Thursday, 29 December 2011

Post-Holiday Haul: Gifts and Roller Derby

After a long period of holiday radio silence, we're back to our regular blogging schedule. Sorry for the long delay! I was taking care of two golden retrievers and finishing essays, both of which I'm still doing, but doing so after December 25th makes a big difference.

Today, I'm getting a little personal - my family celebrates Christmas and being an underfunded student (as if there's any other kind) I asked for a few pieces of derby wear. My father and brother ended up going to Rollerbug in Toronto. A mainstay of the Toronto derby scene, Rollerbug operates in the same space as Cardinal Skateshop. Despite being ravaged by holiday shoppers, the store staff helped them pick out two gifts.

In my family, we have a habit of putting clues on our Christmas presents. This first derby gift said "Round and round she goes, where she stops the rainbow knows." The gift? Rollerbones rainbow booty shorts. An American company, Rollerbones sells wheels, apparel and other accessories. They were at the World Cup this year and were very personable.
Mine's the rainbow.

My second gift was labeled "Wear protection" and inside was the gift I wanted most this year - Smith Scabs knee pads. No more masking taped up pads for me. These white-capped knee pads won't mark the floor where we practice and green is my colour. They fit well and I'm really excited to try them out and use my old pads as my outdoor spares. Look for a product review once I've put them through their paces.

Now, more generally, birthdays and gift-giving holidays can be a great time to nudge your friends, family and partners (if they're gift-givers) into focusing their attentions on the roller derby side of things when it comes to selecting your present. The folks who like us (or have us as their Secret Santa recipient at work) often do want to get us things we'll like and we need to be clear if we want to make their shopping easier. Getting smaller derby-related gifts can help you stay under budget yourself and avoid gifts you'll never use.

And not every derby gift is an expensive as a new pair of skates.  Remind folks who are looking for gift ideas for you (at any time of the year) that, for example, a Protech Mouth Guard only costs $25 Canadian. Depending on your needs, wheels, bearings, maintenance gear and skating apparel can all make great gifts without breaking the bank. And gift cards to sites like Rollergirl can add up or save you that extra $10 when you might need it. And chances are that you will.

This Monday, look for a special post on New Years resolutions and roller derby.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Beaver Fever: An Open Letter to Team Canada

Dear Team Canada,

At last weekend's World Cup, you won. Not second place, but the whole damn thing. You showed derby teams from across the globe what heart, swagger and dedication mean. You sang and danced (wonderfully, I might add). You played great derby. And yes, you came in second, but you scored more points against Team USA than all of their other competitors combined.

But here's what else you did. You inspired derby girls - ones flying in to support their national teams who couldn't help but cheer for you in the final, ones who took the bus to Toronto and slept on a friend's floor to see you play, ones who came home ready to work that much harder because of the example you gave them. You scored a 40-point jam against the fabulous Team England. You wore hockey helmets. You broke your clavicle. You made us yell your names, just by being as amazing as you are.

When I think of the World Cup, here's what I remember: LuluDemon's grace and speed on the track, Windigo's awesome blocking, SmackDaddy's ability to play any goddamn position, Killson's ability to get the crowd going - every player from Team Canada pulled the weight of a nation behind them and they did it with incredible strength and spirit.

Being at the World Cup was a chance to watch the greatest roller derby players in the world, and that's you, all of you.

© Jules Doyle - Type2BPhoto

Thank-you. Thank-you. Thank-you.

Your fan,
Cthulhu Lemon

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cthulhu Lemon's Guide to the Roller Derby World Cup

Today is the first day of the Roller Derby World Cup with Canada and France facing off at 5 pm. For those you not in need of my previous post on watching the World Cup without a ticket - volunteers get in free, remember - this is a short guide to taking on the World Cup without getting lost or passing out on the TTC.

Preparation: Getting Your Wheels Up

1) Check to ensure you have the essentials: tickets, cash for buying merch and food, blankets if you're planning on hitting the bleachers and collapsible chairs if you're in for suicide seating.
2) Get some rest ahead of time! This is going to be very busy.
Map of Downsview Park
3) Check your maps. If you're not used to getting to The Bunker, check out instructions at the Downsview Park website. Alternately, take advantage of the WCRD Bus! It's $10 for service all through the World Cup and you might bump into your favourite skater from Team Finland. Further details are at the link!
4) Research any special options you need. Are you vegan? Do you or a friend need accessible seating? Plan ahead and then it's smooth skating from there.
5) Prioritize. Are you there to watch Team Ireland? Are you collecting team merch? Or do you really want to focus on the finals? Make sure you plan for when you may have to choose between two amazing things.
6) Exchange contact info with league-mates and friends you hope to meet up with. "Meet me at the door" will not work.

On Bout Day(s), or, Hold on to your Helmet Panties!

1) Get up and to the venue early! Account for travel time and crowd-navigating time.
2) Support the teams and organizers by buying merch, if you can afford it. Don't make them fly back to Australia with t-shirts in tow.
3) Take photos. Make your Facebook friends jealous.
4) Meet other fans and players. Hit up the after-parties. One cannot live on derby alone. Make some new friends you can trade training secrets with.
5) Don't try to do everything. Burnout can wreck your weekend. Take breaks and give yourself time to rest.

After the Shenanigans

1) Thank whoever let you sleep on their floor.
2) Sport that sweet merch you bought.
3) Start planning for next year.

