Roller Derby Looks Mental. Can We Have A Go?
London Rollergirls star Amy Ruffell – AKA Raw Heidi – talks us through roller derby in all its rough'n'tumble glory
So, Amy, what is Roller Derby? To the outsider, it appears to be a team sport where you skate around a track and knock the bejesus out of the opposition. Correct?
"Erm, kind of. In a simplified nutshell, each roller-derby game has two teams of five on the track. There's a pack of eight skaters at the front called blockers, and two skaters at the back called jammers.
"A jammer's job is to break through the pack and lap members of the opposite team to score points. Blockers, meanwhile, try and stop jammers with their shoulders, hips and rears.
"This cycle is called a jam; there are no set number of jams in a game."
Blimey. So do you have to be nails to do it?
"People who get into roller derby tend to be looking for a fitness boost, and are intrigued by the idea of skating around to rock music while smashing into other skaters.
"Most people getting into roller derby aren’t traditionally sporty – we’re the sort of people the PE teacher called no good because we liked art or music more than sport."
Is it an all-female sport?
"It's predominantly a female sport, but male and unisex teams are on the rise."
And will it get me fit?
"Definitely! Some people have the impression that roller derby is just a bunch of sexy girls hitting each other, but participants soon discover that it's a genuine athletic endeavour.
"We train hard, working on our blocking techniques, skating skills, speed, endurance and gameplay. We also have strength and conditioning sessions focusing on core and leg strength, because you need good balance and movement to be a roller-derby player."
What about all the pre-match verbal sparring we’ve noticed on social media. Do 'beefs' between teams exist?
“There are rivalries, but they tend to be friendly. In Britain, the sport can be just as much about sharing a pint after knocking ten bells out of each other.
"There's more to it than just a social element, though – there's a serious level of athleticism in the sport right now. For example, the England national team is number two in the world, as of last December's World Cup in Dallas, at which 30 countries were represented."
Our league had three or four broken legs last year
About that whole 'ten bells' thing – does roller derby hurt?
"Our league had three or four broken legs last year, plus there are a lot of shoulder and knee injuries. So yes, it hurts, but the pain is part of the fun, and it’s no more dangerous than any other full contact sport."
So if we wanted to get involved in roller derby, what’s the best way?
"Do a web search for your nearest league [in roller derby lingo ‘league’ means ‘club’], find a contact email, and send them a message!"
What skills do newcomers need?
"Leagues have differing standards. My league, London Rollergirls, insists newcomers must be able to skate and be safe."
And what about equipment?
"Again, it depends, as some leagues will hire out starter packs. The standard equipment is: skates, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, a mouthguard and a helmet. A good place to buy this is facebook.com/secondhandrollerderby."
Finally, do you get to have cool entrance-music?
"My team is London Rollergirls' 'A' team. We’re called London Brawling and we come out to London Calling by The Clash. See what we did there?"