Interview With Dead End Derby

Interview as recorded on 24/08/2013. Photograpy provided by Craig Crew
 

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Altearoa:
Can you explain Roller Derby for our readers?

Mystique:
Basically, roller derby consists of two teams. It’s an all-female, quad-roller-skate, full contact sport. There is an oval track, four girls from each team get on the track, and each team has a jammer as well. The jammer has to go around the track and try to get through the pack.

Pearl Slam:
So the pack, the other four, basically there job is to stop the jammer getting through.

Mystique & C.MiDigit:
And help their own.

C.MiDigit:
So you’re playing offensive and defensive at the same time.

Altearoa:
How do you win?

Mystique:
After the first initial pass through the pack every opposing team player they pass, they get a point for. Whoever gets through the pack legally first, is the lead jammer, and they can call off the jam at any time. If there is no lead jammer the jam goes for a maximum of two minutes, so basically you want to get as many points as possible in those two minutes.

Altearoa:
What was it like being “fresh meat”? (laughter)

Pearl Slam:
I’m probably the most recent freshy. A lot of people go, not being able to skate at all, or in my case, I skated when I was a kid. Yea it was a bit scary, walk in there and there is all these gearing up, looking tough in their helmets and all their gear, doing all these awesome moves and stuff. But everyone is really cool, and really encouraging. Once you get into it, and start to learn a few skills, start to get a little bit better, it’s great. Yea, fresh meat, a lot of fun.

Mystique:
Basically it’s just learning all the basic skills you need to play rollerderby. So you’re learning all the blocks, all the rules, learning how to fall so you don’t hurt yourself.

Pearl Slam:
And there is a lot to learn.

C.MiDigit:
And the rules are constantly changing, which is a pain in the bum at times, but it’s for the betterment of the game.

Mystique:
Makes it more exciting to watch as the rules get more refined.

Pearl Slam:
It’s quite a new thing so they’re still finding what works best for the game and spectators as well.

Mystique:
With that strategies can often change too, because near the beginning, the game was very crash-brash.

C.MiDigit:
Big hits, big falls.

Mystique:
Knock people down as much as you can. Whereas now it’s become a lot more strategic, so sometimes it can be confusing as a spectator to know
what’s happening because they’re like “Why didn’t they do that?” but usually there is a strategy behind it.

ded4Altearoa:
So where do you get your fresh meat from?

C.MiDigit:
We have spectators come up at games, enquiring about how to start. We put out the call on our facebook page for girls who might be interested in learning to skate, learning to be a rollergirl and they email in. When it gets close to our intake time we send them an email, they come to learn to skate classes and then sign up as fresh meat. Go from there.

Mystique:
Usually we have one or two intakes a year, and yea, just get anyone who is keen to come along, and give it a go.

Altearoa:
What can you tell us about derby wives? What would you call that?
(laughter)

C.MiDigit:
A bit of the culture of it (Rollerderby) I suppose.

Pearl Slam:
It is its own little cult kind of. (laughter)

Mystique:
Well if you think, in our league, we’ve got about 30 girls. If you think about 30 girls, all together, doing a full contact sport, you have lots of personalities. Of course some people get along better with others, than others, and so usually when people have a really good bond with someone else. They have a proposal and they become derby wives and sometimes there are derby weddings. So it’s usually between two people that have become really close through rollerderby.

Altearoa:
What do you think of the performance aspect of the sport?

Mystique:
That was one of the things that made me interested in rollerderby. It was a sport, yet still could be quite feminine and there are not many sports you can dress up. So it has that theatrical aspect but then also that sport aspect.

C.MiDigit:
The dressing up part is also part of your own derby persona. You personalize yourself to your persona, through your uniform, through your
additions to your uniform.

Pearl Slam:
The face paint, or battle paint, whatever you want to call it.

Altearoa:
So can you tell us a bit more about your derby characters/personas?

Mystique:
Well, I’m Mystique, and it sort of stemmed from the name, I just wanted to be a bit mysterious. In my everyday life I’m someone who is quite calm and collected and very nurturing, but when I get on the track, it’s quite the opposite really. When I first started fresh meat I do remember some of the girls saying “Watch out, Mystiques about to hulk out” (laughter) and it was just that you could be whoever you wanted to be on the track.

