The movie Whip It, starring Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig, and Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, brought nationwide - and perhaps worldwide - attention to an underground, amateur sport called Roller Derby.
Until recently, I had no idea that the great city I was living in sported its own league. Last week, on a venture to South Congress for First Thursday with some out-of-town friends, I was passed a flyer for an upcoming game, and in the spirit of "trying new things," we all paid the $15 ticket price and helped ourselves to a slice of Derby pie.
To be vague, Roller Derby attracts a specific crowd, much like motorcycles do "bikers." I'll let your imagination create the stereotype. It is clear that to some it is pure cult-ish amusement, and to others it's more of a serious undertaking, much like league soccer or intramural flag football can be in the spirit of "fun," but are really quite competitive. I would say this applied to both the team members and their fans. Some were more serious than others. For a lot of attendees, it really just seemed like an excuse to wear ripped fishnets.
A Roller Derby match is called a "Bout." There are four quarters in each Bout. Within each quarter there are sessions called "Jams." There are basically two types of players: Jammers and Blockers. To begin, the Blockers line up (shown above), with the Jammers from either team lined up a few paces behind them. The whistle blows and the Blockers skate forward and prepare to block. A second whistle blows and the Jammers begin to skate forward preparing to jam their way through the Blockers. The Blockers ideally want to help their own Jammer through, without allowing the opposing Jammer to get through their blocking line. Points are scored for each team by that team's Jammer pushing through the pack of Blockers and lapping the opposing team members. For each opposing team member they lap, they score a point.
The movie Whip It gets its name from a move the Blockers perform by grabbing the Jammer's hand and using their own momentum to "whip" the Jammer forward, to gain speed. We saw this move a few times in the Bout. As you might imagine, there is quite a bit of physical contact.
It seemed as if most of the people around us were old hat at being derby fans. I really didn't have any idea what was going on for a good bit, but we tried to blend in. Admittedly, I finally spent 10 minutes on Wikipedia, refreshing my memory about the rules, just so I could cheer along with them. They had a band play at half-time, and he was pretty awesome, as is to be expected from Austin's live music scene. There were refreshments, t-shirts, and various crafts, etc, for sale.
Some of these girls really meant business! It was kinda refreshing to see women in a contact sport who were deliberately enjoying the contact. We had quite a good time, and I'm really glad we went - even if it was just for the people watching.
Whip it Good, yo.