Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Last Sunday I got to take part in a fun event with the Oxnard banked track league, Sugartown. They've been around for a couple of years, and frankly have had an...interesting existence. Things haven't always been smooth in the general Ventura area with them and the local flat track leagues, and it got weirder when they hired LADD's old coach for about a year.

Then Sugartown came to their senses.

They were scheduled to have an exhibition game at a yearly biker event called Chopperfest. Which is really brilliant if you ask me...bikers and roller derby?! A perfect combination! I would be intrigued if I wasn't already involved with both! Problem was, Sugartown hit rock bottom by losing their warehouse practice space, the coach, and a bunch of skaters at around the same time a couple months ago.


So they reached out to the local derby community and asked for help. All kinds of help. SO much help. Sugartown came to weekly practices in LA. They asked to borrow skaters for the Chopperfest event, which they were calling the Sugartown Smackdown. They needed a ruleset to skate by. They needed refs to enforce the ruleset. They needed announcers. They were overwhelmed with the prospect of pulling this off, but they needed to do it to try for survival.

And in a frantic two and a half months, they got themselves an event. Suzy Snakeyes, Figg Lebowski, Helen Surly Frown and myself volunteered to skate the event from LADD. PITA and Pinky P'okerface amongst others led the charge of Orange County, quite a few West Coast Derby Knockouts showed up, a lone badass from Missile Mountain in Colorado, and the remaining skaters of Sugartown were split into two teams to skate exhibition scrimmages on the hour, every hour, for four hours.

IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Apparently some of the less experienced skaters were nervous about their skating abilities on the bank, but they needn't have worried as the track was very slippery due to the cold and humidity, thus it became the Great Equalizer for us all. Everyone was slipping and sliding early in the day, and that kept us humble and more likely to work together during scrimmaging just so that we didn't hurtle ourselves into the infield unexpectedly.

And then we started getting comfortable. Here is a hilarious sequence of me trying to terrorize the opposing jammer, Saracuda, who skates with WCDK. To be honest, the only reason I went for this approach was because I was told she was scared of me. HA!

Closeup of the same sequence. When I turned around to hit her, she literally squeaked. It was adorable. She went on to score points, by the by.

I miss skating with and against PITA.

Something you don't see very often, and for good reason. Me jamming. I actually scored points, though!

Look at this group. I'll skate with them ANYTIME.

The Sugartown girls say that for next year, they want to invite more skaters to put together the teams for this event. Which I think is fantastic! I can't wait for 2012! This derby retirement thing is going pretty well so far!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Scrambled Rant Just In Time for My Birthday

Remember that time the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup happened in Toronto? I sure as hell do. And the kvetching that went along with it from the online spectators has put me in an incredibly foul mood.

Y'all have already forgotten modern derby's roots. And they're important to remember, especially in this very transitionary period of the derbz.

Remember that time when modern derby started as a DIY sport? And still is? Remember because of that, things aren't going to go as slick as it would if, say, Adidas and Nike were footing the bill to put on an inaugural event such as the World Cup. When the planning is done by a small group of skaters and volunteers and everything is new and there's no money, shit isn't going to be as grand as some of the events you see covered online, whether it's WFTDA Championships or Derby Dolls games.

And then when things don't go off as exactly as planned, it really, REALLY doesn't help to get a constant stream of bitching. WHERE'S THE VIDEO FEED (that you're watching for free)?!?!? 

WHY IS THE AUDIO MUDDY(that you're hearing for free)?!?!?!?!?! 







For fuck's sake, people. I want to punch each and every person who made such comments. Because those comments didn't come from people who were working for the event. Yet these came from people within the derby community as a whole. You should know better by now. You really should. Derby has eaten your life and you're still not getting paid. Guess what? Neither was anyone involved in this event.

There's some heavy-duty expectation failure going on here. It's completely unreasonable to expect this event or derby overall to hatch fully formed, perfect and ready for tv, the Olympics, or whatever form of  "legit" you kick around a la Athena bursting out of Zeus' forehead. It didn't work in Seltzer's era, it's not going to work now.

