in my two separations.”

The element of difference in the derby world is what is most appealing, Mason says. “I know this sort of sounds weird, but it’s almost like we’re a big bunch of misfits, but not, and we all sort of come together.”

Ellen Hamilton, a derby beginner from the Melbourne Northside Rollers, agrees. She suggests it is the “underground” element of the sport that has seen its revival since its popularity peak in the 1970s.

“The vibe is amazing. There is also an element of alternativeness to it, like people have coloured hair and everyone has tattoos,” she says.

From a playing perspective, Hamilton suggests one reason why the numbers of those getting involved are growing is the physical exercise involved.

“That’s why I like it,” she says, “It’s also good exercise, and I hate exercise, but because its so fun it doesn’t feel like it.”

But that fun physical exertion can often turn into high physical and mental demands. Natasha Le Noel, who has been involved in derby life for four years, says this is a challenge facing players.

“As a full contact sport, injuries are a possibility; [and managing] recovery is difficult when you just want to get your skates on.”

Le Noel believes Australians are overcoming these challenges. As the country’s juniors set out to take on the world, it is clear “Australian roller derby is certainly gaining momentum on the derby world stage,” she says.

However, to be this good, you do have to be a derby devotee. Very rarely are players paid on a professional wage, presenting another challenge. “It can be very difficult trying to balance work, derby and home life.”

That is something Mason knows all about in balancing her different worlds of school and derby. She admits that, with year 12 approaching and the world cup taking place in the middle of her VCE, juggling school life with her derby dreams “could get a little rough”.

But despite all the chaos that living a “double life” brings, for Mason, nothing will stop her from donning her skates and representing Australia.

“I’m ecstatic”, she says.

How is roller derby played? 

Two teams of five people compete on an oval shaped track and to score, one player from each team called ‘the jammer’ must skate past a line that is blocked by the rest of the opposing team, ‘the blockers’. All players have numbers and individual player names of their choice.

There are close to 90 leagues in Australia and 21 leagues in Victoria alone. One league ‘The Victorian Roller Derby League’ is currently placed fifth on the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association ranking, the sports peak body, making it Australia’s most successful league.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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