Roller derby is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, so when I learned there was a group in Perth dedicated to the sport - Fair City Rollers - I knew I had to get in touch.
One of the main things that attracted me to the sport was the outspokenly feminist, D.I.Y ethos to it. As a sport, it champions inclusivity on every level and this is definitely something I admire.
Given that there is a disparity in sports participation for women in comparison to men, the fact that since its revival, roller derby has been somewhat female dominated is important too – although of course, all genders are welcome to participate in derby.
Along with the community, of course, it’s the sport itself that piqued my interest – it’s just something a little bit out-of-the-ordinary and looked like a lot of fun. Anyway, I was happy to be proved right on all counts as FCR generously invited me along to one of their skating sessions, where I finally got to fulfil my roller derby dreams.
When I arrived, I was shown to the benches where I got kitted up, and while I waited I chatted to some of the girls. Kerry, who’s been skating with Fair City Rollers for three and a half years now, tells me a bit about how she got started:
“The kids have grown up now and I thought: I need something for me. I just came along one night – I went along expecting disco skating - so it was a lot different than I had anticipated! But I loved it from week one. I’d tried many sports in past but they’d never stuck, until this.”
So what was it about roller derby that made her stay? “The girls - they were fantastic, welcoming and really good fun. A lot of them are at the same place as me as well. That, and also, I just really wanted something a bit different.”
I mention it definitely seems there is a strong social aspect to roller derby. “Definitely. As a game we really have to rely on our teammates, you really have to get to know each other quite well. It’s like another family.”
As a game we really have to rely on our teammates, you really have to get to know each other quite well. It’s like another family.
Strapping on my skates, I tentatively took to the floor, silently hoping my natural clumsiness would give way to a natural talent, and I would skate effortlessly off into the sunset. Alternatively, not falling too many times – also acceptable.
One of the first things emphasised to me was to adopt a stance where you’re leaning forward slightly – so if and when you do fall (and this isn’t seen as disastrous, more of an inevitability), you fall onto your protective knee pads and catch yourself with your hands outstretched.
Across the floor, I met people at all stages of their roller derby journey – from those who had perhaps been to a few sessions and were starting to gain some confidence, to those who glid across the floor with a quiet power.
It can be somewhat intimidating to go along to something by yourself for the first time, and especially something completely brand-new to you – but from the moment I walked in, and every time I spoke to anyone there was a genuine feeling of warmth and openness which puts you at ease.
Lindsey, who has been skating with Fair City Rollers for about 8 months now, agrees. “I just moved here from the States last year. Moving to a different country, not knowing anybody or having any family, I needed an outlet where I could have fun and get emotional support from people that I never would have met otherwise, especially being a stay at home mom.
A lot of these women here never skated in their lives, but went out and just did it. You wouldn’t stick with something like that if you didn’t have the support system that you get here.”
Would she say that roller derby has been quite an empowering force then? “Definitely - you don’t have to worry about how you’re looking when you’re out there. You’re just all together as a team working with each other on your skills, and if you fall you fall – it’s no big deal!”
After myself and the other newbies came off the track, the real game began. The determination, strength, and grit of the players was evident – as Kirstin, one of the coaches told me, “Derby takes roller-skating and puts an edge to it”.
There were times when the gameplay was pretty intense but as soon as the whistle blew to signal the end of match, the genial spirit remained – if not now strengthened - there was a real sense that everyone was rooting for each other to do their best. Afterward, I spoke to Kirstin a little bit about what a day to day session looks like for the Fair City Rollers.
“Beyond coming here to Bells on a Monday night, we have extra training nights at Perth College, we have nights during the summer where we skate outdoors and have a go on the ramps at the skate park, and we went to the climbing wall together – not with our skates on of course!” she laughs.
“We have a rigid training plan for the newbies to go through to pass their industry standard minimum training skills - it can take anywhere from 15 weeks to a year for them to pass.
We also have the rookie training for team members and more experienced players where we do drills, we play the game - we try to make it as fun as possible.” And her words were encouraging for people who were considering trying out roller derby for perhaps the first time:
“Anyone is welcome to roller derby. It’s such a mix of people – we have creative folk, medical staff, students - people from all sorts of backgrounds, shapes and sizes.
Many times people with mental health issues find a supportive community in roller derby, because it’s such an accepting, encouraging place.”
She also echoed what many other players had said their advice would be to someone interested - come along and try it out for yourself.
On that note, I’m so happy I got the chance to try out roller derby for myself, and meet the lovely team at Fair City Rollers. If you get the chance, I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to see these ladies play – or keep an eye on their Facebook page for opportunities to get involved yourself.
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