My Life In Women’s Roller Derby

When John introduced the guest bloggers here several weeks ago, he mentioned that, among other things, I am a roller derby referee. It has also been said that I have more fun than anyone I know; probably more than anyone you know, too. By far, the most fun that I have is in roller derby.

I hear you thinking, “Roller derby? Like in the movie ‘Whip It?'” Yes, somewhat similar to that.

Photo of Mickispeedia by Stalkerazzi f/8

So often when I talk about roller derby (and I talk about it often,) I get questions like, “What’s roller derby?” And, “That’s a real sport?” And, “Awesome! I’ve always wanted to see that.” (That last one isn’t a question, but it comes up a lot. More on how you can see it live a little bit later.)

In answer to one of the most common questions, yes, roller derby is a real sport. Its origins date back about 125 years, but the most recent iteration began in 2003. Something I hate to even mention because people have a tendency to latch on to this idea (please don’t) is that in the 70s & 80s, roller derby was somewhat similar to WWE wrestling in that it was largely scripted, with predetermined outcomes and a lot of fake fighting. No more. Modern roller derby is a fast paced, aggressive, full-contact sport. There is nothing fake about it. Also, no fighting; there’s a rule against that.

Tough Cookies vs. The Swarm by Stalkerazzi f/8

If you were unaware of roller derby, I’m honestly a little surprised. What started out as a mostly underground sport is growing at an incredible rate. There are currently approximately 20,000 women skating in about 500 leagues worldwide. Wherever you are, there is probably a roller derby league near you. Just Google your area and “roller derby.” Then go watch and support your local league. You will not find a more exciting sport.

I know Whatever readers like books, so let me recommend a couple on the subject. First, if you’re a regular reader here, you’ve already met my friend Pamela Ribon (aka May Q. Holla.) She wrote a terrific novel called “Going Around In Circles,” which our mutual friend John featured in The Big Idea in April. Another great book which serves as a primer on all things derby from the history of the sport to a quiz to determine if you’re a derby girl is “Down And Derby: The Insider’s Guide To Roller Derby,” by my friends Jennifer “Kasey Bomber” Barbee and Alex “Axles Of Evil” Cohen.

The league that I referee is the L.A. Derby Dolls. While most leagues play on a flat track, the Derby Dolls have a banked track (the outer edges of the track are at an incline,) which makes the game faster and (if you ask me) more exciting.

The Derby Dolls have their own practice/bout facility, The Doll Factory. It is a 65,000 square foot former ice cream cone factory that has been fitted with a banked track, bleachers and stands for fans, video screens and score boards, and a giant disco ball-like mirrored roller skate.

The Doll Factory by Stalkerazzi f/8

Every few weeks a couple thousand screaming fans pack the house to see the most exciting sport around. They come to see incredible athletes who literally put their blood, sweat and tears into being the best at their sport that they can be. It doesn’t hurt that those athletes are attractive women skating really fast (25 mph+) and knocking each other down.

Being so close to Hollywood, the L.A. Derby Dolls are very lucky to have the best (all volunteer) audio/video production crew available. RaD (Research and Development) produce, among other things, our live boutcast on game nights, as well as amazing promotional videos. I promise you will not be disappointed if you click through to see examples of their work here and especially here.

While the skaters are certainly the stars of the game, I am most proud of my own team, The Enforcers. Quiet professionals, we are the referees who enforce the rules to ensure the safety and integrity of the game. Roller derby is a game and we’re having fun, but it’s a game that we are all very serious about. Like the skaters, we are at practice every week (sometimes several times a week) building skills, training on the rules, and constantly working to make sure we officiate every bout and scrimmage to the best of our abilities. It’s that level of commitment that make The Enforcers one of the most respected ref crews in the country. Worth noting: my team is undefeated; the refs always win.

Enforcers post-bout team photo by Stalkerazzi f/8

I’ve only really touched on the surface of what an incredible sport this is. I can tell you how exciting it is to watch, to be in the middle of that screaming crowd of fans, but you can’t really know until you see it for yourself. But, see it once, and you’ll be hooked; I was.


Photo by Shutter Thug

Find your local roller derby league and go see a bout. If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles (or coming for a visit,) come out to see the L.A. Derby Dolls. If you’re not in L.A., check the schedule (previous link) and watch the bouts live (and free) on the internet. Find me at the bout and say hello. Just ask for Third Degree Burns! and I’ll see you there.