Pearl Slam:
I suppose my name; well obviously I’m a bit of a 90’s Eddie Vedder fan, I mean I’m quite into my music and stuff. I don’t know, just something that sounded a bit cool really. Its just fun to play up, like Mystique said, you can be anyone you want to be on the track and that’s a big part of it. Its fun to have a bit of escapism to just go and smash someone, you can’t do that in public so…(laughter)

C.MiDigit:
My derby name is C.MiDigit, I was quite often called midget ’cause I’m short and I wanted something a bit f-you on it and I was struggling
to come up with a good name. A family friend who was right into derby and had been watching it on sky, suggested C.MiDigit, took an instant liking to it, see my middle finger as you go down, and it stuck.

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Altearoa:
What has been the hardest skill to learn in rollerderby?

Mystique:
Everyone has different strengths, and things that they need to work on. For me, mine was probably toe-stops. Where you turn around and stop
on your toe stops.

Pearl Slam:
But it’s quite a quick manoeuvre.

Mystique:
Yea, it’s a really quick manoeuvre, and to learn it, you need to do it quickly. To make it work. It’s one of those skills you can’t ease your way into, you’ve just got to do it, wholeheartedly, and end up face planting and all sorts on the way.(laughter)

Pearl Slam:
Yea mine was exactly the same thing.

C.MiDigit:
Same thing, mostly the transition turn to do the toe stop.

Pearl Slam:
Once you can do it, it’s your own little personal victory; you’re just like “yea!” Plus it looks pretty cool.

Mystique:
But then it’s amazing, some people just find that quite easy. We’ve got some skaters who just instantly go on their toe-stops and its fine, they’re brilliant at it.

Altearoa:
Doesn’t that just make you hate them? (laughter)

Pearl Slam:
Yes, yes, the natural born skaters, the ones that get it straight away, you’re just thinking “damn I wish I could do that!”

Mystique:
But that’s the cool thing about derby. There are so many different skills you can learn, that there is always something that someone is good at, and you can always be challenged. There is always a challenge out there for you, you know, you can never be the best at everything.

Altearoa:ded2
What is it like for injuries?

Mystique:
Broken tail-bone was no fun.

C.MiDigit:
There have been several broken ankles.

Pearl Slam:
Yea, I’ve seen two broken ankles in my first two months of fresh meat. (laughter) So that was a bit of a reality check, okay, this does happen, it is risky, but yea.

Mystique:
It’s usually something to do with knees or ankles.

C.MiDigit:
Had some very nice, black eyes, a couple of broken wrists.

Mystique:
At the same time though, some injuries are like trophies.

C.MiDigit:
The bruises are trophies.

Mystique:
We’re proud of our bruises and we’ll show off to each other and say, “Look how big this one is!” or “Look at this one, you can see the roller-skate mark in it.” (laughter)

Pearl Slam:
The colours of the rainbow. Yea, they’re derby kisses.

C.MiDigit:
Everyone sitting there at the beginning of practice comparing bruises, pulling pants and skirts up and down to show off the big ones.

Pearl Slam:
All part of the fun.

Mystique:
I’d say most roller derby girls have had at least one injury of some sort, but it ranges from mild, too bad. (laughter)

Pearl Slam:
It’s not just the new skaters either, it can be anyone, at any stage, you can just be unlucky.

Altearoa:
So what keeps you coming back to it then?

Pearl Slam:
It’s just fun.

Mystique:
Oh there are the injuries, but at the same time, there are injuries in rugby, injuries in netball, and injuries in any sport. Of course it’s a full contact sport.

C.MiDigit:
Injuries are to be expected.

Mystique:
There is something a roller derby, there is the camaraderie between all the teams and amongst your own league. You support each other. As well, what made me fall in love with derby was when I first blocked someone, for the first time, in fresh meat. I just went “This is for me, this is it.” It’s a great outlet for any stress in your life that’s for sure.

C.MiDigit:
It’s good, you can get the aggression out on the track, but as soon as you’re off the track and trainings finished. You’re all the best of mates, go out, have a laugh, have a drink. Have a good time at the after parties and events and laugh off the silliness of what happened in training.

Mystique:
And with roller derby, it’s not just about the games, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. We run our league, so we have to do all the fundraising and get sponsorship, things like that. Skater owned and operated so there is a lot more than just playing the game.

