If you haven't seen Whip It
yet, find it online this weekend for a taste of truly badass ladies rocking the roller derby world. A film that spawned a thousand recruitment drives, Drew Barrymore's classic tale of a young woman finding her passion on the roller tracks is something we're sure quite a few of us can relate to.
Indeed, Alia, aka Judge Shredd, one of the board members and coaches on the Beijing Roller Derby team, tells us that the movie sparked her interest in the fast-paced contact sport as well. Alia had never skated before, but after joining a local team in her English hometown – and falling on her ass many, many times in the first few sessions – she found a sport and community that she loved. Now working in Beijing, Judge Shredd is back on the track and building up the roster of derby gals and guys in Beijing.
Judge Shredd, otherwise known as Alia. Image: Beijing Roller Derby.
First off, what even is roller derby?
Roller derby is a full-contact sport that started back in 1950's America. While it's morphed and grown drastically over the years, the roller derby of today comes with rules, regulations and registered spots on major sports networks.
The oval-esque track (sometimes banked, sometimes flat) sees two teams of five players race around trying to stop the other team's point scorer from scoring points. Simple, right? Not so much. The point scorer is called a jammer, designated by the star on her helmet. Everyone else forms the pack, made up of four blockers per team. To score, each team's jammer needs to make her way through the pack – once for the initial, non-scoring pass, and then as many more times as she can for each scoring pass.
To ensure the opponent team doesn't win, derby girls need to work together in both offence and defence positions to ensure their jammer scores points while the opponent jammer does not. There are plays, penalties, boundary lines, you name it.
Monsoon Madness. Image: Gareth Sheehan.
What's with all the fighting talk?
As a contact sport, roller derby has a certain reputation for being fierce and fiery. With blockers literally able to hit other players to the ground, the sport's reputation perhaps isn't too far off. But there are definitely rules, and the intense training that goes into being a derby player ensure players know what they're doing before being able to play in a league.
How can you hit someone then? 'No elbows, no wrestling, no knees, no hitting people in the back. There are legal hitting zones,' Alia explains. You can basically hit with any part of your body below the neck, above the knees and above the elbows. You can't hit someone's head, back, knees or lower legs.
But, so long as you learn the minimum skills, you can join a team and get out on a track with your pseudonym and glitter helmet. 'Roller derby is an accessories dream.'
Learn the skills, right here in Beijing
To play for a league team, you have to pass a series of skill tests. These include learning how to skate (backwards and forwards), how to fall, how to pass, how to block and how to skate around the track 27 times in five minutes. You have to have the right gear and you have to be over 18 years of age. But, you can also get involved without having to be part of the rolling team: You can join as a referee, official, coach or just training partner.
Whether you've skated all your life or have never put on a pair of skates before, join the upcoming season and learn all the skills you need. The Beijing Roller Derby team was established back in 2013. While some members of the original team have moved on, there is now a core team that wants to get the rolling started again in full force.
Image: Beijing Roller Derby.
Details on becoming a Beijing derby-er
If this sport sounds like something you just can't wait to try, head on over to Shunyi this Sunday (Feb 24) for Beijing Roller Derby's recruitment day. Once there, learn all about how to get involved, what the time commitment is (practice's usually once a week), what gear you need (can be rented from BRD), and how much the training sessions will be (a membership fee to help cover costs).
For more information and to reserve your spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, why it's such a great sport
Alia tells us how playing derby has changed her life. It's given her self confidence, an incredibly accepting community to be part of and a better understanding of her own strength.
'You don’t have to be really fit to start out, you don’t need a certain body type. I’ve had people that were shorter than me use their shoulder under my thigh and throw me down. It’s nice to be in a sport where your body is an asset, I literally use my butt to get in other people's way. I never had so much confidence built into me apart from with roller derby.
'Getting over the contact part of roller derby is the scariest part. Everything we’re told [as women] is to not do that. We're not encouraged to be aggressive. But with roller derby, I learnt positive aggression. It’s not a vendetta kind of thing, I give respect to the person who throws me down. I was scared of someone hitting me. But then you figure out you’re stronger than you think you are and it’s nice to figure out how to be aggressive and use that in a way I don’t feel bad about.'
Monsoon Madness. Image: Gareth Sheehan.
Loving and using your body for your advantage sounds fantastic. Being part of a team that accepts anyone and everyone as who they are, also bloody great. Skating with friends, while wearing whatever you want (under your gear) and choosing a badass name? We say sign us up.