Monday, 28 November 2011

No Ticket: Ways to See the Roller Derby World Cup

Just for the record, the following suggestions do not include sneaking in a bathroom window.

For those derby fans who do not have tickets to the 1st Roller Derby World Cup but still want to see some derby action on the day, here are a few suggestions.

1) Scavenge! Tickets are still available for Thursday and Friday through the ticket sales site and the official Roller Derby World Cup site has a waiting list in operation in case tickets get cancelled. For those who want to get on the waiting list for Saturday tickets and weekend passes, email with your name and the days you want to attend. Folks will be notified according to their position on the list if tickets become available.

Also, you could consider checking Kijiji, but this option is not recommended. Go through the official channels and you have your best chance of getting in.

2) Volunteer! Your reward for helping the World Cup happen is getting to watch it. Click here to download volunteer instructions in Word format. You'll get to work with amazing roller derby players from all over the world in exchange for a few hours of your time.

3) Watch it on the Derby News Network! For those of us who can't make it to the venue, DNN is a lifesaver. Free broadcasting with commentary is nothing to sneeze at. Consider donating to DNN to keep it running if you watch - you're saving $37 per day, after all.

However you get there - be it in person or through an internet connection - you'll be a part of derby history. Enjoy the hits and the heart and remember that there is still time to donate to the teams!

Also, as a side-note. Team New Zealand has hereby claimed the status of hottest, butchest team via my Comments section. I look forward to seeing the proof!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Elle Grande LOCO Tournament: A Family Affair

MID-JAM EXCITEMENT: Photo Credit Heather Manners
This past weekend, LOCO's four chapters came together to do something unique in the history of the franchise. Players from London, Kitchener,. Stratford and Brantford were sorted into three teams, the Hot Chihuahuas, the Chupacabras and the Stuffed Pinatas and played for our own golden boot.
Adrienne Balboa's hot pants
ask a crucial question
Photo credit: Natalie Buragina

Part of what was so brilliant about this event was the mixing of players - women who have briefly seen each other at practices got to depend on each other on the track and that's a pretty difficult bonding experience to top. It also meant that one city with a bigger pool of players didn't get a stacked deck of experienced derby girls. Every team had a chance of winning this tournament. LOCO put into practice what it preaches: equal derby opportunity for all.

Though I missed it because I was sick, I'm fascinated by what an event like this means for a family like LOCO. What started off just over two years ago has grown to include four healthy chapters in four cities and it's still growing. Alumni who have since moved on to contact leagues returned to play with the people who taught them to skate. It very literally brought all sorts of women together this weekend to play low-contact derby without sacrificing any of what makes roller derby amazing. This is what low-contact, high-strategy roller derby looks like. It's fun to play and fun to watch and it isn't going away.

It's natural that as roller derby spreads, it's going to change, it's going to grow amazing off-shoots like Derby Lite and LOCO. These variations are extensions and wonderful complications of what roller derby can mean. At its heart, it's the love of the game, the screech of quad skates on a sharp stop, the amazing community. But beyond that, it can be about anything the players - those beautiful, strong, committed players - want it to be.

I'm so, so proud of the players, refs and volunteers associated with the extended LOCO family. They have added a unique chapter to the history of the franchise and they did it while being watched by family and friends. They are passionate and generous and fuck, can some of these people skate.

The LOCO Rainbow: Photo credit Heather Manners

Monday, 21 November 2011

Research on Wheels: Not Just for Sexy Derby Librarians

From the DC Rollergirls
Recently, I received a really useful comment on a post. I had used a logo from the DC Rollergirls in the course of a discussion on highly feminized derby imagery. A former player from the league rightly pointed out that the logo wasn't necessarily the limit of the league's gender representation. And she was totally right.

Blogging about derby well requires going beyond Google. Though searching for 'roller derby' and shifting through image results is a good start for getting a sense of what's out there, it doesn't allow you as a blogger (or a derby fan) the chance to really get to know a league - its history, its personality, its players. Leagues almost always have web-based sources for information, ranging from Facebook pages, to forums, to Tumblrs, to extensive league websites. Players often blog themselves. Local newspapers may have featured them as well. There's a lot to see for those who care to look, I've learned.

Since that comment, I've tried to focus on getting to know the teams I've mentioned here. So, with much admiration, I'd like to introduce you to the DC Rollergirls. Formed in 2006, the league is Washington, DC's only all-female flat-track league. They are members of WFTDA, to boot.  They have three home teams - the Cherry Blossom Bombshells, the DC Demon Cats and Scare Force One. They also have a travel-team, the DC All-Stars. They also have the Majority Whips, though that team doesn't have an assigned page at the moment. They also have a really impressive number of refs - the most I've seen listed for a league their size.

A non-profit league, the  DC Rollergirls have been featured in the Washington Examiner and works with charitable causes like Bread for the City. They are currently ranked 11th in WTFDA's East division, between Maine Roller Derby and Suburbia Roller Derby out of Westchester County, New York. 11th place is no slouch when your division includes teams like Gotham Girls, Montreal, and Charm City.

So, if you're in Washington, check out these ladies. They're capital.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Going Butch: Roller Derby World Cup Edition -- Part Four

At long last, this is the final post in our four-part series on roller derby and butch identity. Today, we're showcasing rad butch and otherwise awesome women coming to represent their countries in the first Roller Derby World Cup. As mentioned previously, these players may not necessarily identify as butch. But they do look great. If anyone wants to be taken down, let me know!

