Way back in the days before television, people used to go watch roller skating for entertainment. There were endurance skating shows which evolved into travelling skating teams criss-crossing the US. These skate teams racked up thousands of miles distracting people from the Great Depression, and eventually grew into the Transcontinental Roller Derby by the 1940s. In the 1950s television caught up with Roller Derby and mixed team games were broadcast several times a week. They skated on a banked track and the fighting was often fierce – you can check out some old footage of the 50s games on YouTube.
By the 70s the sport was in decline, and although revivals were attempted in the late 80s (including Roller Games, in which skaters had the hazard of an alligator pit to contend with) the sport died a death – until…
In 2001 Roller Derby was revived in Texas with 4 all women teams. They fell out over whether to skate on a banked track or a flat track, but the movement had begun – by 2005 there were 50 all women leagues in the US, by 2006 there were 80. The sport quickly spread to Canada, Australia and Europe – the first UK league, the London Rollergirls, was established in 2006 by American and Australian ex-pats.
Since then the number of UK leagues has exploded. The last time we counted there were about 12 but new leagues are forming all the time as the Derby addiction spreads, aided by increasing publicity and media interest. LRG were even on Richard and Judy. So much for the hip derby subculture.
In the US, Roller Derby is massive. Over 3,700 fans attend the debut bout of the 2007 Minnesota Roller Girls season, so you can begin to imagine why some skaters think derby should be an olympic sport. By comparison the UK scene is still small, but it’s growing fast.
Women are attracted to Roller Derby for a lot of different reasons. Some are real sports lovers drawn to the full contact, high speed rush. Many skaters are women who always hated sport, and some of us got into it mainly for the hot outfits and liberating alter egos. But we all stay for the absolute love of the game, and the excitement of being part of a grass roots, DIY sport run for the skaters, by the skaters. Women of all shapes, sizes and ages are welcome. You don’t need to be a gym bunny to be a great derby skater – as one player said “I used to be jealous of skinny girls, but now the skinny girls just bounce off me”.
Roller Derby is ace. You get to wear fishnets, skate fast, fall down, get up, compare bruises, vent your aggression, meet outstanding people, perv over skates, use dinky little wrenches, and wear colours that would normally make your eyes bleed. Be warned though, it is addictive.
If you’re interested, check out the I WANT IN page.