(BTW, all of these photos are clickably gigantifiable, and look better large. Stalkerazzi and Shutter Thug are great photographers. Clicking will take you to their Flickr streams, where you can see lots of other fantastic roller derby photos.)

14 thoughts on “My Life In Women’s Roller Derby

  1. I’ve thought about becoming a referee. Being a fencing referee has started to wane on me now that the Olympics look out of reach, and we have some really kickass derby down in Austin. But I don’t skate, and that’s in the rules. (Yes, I read the WFTDA rulebook.)

    I hope the LA banked track is more like WFTDA than the Lonestar Rollergirls (our banked track league). Lonestar felt way too much like it was pandering to the crowd, and more about spectacle than a sport. For example, penalties should not be subject to arm wrestling contests.

    Therefore, Texas Rollergirls rock and the Texecutioners are going to show that to everyone.

  2. @#2 Andrew: You don’t have to skate to be a NSO (Non Skating Official.) Go! Get started. You’ll love it. Learn to skate as you go, and become a skating ref down the line. When I started, I hadn’t skated since I was a kid. I’m working on re-learning (and improving) those skills now.

    I have to agree. TXRD Lonestar Roller Girls deserve credit for starting the modern resurgence, but roller derby is an exciting sport on its own; it doesn’t need arm wrestling, penalty wheels, or other gimmicks to make it so. The L.A. Derby Dolls play under WORD (World Organization of Roller Derby) rules, which you can find a .pdf of here, if you’re interested: http://su.pr/2kTETI. WORD and WFTDA rules are actually very similar.

    The Texecutioners are awesome. Go join up with TXRG, then drop me an email to let me know how you love it.

  3. My introduction to Women’s Roller Derby was a Charlie’s Angel episode. Loved it and then never got to see it again until Whip It. Would love to see it live one day.

  4. @Farah – Last I looked Hagerstown, MD had a roller derby team (as an example of a fairly small city in a rural area). Seriously, you should make sure there isn’t one in your area if you want to see it live.

  5. I’m going to plug our home team, the flat track Maui Roller Girls (yes, believe it or not, we have teams out here in the middle of the Pacific!) Roller Derby is a great sport, and I have one friend who is on the team and another who refs.

  6. Good god — the internet is THIS big. Tara Armoff on the Fight Crew is a friend of mine. I used to go to bouts all the time to cheer her on before I moved from LA.

  7. @#4, #5 Farah & Andrew: Exactly. It’s everywhere! Don’t know why the next bout isn’t already on your calendar.

    @#6 MadLibrarian: I’m fairly certain we (L.A. Derby Dolls) sent one of our travel teams (either the Ri-Ettes or the Aftershockers) to play there last year. I know it was Hawaii, anyway. Maybe Honolulu?

    @#7 Steve: Not only is the internet big, but it’s all only a couple of degrees apart. Tara Armov is a friend of mine, and I’m fairly certain you & I met a couple of years ago at BarCampLA, didn’t we? Tara and the Fight Crew will be playing the Sirens on Oct. 2 and the Varsity Brawlers on Nov. 13. Make your travel plans now, and let me know when you’re coming.

  8. I fell in love with roller derby when my friend took me to see the Cincinnati Roller Girls. I need to see if there are any teams here in NoVa…

  9. @#11 Tara Armov: Actually, I think I’m the one who knows people who Know People. Fairly certain you’re (capital p) People in this scenario. I’m just People adjacent.

  10. I spent last weekend at the WFTDA regionals in Green Bay. There was some absolutely amazing derby played. (@#9 Pepper – Cincy’s Black Sheep skated really well and took 4th.) Check out wftda.org for the remaining three regionals, and if you’re anywhere near Chicago, the WFTDA Championships are November 5-7.

    Oh yeah, and the MN RollerGirls will be there thanks to their bracket busting second place finish this weekend! Had to get in my own home team plug…

  11. @Burns–

    Darn, I won’t be there then. Derby Dolls is one of the few things I genuinely miss about LA, seriously.

    We must have met at Bar Camp, because I used to present on copyleft & podcasting there every so often. I have a terrible memory for this kind of thing, though if I saw you I’d certainly remember.

    I’ll let you know when I’m down for another Dolls bout! I’m always up in Area 51 with my buddy Ken Mitchroney cheering for Tara and having a full-on blast.

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