Pearl Slam:
A lot of hard work goes in from everyone, so I think that brings everyone together a bit more to.

ded5C.MiDigit:
And then training refs, and NSO’s, who volunteer their time to help us. And all the volunteers who help run the shows and help us out behind the scenes. All our amazing volunteers, they’re a big part of it.

Mystique:
Its almost a lifestyle. (laughter)

Altearoa:
What do your friends and family think about you being a derby girl?

C.MiDigit:
They love it.

Pearl Slam:
The first thing my mum said to me when I was joining fresh meat, was “Don’t you hurt anyone” (laughter) I was like “What about me!?” But
no, my family love it; most of my friends come to the games and cheer you on.

Mystique:
My husband loves it, he is fully behind me, and he is quite proud to tell everyone he knows that his wife is a derby girl. My mum at first she was like “Oh it’s a bit rough, I don’t know about this”, but then she came to my first game, and she has been to every game since then. Even if I’m not playing she’ll be going to a derby game, she just loves it to pieces. Although, as roller derby is quite a lifestyle, our husbands and boyfriends and partners, often get referred to as derby widows. (laughter)

Pearl Slam:
It takes up so much of our time.

C.MiDigit:
On top of training there is meetings and events.

Mystique:
Sometimes the widows get together and get to know each other as well.

Altearoa:
So what are the difficulties of organising your own derby league.

Mystique:
Well, I’ve been there since the beginning and to be honest, you thought it was quite hard at the beginning. There was a lot of work that was put into it but it sort of just keeps going. People come and people go, then more come, it has grown and grown over the years. We started with I think seven of us, who started the league in Christchurch, no eight of us, sorry. So it was just that thing of, ok, you’re the treasurer, you’re the chairwoman, you’re the secretary, you’re the head of fundraising. Everyone had their own little job and as more people joined in, everyone had their own expertise and was able to help out in different ways. It always takes a lot of us to keep it going.

Pearl Slam:
Fundraising and more and everything in between to keep it going, it is a lot of work. Everyone puts in, I don’t know how many hours, during the week, aside from their jobs and everything else.

C.MiDigit:
Jobs and families, and then derby, you don’t get much time for yourself.

Pearl Slam:
Keeps you busy. (laughter)

Mystique:
But it’s always worth it, especially when you go on the track, and see the crowd cheering away with signs and dressed up and things. Then when you do that perfect block and knock someone to the ground, or get your jammer through. There are many times when you go, yep, this is
definitely worth all that hard work.

C.MiDigit:
And the travel, the travel to play other leagues is always a good thing.

Mystique:
Yea, because we’ve had quite a few national games now. Last year we had the first national tournament of all the leagues in New Zealand, and we’ve got that coming up in the next few months, October, November. It’s always great getting together with all the other leagues of Christchurch, seeing whats happening. There is always the support from the other leagues to, there is a lot of communication between the leagues about whats happening in the roller derby world.

Altearoa:
What would you like to see as the future of roller derby in New Zealand?

C.MiDigit:
Television. Actually be seen.

Pearl Slam:
Just see a game on a Sunday afternoon on the tele.

C.MiDigit:
Or the odd mention on the sports news.

Mystique:
Yea we’ve had a few segments on the news, but it would be nice to have it as a regular occurrence.

Pearl Slam:
Because it is a good spectator sport. Once you know what’s going on, it can be confusing to watch, but once you know what’s going on, it’s a great game to watch.

C.MiDigit:
The kids love it. (laughter) They get right into it too.

Pearl Slam:
Especially when people fall over.

Mystique:
We just want to see our league grow and having more people involved is always exciting.

Pearl Slam:
They are working towards it becoming an Olympic sport though, how long that will take is another story. But it would be nice to see.

Mystique:
We had the first Roller Derby World Cup a couple years ago, and that was exciting, that was in Toronto in Canada, so we had a New Zealand team go over. It would be great to have something like that televised, because we had to watch the games on the internet and things and it wasn’t quite the same as being able to watch it on TV.

C.MiDigit:
Having our own training space, would be another big one.

Mystique:
Yea a skating rink in Christchurch would be fantastic, and not just for derby but for all roller sports. There are lots of plans ahead.

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About Vince Clark 58 Articles
One of the original founders of Altearoa in 2013. Coming from a background in theatre and the perfoming arts Vince is the jack-of-all-trades behind Altearoa.co.nz - creating graphics, developing the website, and producing events along side writing and photography work.

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