The smokingest sport in town, roller derby, readies for a fast-moving rematch in Marina.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Torn stockings, heavy makeup, leopard print undergarments and colorful tattoos blur by. The smacking of polyeurathane wheels echoes off the curving, crosshatched roof. A sell-out crowd pours in from the damp night and fills bleachers until crowding either end of the rink itself is the only viewing option.
More than 500 people soaked in the Monterey Bay Derby Dames debut roller derby bout on Feb. 27 at the Water City Sports Center in Marina. This Saturday, April 9, a rematch between Monterey Cannery Rollers and Salinas Babes of Wrath rumbles through.
Even with uniform elements that include unorthodox numbers like “1/2 Decaf” and “Adultr8,” it is what you find emblazoned above the numbers that give the women much of their individuality. The carefully crafted names are a staple of derby culture, to the point of being required and logged on a master roster. President of the fledging league, April Diaz, dubbed herself “AssailHer Jerri.” Her number: “92proof.” One head coach named Laura Madson took the title “Pippy Longstalker,” wearing pig-tails and the number “36AA.” Officials even follow suit, with one referee branding himself “Hue Refner.”
The Dames are a nonprofit amateur roller derby league that began in April 2010. The word got around quickly.
Tamilla Macklin, known as “Bettie the Kid” on the track, says she loves the camaraderie of the sport – and the diversity of her teammates.
“We have firewomen, we have house moms and everything in between,” Macklin explains. “It’s a lot of amazing women that I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet [otherwise].”
A live roller derby bout can be a baffling experience for the uninitiated – whistles blow shrilly in Morse code-like cadence and at times the skaters look to simply be pointlessly speeding in circles.
The actual rulebook is about as technical as schematics for the Hubble Space Telescope, but here’s the quick and dirty: A 60-minute derby bout is divided into two 30-minute periods that are subsequently broken down into jams. A jam is a race, lasting up to two minutes. Each team sends in five skaters: four blockers and a more nimble, speedy jammer in a starred cap. A jammer is responsible for passing the other team’s blockers, who must move as a pack, which ups the number of collisions by design. It is also the blockers’ job to help shield and accelerate its own jammer – with, say, walls of rolling womanhood or slingshot moves, respectively – while making life miserable for the opposing jammer. The result is a mix between a running back slipping through a defensive line and an ice hockey break-away.
There are no in-line skates allowed – old school quads are the only option. The relics of discos gone by can be tricky to master even without contact: one ref found himself wheels to the roof more than once during the bout.
The first modern form of what we know as roller derby today was raced on a banked wooden track, making for faster action, but these circuits are very expensive. According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website, it was this small problem that led to the proliferation of flat track roller derby about 10 years ago in parking lots and basketball courts around the nation.
After seeing the runaway popularity of roller derby in Santa Cruz and taking some private skating lessons at Del Monte Skating Arena, local marketing consultant and Salinas City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig thought there might be enough interest in the Peninsula area to get a league started. A year later there are over 50 women on MBDD’s roster – and Craig is known as “Miss Manners.”
“We’re super excited, we’re on a roll,” she says, “We’re looking for a larger venue to accommodate more people.”
The spectacle of flamboyantly dressed women terrorizing each other alone attracts curious hoards, but the the hard fought opening match revealed a genuine competitiveness at its core as a Cannery Rollers team that had been behind by as much as 20 during the bout made a charge late.
“Bettie the Kid” led the furious comeback, wowing the crowd with deft maneuvering and blazing speed while scoring more than a dozen points in just the last few jams. Even though she’s only been playing a matter of months, Macklin displayed a veteran’s ease with the pressure – and the post game clichés. “My mind isn’t on points,” she said. “It’s about the whole team.”
THE MONTEREY BAY DERBY DAMES skate Saturday, April 9. Doors open 6:30pm; bout starts 7:30pm at Water City Roller Rink, 2800 Second Ave., Marina. $15 at the door; $10 in advance. www.montereybayderbydames.com.