After looking at the first alphabetical half of the contenders on Thursday, today, we're starting with France.

From Team France's site
Team France: Even though Team France does not yet have all of its team members extensively profiled, this was still a hard decision. But #HK13, Truck Off Pooky is my choice from this team. Team France showed a great sense of humour, skewering French stereotypes through its team photos. Truck Off Pooky, aside from rocking a sweet hat and mustache in her promo shot, has a great cropped hairstyle and a distinctive tattoo arm sleeve. Truck Off Pooky multi-tasks as a jammer, blocker and pivot for the Paris Roller Girls.

From Team Germany's site
Team Germany: This team was another tough choice. Looking tough, talented and frankly splendidly attractive, this is a hell of a team. My choice from the German team is #66 BamBule. With tattoos, gorgeous piercings, dramatic hair and glasses, BamBule is coming for Toronto. Details on this skater are a bit hard to come by, despite GoogleTranslate's best efforts. BamBule plays for  Bear City Roller Derby in Berlin and if I see her in person at the World Cup, I might actually pass out.

From Team Ireland's FB page
Team Ireland: #1000 Canadian Psycho is my choice from the team coming from my mother's hereditary homeland. It's not just because she's Canadian and it's not just because she's holding an axe. Skating for GTAR in Toronto, Canada, Canadian Psycho is one of the Derby Debutantes.  She is clearly hotter than Christian Bale and rocks a short hair-cut and a blood spatter far better as well. We'll see her in Toronto!

From New Zealand's FB page

Team New Zealand: New Zealand's Facebook page and Tumblr do not yet currently have pics of individual players, so here's a shot of their sweet logo.  It's not exactly butch, but it is awesome. If anyone can point me towards pictures of players, let me know! I'll keep an eye on Team New Zealand's sites just in case!

From Team Scotland's FB Page
Team Scotland: I have a soft spot for Scotland. And even if I didn't, it would still be a great-looking team. My pick from this fine bunch is #42 Alma Geddon, who is rocking the short hair in her promo pic. Alma Geddon skates for the Auld Reekie Rollergirls, both on the home-team Leithal Weapons and the all-star travel team, Twisted Thistles in Edinburgh.

Team Sweden: My room-mate joked that, of course, all of the Swedish players would be attractive. Naturally, she was right. But I picked Swede Hurt, who has played all over the U.S., including a final stint for Gotham Girls before heading to her current spot playing for Crime City Rollers in Malmรถ. Swede Hurt is the head coach for Team Sweden and gets my choice because of the sheer amount of swagger in her promo shot.

Team USA: Let's be frank - coming from a country with so many amazing roller derby teams, Team USA is a powerhouse. And they look good. My pick from this team is #90 mph Little A from the Tampa Bay Derby Darlin's. Sporting a great cropped 'do and some piercings, Little A plays for both the Black Widows and the all-star travel team, the Tampa Tantrums, of which she is co-captain. Though you can't see it here, she has a totally sweet arm tattoo.

Finally, the absolutely hottest people involved in the World Cup in December are the people who sponsor teams. These players cannot shoulder the financial burden of making it to the World Cup without you. Tomorrow, I am going to randomly select a team to donate money to, because they all need it. Again, this is the Blood and Thunder hub for all of the teams' donation and merch pages. Use it! 

Well, that's all the creeping I'm doing today. Check back on Monday for a special on the DC Rollergirls and why when blogging about roller derby, you need to do your research!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Going Butch: Roller Derby World Cup Edition -- Part Three

Today's entry is our third installment in what ended up being a four-part series about butch identity and roller derby. I'm going to pick out players from World Cup teams who, in their promo material, look rather dapper. These women may not necessarily identify as butch, but fans who appreciate short hair, tattoos, and  badass women will know who to cheer for at the World Cup this December. Today, I'll pick out players from half of the World Cup teams. Look for the second half on Saturday. We'll return to our regular posting on Monday with a feature on the DC Rollergirls.

If any players would prefer to be taken off my list, let me know! Extra special thanks to the team pages, Blood and Thunder and the Derby News Network for empowering my creeping!
From Team Argentina's Facebook page

Team Argentina: Let's be frank: Argentina is a glamorous team. Therefore my pick from them is based pretty much on sweet tattoos. #9 White Rabbit has awesome ink, featuring Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop. She may be a long-haired bunny (not unlike an angora), but any derby fan would be happy to fawn over her tats.

From the CARD site
Team Australia: My pick from this fabulous team is #58 Dodge 'n Bolt. Her sweet haircut and great smile are enough to catch the heart and mind of any rollerfan. Coming from Coastal Assassins Roller Derby along the Sunshine Coast of Australia, she's playing for the national team come December.

From the Team Brasil site
Team Brasil: Brasil featured several awesome short-haired players, but I have to give my pick to #7 Lobster from the Capital City Derby Dolls in Ottawa. Though she plays in Canada, her heart is clearly in Brasil. And who could refuse that grr-face? So long as pinching isn't a major penalty, she should do great this year.

From the Montreal Roller Derby site
Team Canada: Oh, Canada. So many rad butch options on my nation's team. However, there can only be one, so my pick is #3X Smack Daddy from Montreal Roller Derby. Smack plays on Montreal's travel team, New Skids on the Block and wears a mustache with panache. Watch out for the paddle.