The way these criticisms were presented is no bueno, because they fail to take into account the volunteer nature of the event. Would the people who said the above in that tone (in some cases much ruder tones) do that to Black Dahlia, Robin Graves, ToRD, Hurt Reynolds, Gnosis and Justice Feelgood Marshall's faces? I would hope not.

Constructive criticism is needed to make the future of derby better. Key word here is CONSTRUCTIVE. You got something to say? Don't be a doosh about your presentation of the criticism. Think very carefully about said presentation when handing out criticisms to a volunteer unless you're angling for their job. Derby is a microcosm of life in that I've found that those who bitch the most don't necessarily volunteer to do the heavy lifting the most. My message to you: PUT UP OR SHUT UP. If all of this was so damned easy, everyone would be doing it.

Other notes:

Petty shit first: getting rid of skate names is a red herring to making the sport "legit". I can't even get a decent definition of what "legit" is supposed to mean. TV? Olympics? Sponsorship? No one can really tell me. I had an online viewer repeatedly say that skate names is holding derby back. I asked how, but he couldn't explain why and kept dodging the question. It finally came out that his wife started with a local league and was stressed out over her skate name, not her skating ability. Dude. REALLY? Sounds like misplaced priorities to me if one is so worried about being in a "legit" sport. But I can tell you this: if getting rid of skate names would've bought a tv deal for derby IT WOULD'VE HAPPENED ALREADY.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to the meat of the situation...

If you want derby in the Olympics or on tv, you need double-digit numbers of leagues who can play TOP-LEVEL derby. The US isn't at that point yet. There's a handful of top leagues, and then the dropoff of gameplay is dramatic. Look at the top teams in the world...sooooooo not ready for the Olympics right now.  I don't think the Olympic committee is going to buy, "OK, the US is by far the top team now, but just you wait! By the time you approve of our sport for Olympic inclusion, we'll have other countries up and running! We promise!" You have GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME. Rethink your approach and timeline and be more realistic.

That is not a slam on any league or country that's skating derby and putting everything they have into it. I don't think most of the US skaters realize how goddam difficult it is for non-US skaters to even get a space to practice in, much less establish a functioning league, getting equipment(hello, most derby skates are Riedell, a US brand, so they have to be imported. NOT CHEAP. And unless you're in Australia, the other major boot manufacturers are in Australia. ALSO NOT CHEAP.), and setting up competitive interleague play. The stories I've heard this year both from when I went to the UK and Amsterdam and over the weekend reminded me just how goddam LUCKY US skaters are. Growth isn't going to be quite at the rate it's been in the US. But WOW, I saw some amazing skaters from all the countries who represented this past weekend. I was so happy for them and their experiences!

Because of that difference of derby skill this past weekend, it's good that this wasn't televised on mainstream tv. For someone who didn't have any previous exposure to derby, seeing many of the games with blowout scores would have indeed been boring. Hell, according to my many hours of time spent in the DNN chat rooms, derby fans were bored. But the thing is, interleague is THEE KEY to get everyone's gameplay up. The next World Cup in two years is going to see a dramatic improvement of gameplay by the participating countries, and probably a few new countries, based on the exposure to new people, new strategies, etc. Enough to justify mainstream television coverage? I don't know. Look at how long the US has been doing derby and then look at how many of the US leagues are in that top tier of gameplay. Again, if it's not enough leagues to create televised interest here, then expecting televised coverage of the World Cup at this juncture is kind of a wet dream.

A note about the venue: the Bunker is very similar to the LA Derby Dolls' Doll Factory space in that they're both warehouses with sometimes primitive nuances that make the overall ambiance less about SPORRRRRTS and more about an experience. Which I as a Derby Doll especially appreciated. The Bunker lacked the lighting, paint, and overall spit and polish that the Derby Dolls have done to their space over the past four years, but from what I understand, ToRD hasn't been in that space very long, and finding a suitable mid-sized venue that was affordable was researched but turned out to not be an option.

Overall, my impression of the first World Cup was nostalgic. It was derby 3 years ago. And I liked it. I'm so glad that I decided to eat the cost and go work the event. It made me hopeful for the newer leagues in far away countries as much as it made me frustrated with the expectation failure and "legit" talk from people who haven't realized that we need some out-of-the-mainstream-spotlight growth time to make the sport as good as it can be.