Remember back in the 1980s when roller derby was like the World Wrestling Federation? Derby girls went flying around the rink in zipper suits throwing elbows at other middle age women in order to channel their anger at something other than their pudgy pale-faced husbands.
Watching derby on TV made young girls across the country want to strap on their skates and start smashing shoulders in the driveway, just as boys watching WWF would dress up in Hulk Hogan costumes and throw each other around the living room.
It was all good and fun, but like WWF, much of the derby performed on TV was staged.
Sure, the real thing existed. Real blood did spill, and before the TV theatrics of the 80’s, derby was considered a real sport. But the face smashing, cat fighting, late night entertainment blips shown on TV was just entertainment. That all changed though as roller derby re-emerged as something much bigger, and even more exciting, than it’s ever been.
After surviving a few short spurts in the 90’s the sport seemed to disappear completely, only to come back in full force in the mid-2000s.
The re-emergence and growing popularity of the sport is in much part due to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, known as WFTDA. The association was born in 2004 when 20 separate derby league representatives met in the Chicago area to talk about reviving derby as a real sport.
By 2008 WFTDA had grown to 60 leagues, and today boasts having 198 full member leagues and 97 apprentice leagues, including the Big Island’s own Paradise Roller Girls.
Roller derby returned to Hawaii Island in 2010 with the formation of Paradise Roller Girls.
The first Big Island roller derby league came into being February 2010, when a handful of skaters met at Bear’s Coffee in Hilo.
One of Hawaii’s first derby girls, Stephanie “Firefly Fatale” Collins, explained how it all came together after that.
“We had a lot of really long organizational meetings before we even started skating, mostly due to the fact that everyone had to wait for their skates to ship,” she said. “Once practices started, everybody just got hooked and even more people joined. There was a lot of interest in roller derby, so everything just exploded from there.”
Since Paradise Roller Girls’ inception in 2010, three more leagues formed on the Big Island – Kona Outlaw Roller Girls, Echo City Knockouts (Kona) and the Waimea Wranglers, bringing the total to eight leagues in the state of Hawaii.
Paradise Roller Girls’ first debut bout was hosted at Hilo’s Civic Auditorium in November 2010. It was a sold out event that brought even more attention to the sport on the Big Island, helping to bring new players on board and a fan base that wasn’t always certain of the rules, but knew something exciting was going on.
“All I knew was they would skate around the rink as fast as possible, pushing and shoving each other out of the way,” derby fan Scott Albright said. “Eventually I came to understand the rules, which are quite simple. Two girls race each other through a pack of blockers and the one who gets through first becomes the lead jammer. After that both jammers get one point each for every opposing player they pass until the jam is over.”
PRG former skater Alane “Hot” Cole said it’s important for fans to know derby is a real sport, and not just theatrical entertainment.
“We want to educate people new to the sport on what today’s modern roller derby is and how different it is from the 80’s entertainment that is stuck in so many people’s heads,” she said. “When you mention roller derby, folks invariably mention elbows to the face and catfights on skates and ask if that is what PRG is about. That is not the case at all; flat-track Roller Derby is a sport first and foremost. The skaters are amazing athletes.”
Modern roller derby has retained the campy costumes and flamboyant skater pseudonyms but under the fishnets and glitter the skaters are dedicated athletes who put in long hours training and conditioning.
Basics of Flat-Track Roller Derby
Paradise Roller Girls play flat-track roller derby according to the rules governed by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA).
In flat-track roller derby, a standard bout consists of two 30 minute periods played on a large flat oval track. Each period is divided into jams that last up to two minutes.
At the start of a jam, five players from each team take positions on the track. Four members of each team form into one group, called the pack, behind the pivot line.
One skater from each team is designated as the Jammer (the skater with 2 stars on her helmet cover) who will score points for her team in that jam. The jammers from both teams line up on the jammer line located behind the pack of blockers.
The jam starts with the blast of a whistle from the lead referee and both the jammers take off. They are racing each other to get through the pack of blockers first to establish the status of Lead Jammer which will give her a strategic advantage to call a jam off early in order to deny points to the opposing team.
After a jammer completes her first pass through the pack she can now start scoring points for her team on each subsequent pass through the pack.
She scores a point for each opposing blocker she passes (plus one point if she also laps the opposing jammer) for a total of 5 points possible per lap.
The blockers from each team must stay within 10 feet of each other to be in the pack. A skater must be within 20 feet of the pack to be considered in-play and able to legally engage other skaters.
It is the blockers job to help her jammer while holding back the opposing team. A skater can use her torso, shoulders and hips to block another player; she may not use her head, elbows, hands or feet. A block can be simply impeding her target’s progress or a body blow to knock her to the floor. Skaters may never hit another skater on the back, head or below the mid-thigh.
Blocking to an illegal target zone will result in a penalty. A skater can also receive penalties for insubordination, direction of game play or engaging another player while out of play.
Each penalty called by a referee earns a skater one minute in the Penalty Box. If a jam ends while a skater is still serving her time she will start the next jam in the box, forcing her team to start short a player.
The bout is won by the team with the most points at the end of the second period. If the bout is tied when the clock runs out then they will skate another jam in order to break the tie.
Interested skaters, fans, new comers, and curious onlookers can find out for themselves what derby has become by joining the Paradise Roller Girls at their next scheduled bout at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 at the Hilo Civic Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Paradise Roller Girls’ Honey Badger all-star team will take on the Hulagans from Oahu’s Pacific Roller Derby league.
Tickets are $5 and may purchased at the auditorium or in advance. Kids under age 5 are free.
Tickets can also be purchased in advance at Mt. View Village Video, CD Wizard, Hilo Town Tavern, Jungle Love Pahoa, Jeff Hunt Surfboards Pahoa, or online at www.paradiserollergirls.com
Don’t miss Center Stage Dance Studio’s halftime performance for a hot dog or slice of pizza. Food and merchandise will be available throughout the evening.