Roller Skating, Now with Added Pain!

Sara and Amy are crazy and decided to try Roller Derby; this is a true accounting of what happened.



I am sore as shit as I write this.

I am not necessarily known for having the “Eye of the Tiger,” or for putting up a fierce face while blazing a trail of win through competitive sportsball games. I’m more like that hippo in Fantasia—I’m an unlikely delicate flower. I’ve peripherally observed Roller Derby culture, but I’ve never really aspired to be on a Roller Derby team—I think rollerskating in a circle while listening to Whitney Houston is really fun all by itself, without the added pressure of a frothing pack of lady-skaters breathing down my neck and knocking me over. Falling hurts! And mostly it’s embarrassing. Who would deliberately put themselves in a situation where that was pretty much guaranteed to happen? However, I was totally willing to put Amy Olson in that situation.

Industrial strength yoga pants. They are a thing, and it was possibly the thing I was most excited about. I thought it was all fishnets and studded elbow pads. Sister Mary Hate told me that there were two schools of thought: there were the compression-pants-serious-business people, and then there were the fishnets. I was definitely compression-pants-srs-biz. Although, I kind of had swamp-ass before I even left the house. Score one for fishnets.



Going into this experience, I had a lot of questions: why? Also who, and what? The answers were: ‘cuz, and these girls, and practicing Roller Derby. As it turned out, there were a few other things worth knowing.

For one thing, I didn’t get the memo about being all hardcore-sporty, and spent way too much time coming up with an outfit and a persona. Apparently the perception that Roller Derby is burlesque-on-wheels is inaccurate, and my amazing Bridezilla character concept was a waste of good costuming. I had these neon-green tights with fishnets over them to look more like scales, mitts with stapled-on claws, and this bitchin’ lace bustle with spiky green tail thing happening, but it was totally inappropriate. Maybe I’ll save it for backyard wrestling.

The standard gear is all function: the super hardcore yoga pants Sara was all pumped up about, a simple top, and about 50 pieces of protective body armor that stink like a dead possum’s butthole. Thing worth knowing number two: if you are easily grossed out and want stuff that actually fits well enough to protect you, invest in your own helmet and padding. And for God’s sake, bring your own mouth guard. We decided we’d rather lose teeth than borrow one of those.

I’ll admit, even at this point in my life when I’ve got my self confidence up to an all time high—possibly even too high—I was pretty nervous. And then we thought we were early but we were actually late, and everyone was all badass. Plus I hadn’t skated in about a decade, and had been running scenarios through my head all day where I was flailing around the rink like a dying fish while snooty girls laughed at me.

I was totally wrong on both counts: I am awesome at rollerskating, and everyone was incredibly welcoming and inclusive. OK, maybe not awesome; I can’t skate backwards, or do that rad one-leg-in-the-air-behind-you thing, or “shoot the duck”… or stop without falling or running into something—but I could do the basics, and it was crazy fun. No exaggeration on their niceness though; I never once felt like an outcast.

Going back to stopping—stopping is a good thing to know how to do. Toe stops can lead to broken ankles. Doing the pizza-wedge from my beginner ski lessons was a total fail, and the recommended T-stop (where you turn one skate perpendicular to the other and drag to a halt) was the craziest inner-thigh workout I’ve gotten in years. Also, if you do that one wrong you can still break an ankle. Breaking ankles is something I’ve become extremely paranoid about in my daily life now; who knew it was so easy? Ankles are important and should be treated with due deference!

Most of the practice consisted of running through the various elements of a match. We learned how to weave forward and backward through a pack, how to bump and be bumped, and that if you’re going to fall multiple times, you should really try to land on one butt cheek to avoid bruising your tailbone. Just don’t make it the same cheek over and over like I did; now I’m all lopsided and my OCD is nagging me to somehow injure the left side of my ass.

The most effective non-falling-related technique I learned was to keep your butt down and your tits up. The lower you bring your center of gravity, the easier it is to stay balanced while you’re slowing down or getting jostled. The visual we were given was to “imagine you’re shitting in the woods,” but we were like, “What the fuck—who poops standing up? And why would we be alone in the woods wearing roller skates? We’re scared!”

The tits part of the equation helps keep your back straight; with the intensity of what my body went through, I’m pretty sure that saved me from being bedridden today. Plus it makes your tits look a lot perkier. Life advice.

Not only were these girls amazing and super friendly, they had hilariously witty names. It turns out there’s a name registry system for the Derby circuit (like the Screen Actors Guild) so there can be only one Sister Mary Hate, or one Slappa Ho (Ah-Ma-Zing names, by the way).

Sara and I spent a lot of time time trying to come up with ours. Sara had some great ones, like  “TriSaraTops”, or “SaraNado!” I was thinking “Brain-eating Amy-ba”, or “Amyostasia” (which is a medical term, meaning a muscular tremor causing difficulty in standing or in coordination). The goal is to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies.

As I alluded to previously, I decided to work the “fear of commitment” angle, and shake their confidence with the idea that they might propose to a totally normal person after dating for a few years, but then suddenly BRIDEZILLA. Who in their right mind could focus with that mess stewing in the back of their brains? It’s like the ultimate form of the Brain-eating Amy-ba.

Of course then I realized I was just going to smash my rad tail with all the falling, so I only wore the mitts for practice and put the rest of my costume back on afterwards so we could get lots of attention when we went for wild tea seltzers at Duffy’s. I mean, tough Roller Derby drinks…warm Bourbon in dirty glasses.


Meanwhile, Back with Sara:

At the end of the night, leaving CalSkate, everybody switched back to their regular faces. They were moms, coworkers, regular women-about-town. It was like watching a bunch of Clark Kents reappear, but instead of transforming from a bunch of Supermans, they were a highly coordinated strike team full of rolling, happy badasses.

So, why did we do this? What’s the purpose of our story? As I ruminate, reflect, and pop ibuprofen, I am overwhelmed by this feeling that even in the tiniest of moments with the NorCal Rollergirls, I felt like I was a part of something really positive and intense. With their friendliness and inclusiveness, the women were like one enormous herd of galloping unicorns drawing me into their magical rollerworld. I wanted to ride with the unicorns so badly! I began the practice feeling conspicuous, self-conscious, and scared for my teeth—but I ended practice feeling like I had just climbed a mountain, or discovered uranium, or made it home from the moon all in one piece.

If one thing resonated with me the most, it was that I wanted to go back. I wanted to try again. As awful as I am—barely able to skate and easily bruised—I knew that I would be welcomed, and taught everything that I needed to know. And the point of the story is that here in Chico, we have an amazing community full of athletic, supportive, hilarious, heinous women on roller skates. If you’ve been itching to try it, or just had the passing thought, “I think roller derby might be funsies,” give it a shot. It’s a safe space to test the water, and you’ll find that when you fall, there are dozens of smiling faces from all over town reaching out their hands to pick you up. They’ll probably knock you over right away again, just for laughs, but you get what I’m saying.


Want to see the derby girls in action? Next bout is Saturday, August 10, 7pm  At Cal Skate

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Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.