• England Roller Derby

  • A recluse’s take on Rollercon

  • WFTDA International Playoffs: My D2 Wichita Picks

  • How skating just isn’t enough

England Roller Derby

Have you ever had that thought, when you really want something and you think, just for a moment, that you might get it? The butterfly inducing feeling, where for a second you let your mind wander into the realms of what it might be like to achieve that thing you desire.

There was a moment just after the second cut in the second round of England national squad try outs that I let myself feel like that. That I let the tight-lock, anxiety-avoiding, focused wall I’d built to try and get through try outs drop, and my belly, my heart and my head all paused for a second to marvel at purely being at that stage and that close to being a member of the England Roller Derby Training Squad.

Being part of England Roller Derby has been a big focus of mine, and I imagine hundreds of other skaters, for quite some time.  Why not strive to reach it? But honestly, I never really thought I’d make it.

England roller derby second tryout

Courtesy of Roller Derby On Film

Taking part in the first round of England try outs felt cathartic to me. The last time the try outs had happened I couldn’t walk, let alone skate and it’s always been sore point for me that I never physically got to try out; that I never really understood what it felt, where I was and how far I needed to go.

Taking my skates off after the first round, which was on one of the hottest days of the year, I felt dehydrated, bruised, frustrated, elated and strong. Not strong because I thought I was better than those around me, or that I’d performed well, but strong because I’d completed what I previously had been unable to do.

It felt great and I hoped that I would make the next round but I was also weary that this was so much further than I’d managed last time, that maybe this time round wasn’t for me.

The reality of the second try out, when I received the confirmation email that I’d made the next round, didn’t hit me. It felt like I was watching somebody else receive the email, plan their journey and thinking about their plan to stay focused.

It was only until a couple of days before that I really registered what would be going on. That in a couple of days I’d be skating with the nation’s best skaters. I’d be bracing, hitting, stopping the nation’s best jammers and blockers and trying to prove that I deserved to be at least training with them.

Oh and that during the day there would also be two mid-session cuts. When that reality hit, it hit hard.

Helping hand in roller derby

Photo courtesy of Roller Derby On Film

Of course, it was hard not to be nervous and no matter how tightly-locked I kept my wandering mind, I was affected by the impressiveness of the situation. A room full of the best and a room full of the determined.

The first time a cut happened my body tingled with nerves. I’d been on the other side, cutting male skaters from the England Men’s National Squad just the year before. I knew the rational, but that didn’t make the prospect of being cut any less sour or disappointing.

The second time I was so sure I was gone and was genuinely shocked when I wasn’t.

The final part of scrim felt like a reward for making it so far. Getting my ass kicked, my body bruised and my mind cleared by the fast-paced, physical and intense pace.

While I’m a long way off from making any charter, from playing in the logo, or in the world cup. I am one step closer. And with that step I thought I’d take some time to fully acknowledge just how shocked I am to be there. How amazed I am to have made it and how I’ve genuinely loved the feeling of shock, surprise and excitement every time something “englandy” happens.

england roller derby training squad world cup 2018

A recluse’s take on Rollercon

I really wish I had enjoyed Rollercon. I really wanted to enjoy Rollercon.

But I didn’t.

While the whole premise of it is incredible – skaters from all over the world travelling to one location to take part in fun games, try a banked track and be coached by some of the world’s best skaters, the reality of it for me was socially awkward interactions, dehydration and skating at the worst personal level I’d achieved since my fresh meat course. Oh and a complete stranger’s thumb in my mouth.

I blame myself for some of it. I took my new skates, complete with new plates and toe stops, which on the one hand made me look like I was a pro at just rolling also made me look like I had never practiced a day of any stops in my entire life. I realised this as I saw a guy I’d never met extremely reluctantly hand me a pivot panty, like I was a first time skater in an a-team game, pretending. The shame.

Roller derby at rollercon

Photo courtesy of Illbilly

I’d also just spent most of a year’s savings flying to Calgary to watch the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup, and spent too little time drinking coffee and exploring, and way too much time waiting for Giggity to finish leadership meetings and smelling man sweat. Roller derby and I were not on speaking terms by the end of that trip, let alone in love enough to spend another part of the holiday smelling sweat and watching MORE of it.

Oh and then there’s the whole new people thing and my first interactions with the amazingly different culture that is America. This was a shock, mostly because I realised just how truly British I am.

Quite simply, I found Rollercon intimidating and not where I wanted to be, for all the above reasons and because I also personally, really struggled with the big mix in skill level and the unpredictability to people’s playing style – it turns out I really like skating with folks I know and if you’re that type of skater then I guess Rollercon really isn’t for you.

Of course it’s not all bad. If, unlike me, you are going with a larger group of you all excited to skate – or perhaps you join a group of like-minded souls and pre-plan that you’re going to meet at Rollercon, then I guess you’d be fine. But Gigs and I travelled with another couple (Tom A Hawke and Razzo) and out of the four of us, only one of us was really into playing any games that week (I’m looking at you Tom). This meant there was a lot of oddly timed games, pad smell in our hotel room and no drive to take part in everything. In fact, after three half an hour games I pulled out of the rest, rested my body like I should have been doing with my off-season and explored Las Vegas and watched other people play YET MORE ROLLER DERBY.

I also ruined the Las Vegas part of my holiday I think, by immediately landing from Canada hiring a car with my friends and driving across Arizona to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. THAT WAS INCREDIBLE and absolutely NOTHING in Las Vegas was ever going to top that.

