Fast-paced and tough, the roller derby girls of the Bay Area fought with determination for the regional championship title in Richmond this Saturday.
Devoted fans filled Craneway Pavilion to cheer on their favorite team. The Richmond Wrecking Belles managed to snatch the bronze from the hands of the San Francisco ShEvil Dead, taking away third place in the championship. The Berkeley team ended first. The Richmond team, coached by Erica “T. Wrecks” Yoon and Lori “Eva Menace” Petria, tapped into the crowd’s energy and did particularly well as the team’s “jammers” scored the necessary points for the win.
Women’s roller derby has been growing worldwide in the past decade – there are now 329 full member leagues in the U.S. and 84 apprentice leagues, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The B.A.D. (“Bay Area Derby”) Girls league has also grown in popularity, drawing hundreds of fans to events every year.
Members of the Richmond team have described roller derby as being a huge part of their lives in terms of time commitment, but also in terms of mental engagement. Players are unpaid and most use the rough and tumble of the evening competition as an escape from their regular day jobs.
“After the first game I ever went to, I just thought what a great outlet it was,” Yoon said. “The common theme is a crazy passion for this sport.”
For the players, roller derby is also a source of camaraderie and self-confidence. Some of the girls, whose ages range from mid-twenties to late forties, sport tattoos and dyed hair, carry terrific skater names and most describe this sport as a way of aligning their mind, body and soul.
“I like that there is a nice balance,” said Veronica “Sterling Archer” De La Rosa, a blocker for the Wrecking Belles. “I’m sitting at the computer all day, hunched over, and then I get to go to roller derby and hit some people.”
Players in the Bay Area league play each other weekly. Many train, lift weights and work on their skills daily. Players use their free time to pitch in for marketing, event organization and training of new members.
“We have a league of 80 women,” said Cindy “Biggie Brawls” Liu, a blocker for the Wrecking Belles. “We hit each other and we don’t like each other on the track, but off the track we all work together and we all get along and we’re actually friends. It’s an 80 person family.”
Some Bay Area players bring experience in figure skating or hockey. Others have never skated before and were trained by the roller derby veterans. The Reckless Rollers, a recreational skating team, was started with the intent of bringing new skaters up to speed and helping interested skaters to try out for a full league membership.
“It’s one of the hardest sports I’ve ever played,” De La Rosa said. “It pushes me physically, it pushes me mentally. It’s an incredibly dynamic game and I like it because it’s so hard.”