From Team England's site

Team England: Wow. This team's roster looks amazing and made my choice pretty darn difficult. My pick for England is #16 Violet Attack from the Birmingham Blitz Dames. Within the league, she plays for the Sirens. Her mohawk alone could be enough to make a fan switch patriotic allegiance. (Sorry, Canada!)

From Team Finaland's site
Team Finland: Finland has the best hair in roller derby. You heard it here first. Picking one player was a wrench, but #54 The Blizzard was my final choice, because you gotta have blue hair. Currently living in England, The Blizzard plays for Bristol Roller Derby, of which she is a founding member.

Ultimately, if you want to see these ladies in December, donate to their teams. Almost every World Cup team has a Paypal account or a similarly easy way of donating set up for your use (just click on the team names above to get to their sites!). As I've said before, getting to the World Cup is not cheap. These players deserve your support. After all it's no good waiting to see sweet derby action if the team couldn't pay for flights. Skip on your latte today and put that fiver to the team of your choice. Click here for Blood and Thunder's list of fundraising and merch pages!

Check back on Saturday for the second half of my feature on World Cup players. New Zealand, I'm coming for you!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Going Butch: Keeping Roller Derby Dapper -- Part Two

Last week, I posted about how leagues can make themselves more welcoming to butch players. Today, I'll make some suggestions for keeping your fine butch self styling on the track. Also, I've included pictures of cute girls.

Notes: pics have mostly been taken from DapperQ, which is a fabulous site.


Clothes do not make the butch - confidence and swagger do, but clothes can certainly help. Keeping in mind that you're probably wearing a team uniform, you can still keep yourself dapper. If your team uniform includes both top and bottom - unlike, say, a team shirt with whatever you like south of your navel - try to look for more masculine cuts. If your team wears red hot-pants, see if you can find red shorts. If your team wears tank tops, consider switching it for a vest or a collared shirt, or wearing a collared shirt underneath a team shirt. So long as you match the colour and the font of your name and number, you'll still fit in with your team and maintain your identity on the track.

If so long as you wear the team shirt, you can wear what pants you like, consider longer shorts. With these, cut, collar, and pattern can really bring out your dandy side. Consider pin-stripes or pairing them with suspenders in your team colours. So long as your name and number are visible, you're golden
From DapperQ


Personally, my favourite butch accessory is the tie. You'll want to depend on your own common sense and perhaps check in with your health and safety committee to see whether you can incorporate a neck-tie into your boutfit. Alternately, consider tucking the tie into your team shirt or the bowtie. Geeky yet classy, the bowtie signals butch confidence and a sense of humour without leaving any material dangling to get caught on something during a jam. Tips for tying a bowtie are here!

If there's any room in your shorts for back pockets, consider a well-tucked hanky. You'll want to keep it from falling on the track and getting under someone's wheels, however. Consider taping that sucker in. You'll also want to consider the hanky code, lest you give another player the wrong idea.
From DapperQ

Wrist cuffs! Bring attention to your hot fore-arms with cuffs and bracelets pushed up past your wrist guards. You'll want to be sure you don't mind getting them banged up - unless you like your leather cuffs thoroughly worn, keep them at home.

Derby Names

If you haven't already chosen your name, consider how a derby name can reinforce your butch identity. Not every player has to be a Beyonslay (though that is a damn fine name). Consider butch celebrities you can honour with your name. At the time of this post being written, k.d. fang isn't taken. Rachel MadCow, WandaSykesYouOut, Amy RayGun, Jenny ShimmiesYou, and Alison Wreckdel are all free, too. You saw them here first.

Ultimately, butch identity is a beautiful, powerful thing. Derby deserves more of it and the butch women who love derby deserve to feel able to represent themselves. It's amazing what a tie can do for a girl or a boi.

Coming up next Thursday: a post about cute derby players looking dapper, so you know which teams to throw your helmet panties at once the World Cup starts.

From DapperQ, Photo Credit: DJ Vito Fun

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Going Butch: Roller Derby for the Happily Non-femme -- Part One

DC Rollergirls Logo
Generally, roller derby features a hyper-femininity without the passivity that society often associates with being feminine. Instead, derby girls are commonly pictured as stereotypically sexy and feminine in addition to being born ass-kickers. There are fishnets and booty shorts to go with that black-eye, we assure potential buyers of tickets to bouts.

Of course, there is an argument to be made that the kind of aggression that derby is often marketed to have doesn't, in fact, break through gender stereotypes, but retreads how we conceive of female aggression, namely in terms of the cat-fight. That isn't actually my main point today, but the problems presented by the popular conception of derby as ultra-femme aggression affect something close to my heart, specifically that it can create an environment unwelcoming to butch women.

I'm writing this post today partially in response to the fact that my blog stats page informed me that someone Googled "roller derby butch" and ended up on my blog.  I searched it myself to see what was out there. To be clear: there aren't a whole lot of relevant results for that search, in part because derby is not often marketed as being friendly to butch women.

How then, can leagues work on ensuring that women who don't go in for knee socks can still feel welcome in their local derby league? I have three suggestions.

If you have the credit info for this, let me know!
1) Stop relying on the pin-up. Derby's love affair with the retro fun of pin-up photography is fun, but it's not all we are. As a league, as a producer of posters, bout guides, team logos, websites, etc, try harder to depict derby in more diverse ways - there are so many different ways of being a woman and cuban heel stockings don't define all of them. Our imagery tells prospective players whether or not they are likely to be welcome in our league. Is your marketing welcoming to butch women?