That being said, once I took the pressure off myself to make games or to try and skate with roller derby’s a-listers I enjoyed myself a little more and it actually started to feel like a holiday. Las Vegas became more enticing, even despite it being expensive.

Couple walking through las vegas hotel

—Highlights of Rollercon 2016—

  • The Black and Blue Ball and people’s interpretation of clothes
  • The glorious air con
  • Watching Brits on the banked track
  • Doing a pick up mixed black vs white mixed scrim with 8 of us playing
  • VR vs Caulksaulkers (squad goals on both fronts)
  • Watching gigs awkwardly dance in the half-time of Magic Mike vs Chippendales

—Lowpoints of Rollercon 2016—

  • Half an hour games
  • Only taking my brand new skate set-up
  • Missing Drag Kings and Drag Queens
  • Big skill level mix
  • The jetlag on the way back

WFTDA International Playoffs: My D2 Wichita Picks

If you’re not watching footage, you should be and if you’re already watching footage, then you should be watching more.

There’s never enough footage and until quite recently I could brag I’d watched 95% of the games stored on the WFTDA archive. In fact, one glance at my YouTube history and you’d quickly realise I use YouTube for nothing more than searching for obscure roller derby and the most talked about games.

Division Two is a relatively new level of roller derby for me, as like most Brits I’d previously only watched to see the European teams smashing it up.

But this year I’m committed to watching as much of the WFTDA feed as possible, especially because I paid approx £70 for the privilege. BUT also because I signed myself in for the UltraCompetitive league on Fantasy Derby, with some of the world’s favourite London-based skaters… I look practically unambitious compared to the crowd below.

fantasy roller derby game

Unlike me you might have had more raucous weekend plans (sub in “a life”), and as a result may have missed some of the Division Two play. So below I’ve listed out two games I think are a must watch, and a couple of reasons why. A warning, the final scores are included, as are the winners. So there are spoilers, but if you like watching great roller derby again and again then maybe you’ll enjoy knowing the ending…

 

— Nashville Rollergirls vs Tucson Roller Derby —

Okay I admit it that this was the first game of the tournament I got to watch, so I may doing an injustice to the two games that came before this. BUUUUTTTT I did hear the announcers say they were largely blow-outs, and I don’t want to recommend any one-sided games.

Nashville vs Tucson took place on the first day of D2 Wichita, and was the third game of the day and the tournament. Nashville came into the tournament as third seed and Tucson was sixth, so I don’t think you’d have been critiqued on making a judgement call on who was going to win.

However, the game unfolded quite differently to how everybody (maybe just me) imagined and the gameplay and strategy on display was for the most part closely matched.

Early on it looked like the game was Nashville’s but after a lead change, Tucson led with varying margins for most of the game. In fact, it seemed for a while that only Nasville’s Lady Fury was capable of breaking through the Tucson defence to score points, which looked like a great source of frustration for Nashville and Lady Fury. Understandable really with the rumours that Nashville would be losing nine of its charter to retirement at the end of this year and the announcer confirmed departure of Lady Fury at the end of the weekend.

By the last quarter of the bout (yeah bout, what of it?!) was Tucson’s to lose. Which, unfortunately, they did.

With Lady Fury out for Nashville from a big and high hit on the jam line, it genuinely looked like Tucson had this in the bag, but a series of jammer and blocker penalties, poor clock management and some excellent defence from the Nashville blockers saw Music City take the lead in the closing jams.

Far from a bracket upset with the third seed clinching the win this game was still a differential killer and definitely worth a watch (if only the second half).

Final Score: 152 – 149 to Nashville

Seeds entering the tournament:

Nashville Rollergirls – 3

Tucson Roller Derby – 6

Finishing position in the tournament:

Nashville Rollergirls – 4th

Tucson Roller Derby – 7th

 

— Houston Roller Derby vs Boulder County Bombers —

If this game was one thing, it was close. If I could give it another adjective, it’d be hitty.

The game started out quite formation heavy with many iterations of braced three walls and a dedicated offence. Expectantly, this created some long periods of play without a lead jammer. But as the game progressed each team became more desperate and hungry for the win and as a result the game became more individual, contact-heavy and demonstrative of solo skill.

Yet none of the above is the reason why I’m recommending that you watch this game. Nope.

I recommend watching this game (spoiler incoming), which was the 5th/6th position playoff because you’ll see the Boulder County Bombers, the 8th seed in Division Two Wichita, come from behind at halftime to beat the second seed, Houston Roller Derby.

THAT’S RIGHT – Boulder County Bombers usurped Houston for fifth place, and what’s more they did it all in the last fifteen minutes of the second half. If ever I thought there was a game to drink to, game 15 of the Divison Two Wichita International Playoffs was it.  The amount of lead changes would have made even the most seasoned derby drinker drunk as a skunk.

Final Score: 184 – 181 to Boulder County

Seeds entering the tournament:

Houston Roller Derby – 2

Boulder County Bombers – 8

Finishing position in the tournament:

Houston Roller Derby – 6th

Boulder County Bombers – 5th

 

All-in-all I think the Division Two Wichita International Playoffs were a tournament categorised by surprises and upsets. Of course there were blow-outs, but surely we can all expect that at any level of play now in roller derby? The game of jostling for position is always going to have its ebbs and flows of epic growth and mammoth come-downs.

But what was really surprising in this tournament was just how different the final tournament positions were from the start; out of all 10 teams, only two remained in the same seed.

If you have a favourite game of D2 Wichita please let me know.

WFTDA D2 Wichita Roller Derby

Bracket from WFTDA