2) Explore what falls outside stereotypical femininity. This is not to say that we have to give up being femme on the track. Hot pants are fun and I enjoy when my team-mates rock them.  But you don't need to be wearing glitter make-up to skate in a jam. Support your fellow players who don't go for stereotypically feminine wear. What's empowering for you might be stifling for them. As a team-member, consider how your team's uniforms, logo, and brand may be saying, "No bois allowed".

3) Market directly to butch women. Derby and diversity can go hand in hand - the excitement of derby league involvement in Pride Parades is proof of that. In Toronto, we even have the yearly Clam Slam - an all-queer derby extravaganza. This is not to say that a queer woman is necessarily a butch woman or vice versa. But putting up a poster indicating that you accept *all* women in your league in spaces that support butch women (such as your local queer bar or a meeting space for folks who don't go in for gender normativity) is a good step toward making your league more friendly to butch players and ultimately stronger for that diversity.

By the amazing Cristy C. Road for Bitch Magazine, 2005
On Monday, look for Part Two of this post, a more in-depth discussion of suggestions for butch players who still want action on the track while being themselves. There should also be a Part Three featuring amazing butch players and role models in Canada and farther afield who I may or may not have crushes on.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Wheeling in Winter: The Roller Derby Off-Season

With November well underway, it's a time that derby starts to go dormant for the year in some countries. With WFTDA Championships coming up next week, derby girls are having their last hurrahs until spring. Season-ender parties and final bouts are popping up and would-be fresh meat in bigger cities are likely being told to wait for next spring's training camp.The Winter season, at least in Canada, is time for derby folks to practice, cross-train and have visions of spring bouts dance in their heads.

But keeping motivated is essential. For players who find being without bouts to look forward to hard on their derby dedication, the gym and skate nights at the local roller rink are not your only option.

Many recreational leagues don't have down-time: experienced players can volunteer their time as trainers and new skaters can always learn something - rec leagues often feature very experienced skaters who, due to injury, availability, or preference, have decided to skate recreationally. Low-contact leagues also emphasize strategy and positional blocking, since checking is out of the equation: it's a useful way of thinking about the game we love and it will improve your performance come spring. Refs are always needed, of course, and many rec leagues play and practice all year. Consider learning something new from your derby sisters on the other side of the rink. Volunteering your time (and likely being bought a drink afterwards) is something you can look forward to.

But what are your other options? Outdoor skating on ice is a kind of cross-training that will keep you  engaged (and frequently features hot chocolate), but wearing your knee pads is essential unless you fancy limping away from the rink as I did last year. Depending on your snow-fall, outdoor skating on your quads is a possibility, but it's important to remember that drivers may have less control on the road, again depending on the weather conditions in your area. Additionally, drivers may not be expecting skaters on the road - keep it on the bike paths.

Be sure to keep in contact with your fellow league-members. Other derby players will keep you excited as the days get shorter. Chances are that you came to the game for the challenge and the company: keep both part of your winter derby experience and you'll be ready for spring.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Accidental Athlete: Fitness and Roller Derby

Let me begin by saying that I am not the most dedicated derby girl. Sometimes I  miss practice and sometimes when it's go all out or not throw up, I opt for the latter. There are derby girls who are incredibly fit, whose bodies are well-oiled and fishnet-covered machines. I am not one of those women.

Yet last night, I went jogging with my room-mate for the first time in about three years. And while I didn't keep up perfectly, I kept up a whole lot better than I did last time. My room-mate, a military reservist, is kind of my hero when it comes to fitness: she has amazing drive and her ability to maintain a commitment just blows me away. I couldn't help but note that while I'm about twenty pounds heavier than I was during that last run, I have better lung capacity and endurance, and, dare I say it, I'm more fit.

Typically, when I call myself fit, I mean that I fit into about half of my wardrobe at any given time. But the last time I zipped up my Docs, I had to loosen the laces to let the boots fit my calves. Despite my inconstant heart, derby is having an effect on my body - not just on my confidence and my social life.

And my ability to earn my level-three skills bearing necklace!
Photo credit Rosemary Van Gelderen
In some ways, I feel like this happened accidentally: I've never really felt like I've improved in terms of my fitness level in derby, perhaps because what I tend to focus on is more my skill testing. But it happened anyway. It turns out that I'm proof that anything - anything - is better than just sitting on your bum. When I was focused on other things, say, my cross-overs, I was getting fitter without realizing it.

Vansterdamn teaching me. She's awesome.
Photo Credit: Natalie 'Vegas' Buragina
And this is why roller derby is better for you than stair-climbing, in my estimation. The sport has so many potential payoffs - the challenge, the friendships, the confidence-building, and as I've found out, the slow but steady progress of one's fitness level.

Roller derby tricked me into being more fit. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Portrait of a City on Skates: Roller Derby in London, Ontario

I didn't skate until I moved back to London. Since getting here, I've been really impressed by the derby community and what a determined skater can get out of the city. I'll be profiling London, Ontario based on a few key areas. If you're considering relocating to London and want to keep derby friendliness in mind, consider the following points.

Chances to Play?

London itself is home to both low-contact, recreational roller derby and full-contact derby. LOCO Roller Derby, my home league started in London but has since spread to Stratford, Brantford, and Kitchener. Also within the city, you can find the Forest City Derby Girls, a robust local full-contact league featuring the star Thames Fatales and the Luscious Lunch Ladies, their newest team. Just under an hour's drive can take you to Woodstock, Ontario, where you can find the Woodstock Warriors, another new full-contact team.

Chances to Watch Bouts?

The only public bouting currently available is through FCDG. They bout at the Western Fairgrounds. Tickets are usually $12 - $15 and the show is well worth it. Both LOCO and the Woodstock Warriors put on  public events, both on and off-skate, often in the form of fundraisers for the leagues or local charities.

Where to Purchase Equipment?

London's listings on Kijiji are always worth a look if you're in the market for used wheels and skates. The Board Shop is usually worth checking out for protective gear and Shock Doctor Mouthguards are available at any of the city's Source for Sports. The only local consistent source for skates, wheels and other equipment is Rollersk8s R Us, which offers a fresh meat package, used and new skates, and 10% off for derby players.

For those willing to leave the city, Hamilton's Rough House is one option. Rollerbug and My Roll Life (opening soon) in Toronto are two derby-owned shops worth checking out as well.

Members of the leagues around London are often willing to split shipping from online stores like Rollergirl, which has highly competitive prices and selection in addition to being derby-owned.

Where Can I Practice?

During the months outdoor skating is possible, London's park systems are very skate-friendly. Connected by bike paths, they offer routes with a variety of difficulty levels, often within a stone's throw of the Thames River. These routes can be busy, so consider skating during off-peak hours and skate with a buddy whenever possible. Here's a PDF of the parks!

The North London Optimist Community Centre is the most popular indoor skating option in in the city. They offer adult skates on Wednesday night starting at eight p.m. Family skates occur from one to four on Saturdays and Sundays. Be forewarned that Wednesday nights are often very busy and are not usually recommended for beginners. Weekend skates are much more relaxed at NLOCC.

Additionally, all of the leagues listed previously host open practices. Depending on their home rules, your first skate might even be free.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Roller Derby World Cup: The United Nations of Ass-Kicking

This year, from December second to the fourth, the worldwide roller derby community gets something new to injure itself during. The Roller Derby World Cup, held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is the first of its kind and it is a sign that roller derby is still growing. It's a very exciting time to be on skates. Derby players from thirteen countries will play for the very first world championship. There will be signs in several languages. Fans from New Zealand will spill beer on fans from Germany. The after-parties may end in bloodshed and the initiations of long-distance love affairs.

Let me be clear: I am deeply excited for the World Cup. I have my ticket and my spot on a friend's floor, if I happen to sleep while I'm there. But the World Cup does remind us about specific barriers that exist in derby.

Financially, teams need to be able to pony up or raise funds for travel, food and accommodations. Individual players need to be able to take and able to afford potential time off work, in addition to the fact that the burden of paying for the team's costs will probably land most heavily on them. Anyone in a league knows players will toss in their own money when the team needs it, sometimes even when that's not a great financial decision. (For folks interested in supporting their teams, check this list of links to teams' web sites and chances to donate.) Derby is an expensive sport and as I've discussed before, it's up to us as a community to try to ease that burden on players.

More generally, while having players from thirteen countries is very, very exciting, that's thirteen out of about one hundred and ninety seven, if the internet doesn't lie to me. This isn't to say that I expect the Vatican to attempt to put together a team, but I do think this is an opportunity to recognize that derby is not a worldwide sport. It is mostly limited to developed nations (I recognize the inherent linguistic issue with that term, but it's all I have at the moment). If derby is really going to spread, if we can have a world cup that does reflect the amazing beauty and diversity of the world, we need to consider how to make the sport more accessible in the face of economic and cultural differences. And I have no idea how to do that, but I think if we as an increasingly worldwide community start talking about it, using the world cup as a chance for derby players to talk to each other, we're rolling in the right direction.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Getting Lapped by the Best: Derby Celebrities

Last Wednesday, I had a brush with fame. While skating the the North London Optimist Community Centre in London, Ontario, a friend of mine pointed out Killson, a FCDG player and a member of Team Canada for the 2011 1st Annual Roller Derby World Cup. We fangirled over her skating posture and general coolness. The experience provided a good example of what celebrity means in roller derby.

Not the only star on the flat-track.

Because of roller derby's DIY-nature and outsider status, we don't have our own versions of Anna Kournikova or Derek Jeter - though I'm sure they'd both be great on quads. I think the most famous derby player at the moment is Suzy Hotrod, jammer for Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars and the Queens of Pain, who was profiled in ESPN's 2011 Bodies We Want Issue (warning: link leads to naked folks, NSFW).  But for the most part, even derby players famous within the sport have day-jobs and put their booty shorts on one leg at a time, like everyone else.

As roller derby grows, naturally the gap between star players and fans may widen. Until then, even our best remain pretty regular (or highly irregular) women. They aren't paid. They aren't endorsing anything. They probably aren't on steroids. In roller derby culture,  your hero can be the girl sitting next to you on the bench.

Credit: Natalie 'Vegas' Buragina

Most sports do tend to breed heroes, it's true. But how many, say, hockey fans can say they were lapped by Sidney Crosby? Last week, I skated on the same rink as a member of the team representing my country at the first roller derby world cup ever. A friend of mine almost crashed into her. It was awesome. One of things I love about roller derby is that the absolute queens of our sport are still players, still just women on skates, chasing the track.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Roller Rink: Not Just for Birthday Parties in the 1950's

For aspiring roller derby skaters, the local roller rink is a crucial resource that often goes overlooked. One of the keys to improving is practice, but skaters often get caught up in the idea that they can only skate during team practices or when the weather outside is conducive to getting your quads on. While outdoor skating is a fabulous habit (and teaches you to look out for cars), rink skating is usually available on a consistent basis, relatively cheaply (even if you’re renting skates, you can usually get away with $12 Canadian or less), and skating at the rink means skating in company, which can be great for your motivation. Being lapped by someone’s grandmother might be demoralizing at first, but you’ll soon learn from watching experienced skaters and trying your best to keep up.

Rink skating has its downsides. Skating with a crowd of strangers can be intimidating. For more experienced skaters, the crowd might be an annoyance you can’t hip-check your way through. The music selection can be iffy and couples’ skating is no fun unless you’ve come to the rink with friends. The better you know your local rink, the better you’ll be able to navigate its foibles.

With all of those caveats in mind, roller rinks give you what you really need, namely the time to improve. You may not be able to determine what you learn during team practice, but in the rink, your time is basically your own. Usually the inner circle of the rink is open for skills practice and more often than not, there are experienced skaters willing to provide some guidance. (For extra points, check in with skaters in your league and ask if they’re going. Get a group in the habit of going and your skills and motivation will quickly ramp up.)

So, if it’s your first time at the rink, here are five quick suggestions for a successful trip.

1)Bring water. You will get sweaty if you’re doing this right.
2)Invite other skaters. Offer gas money or a ride. Company will keep you motivated.
3)On your breaks, pick a skater and watch how their technique. Mirror them once you’re back on skates.
4)Bring a snack with you to keep your energy up.
5)Boogie. Seriously. It’ll keep you working on your balance and no-one stands out for looking strange at a roller rink.

For Canadian rinks, look here and here for rinks in Ontario. For rinks in the US and other countries, check  here. And don’t forget your skate rental fee in addition to the entry fee, if you don’t have skates of your own yet. Nobody likes shoe prints on the rink floor.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Getting Back on Skates + Fitness Challenge

Due to starting up my PhD, my actual time on skates has been pretty much nil. For the same reason, my time to blog has been basically nonexistent. After some hair-tearing and soul-searching, I put my skates back on last Friday. I've also decided to keep blogging on Mondays and Thursdays, so please check back on those days for new posts.

Last Friday was the beginning of LOCO's Best Fit You challenge. Skaters can, if they choose, compete in three areas, each with its own 10-skate card as a prize. Our areas are highest percentage of weight loss, highest percentage of improvement for a fitness test, and a point-based day by day system of eating according to Canada's Food Guide. Some skaters are opposed to the food guide challenge, others to the weight loss, but I decided to try all three. Though I'm not a fan of the weight-loss challenge (for reasons of size acceptance), I took part largely because I don't have a  scale at home and I was curious to see whether there would be any corresponding change in my weight after the challenge.

But I digress. Getting back on skates can be intimidating. I hadn't skated in ages. I was worried that my fellow skaters would have continued getting more awesome while I was hunched over Ulysses in the PhD1 cave. This of course was indeed the case, but I was welcomed back regardless. I chose to work with the newer skaters, because my skill acquisition has been a bit patchwork and my T-stops are terrible. (They still are.)

In some ways, the Best Fit You challenge was incredibly well-timed. It gave me a clear starting point to get back on my quads and a clear structure of activity and nutrition aimed toward a specific end-point. Structure can be key to getting back on skates: often, we've stopped skating because we stopped making time for it. Having the sense that the structure is being imposed for us (in this case, in the form of a league-wide challenge) can make getting back on skates seem easier than it really is. Am I advocating tricking yourself into skating? Frankly, yes.

League or team challenges can be a great way of encouraging absent skaters to get back in the game. It's not really about winning: it's about having these structures ready-made for skaters who are looking for reasons to skate but aren't great at self-motivating.

Now, I'm off lose a point for drinking coffee. It's totally worth it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Game of the Name: Roller Derby Monikers

A roller derby player has several  things in common with a superhero.  A costume. Super powers (booty blocking included). Fans. And a secret identity.

Every player has her on-track persona, exemplified by her name. Our very own Team Canada has Killson from FCDG, Rainbow Fight from 709 Derby Girls, Georgia W Tush from Montreal  . And these women are superheroes on skates, make no mistake.

Derby names range from the cute to the punny to the frankly frightening.  And every one is unique – see for yourself. It’s true that there are some suspiciously similar names, but the roster is vetted for those. Once a name is put on there, it can’t be copied.

I recently read a really interesting post on derby names that posited that in order for the sport to move forward, names need to be vetted for content as well as originality. The post correctly points out that sexist, misogynistic or offensive names shouldn’t have a place in derby.

But it can be difficult to separate sexist from sexy and offensive from outspoken. There are terms I use that some might argue don’t have a place in family-friendly roller derby. For example, I have no problem with positive reclamation of the word 'cunt' (Man, my Google hits are about to take a sudden left turn). And here’s where I disagree with the idea that derby names need to be policed for the good of the sport.

Roller derby is not soccer. It’s a sport that was rooted in crash commercialism and then revived and literally taken over by the women who played it. It’s not just a sport: it’s a battleground.  Roller derby is typified by a DIY esthetic and an in-your-face bravado.  It’s not a typical sport, nor should it be.

It’s not that I don’t think derby should spread. It’s doing that as we speak, crass names and all. But do I want roller derby in the Olympics? Frankly, no (and not just because several team sports like baseball aren’t either). To me, roller derby is best as an outsider sport and not because I want us to get to keep all the derby goodness to ourselves.  I want derby to grow without compromising what makes it special, namely that DIY principle, that feminist practice, that outrageous name on the back of a jersey.

But let's remember, folks: if your name isn't worthy of a superheroine, maybe you should reconsider, not for the sport, but for the players and fans around you. While you're busy being your own hero, you might be someone else's, too.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Business Review - Rollergirl

Today is our first business review, in which I'll describe my experience buying from a roller derby-related business. I thought I would start off by reviewing Rollergirl, a Canadian-owned, derby-owned business located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Here are the details.

What I Had Heard Prior to my Purchase:  Rollergirl came highly recommended by my fellow skaters. Their site has great resources for skaters and good selection. My biggest concern was pricing: I'm a derby girl on a budget and Rollergirl has only one yearly sale. It's a substantial sale, depending on what you're buying. This year, the best deals were on wheels, largely. Rollergirl also sponsors leagues, which is pretty cool.

The Buy: Riedell 265s with Flatout Wheels and Bones REDS bearings
Skate Tool
Riedell Toe Snouts

The Process: Before purchasing the skates, I was concerned about sizing. Since this was my first pair of new skates, I had originally wanted to buy them in a brick and mortar store, so I could be sure of the sizing. Since I couldn't find the price or model I wanted in London or Toronto, I decided to lie in wait for the yearly sale.

Rollergirl offers a sizing guarantee and has employees available by phone or email to guide you through the sizing process. Sizing is usually guaranteed - if the skates you order don't fit, they'll pay all shipping costs involved in the exchange except for international orders outside the U.S.

In my case, I emailed back and forth with an employee ahead of the sale, because they do not answer the phone or emails on the day of the sale.

The Result: All my gear arrived safely and in a timely fashion, considering I'd ordered the cheapest shipping. The package contained detailed instructions for attaching my toe snouts, which was a life-saver. I was a very satisfied customer.

Verdict: Rollergirl is a great online retailer. The customer service was unparalleled. However, prices can seem a bit steep, given just how much equipment is needed for derby. I would recommend waiting for Rollergirl's early spring sale and/or consider splitting shipping costs with a league-mate. Check to see if your league is sponsored by Rollergirl. Follow their sizing instructions if they apply to your purchase.

Details: Rollergirl's website
Rollergirl's Store
Returns Policy

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What's in a Derby Name? Choosing Your Persona

At the risk of passing on whatever Lovecraftian illness I have, which does seem to be aggressive enough to spread itself via blog posts, today we're talking choosing a derby name (more on the derby name as a phenomenon later this week).

Often, new roller derby players have a name in mind before they've tried their skates on. Others have months to find the right one. In both cases, they sometimes end up finding it's already taken by checking the International Rollergirl's Master Roster, (as we all must). When I started out, I was devastated "Bettie Rage" and "Pain Austen" had already been scooped up. Whether you're just starting out considering the name you'll give to your derby life or you've come back to the drawing board, here's one model of picking your name and then some suggestions more generally.

When I started skating, I made a list of names I liked. Being a grad student in the humanities, I went largely for puns related to literature. When the more obvious ones were taken (though "Charlotte Brawn-te" is still free, I think) I got creative. Not every skater uses a pun for her name, but I'm very into puns, so making weak plays on words felt natural to me. In the midst of a brainstorming session (and boy, was there a list of at least fifteen possible names), I thought of "Cthulhu Lemon", riffing on H.P. Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu", a cosmic horror story, and LuluLemon, purveyor of expensive yoga gear.
Terrible, Terrible Photoshop by me. Yes, that is a Lemon

In my case, I risked a lot of folks not getting my name or even knowing how to pronounce it. With my stutter, I myself have a lot of trouble with the hard 'C' at the beginning of my derby name. I can admit that this is at least a bit funny. I'm often Lemon for short. These were things I should have considered, though accessibility and pronunciation will matter more or less depending on the player. All in all, I love my name because it's geeky and weird and that's me on or off the track.

Seven Suggestions For Selecting Your Sobriquet

1) For guidance, try picking a theme. Celebrity names are often a go-to (our league has Kat von Damage). Riffs on your real name are also a possibility (hence our Killer Suenami). Do you want it to relate to your hobbies, your work (our own Sewer Princess works for the city), your own personality, or on the flipside, something with nothing to do with your real life at all?
2) Get ideas from friends and family. You'll get some groaners, sure, but they may surprise you.
3) Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Have back-ups. There are a lot of derby girls out there and some of them might already have the name you want. Don't just change one letter so you get to be "Betteee Rage". Get creative. Having a great derby name is a point of pride.
4) Consider how the name will shape the expectations of other players. Do you want to seem fast, sly ...homicidal? Consider how it will make *you* feel to be called by a certain name or a shortened version of this name.
5) Check your name out. Is it offensive? Is it misogynistic? Remember this is a representation of you and your league. This is what you might be called while playing for your country at the Roller Derby World Cup, if you're particularly awesome.
6) Consider the implications of your name more directly. If it's a joke, do you care if people get it? Are you willing to explain if necessary? (Warning: this *can* be a bit of a hassle, but it's worth it if you love it.)
7) Check out resources like Rollergirl's Guide to picking your name, SVRG's Ultimate Guide, or Cherry Rockette's guide, which is particularly good for laying out considerations for the Master Roster.

Get your thinking helmets on, ladies.