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Blood, sweat and tears (of joy) at Richter City Roller Derby

By day, they are mothers, office managers, waitresses and trapeze artists. But on Saturday night at the Kilbirnie Recreation Centre, they swapped their shoes for skates, and came together to play the all-female full contact sport that is Flat Track Roller Derby.

Story and photos by Luke Jackson

Skater ‘Suffer Jet’ formed the Wellington league that has become Richter City Roller Derby ten years ago, with around 15 other women. They went from meeting to skate in carparks to a tiny indoor hall in Brooklyn.

After an overeager referee skated into a wall and broke his leg, they decided to upgrade to a go-kart course and eventually found their current home at the Kilbirnie Recreation Centre.

While the official Roller Derby Rule Book is currently 67 pages long, the game isn’t hard to follow.

It is played with two teams skating around an oval track. Each team has five skaters on the track at any one time. One is called The Jammer and she is the only player that can score points.

The other players are called Blockers. It is the Blockers job to stop the other team’s Jammer from getting past and scoring points. The Jammer will score one point for every Blocker they pass. The Blockers must also try clear a path for their own Jammer.

It’s a rare example in sport of playing defence and offence simultaneously. Often the defending blockers will be interlocked in a position that resembles a scrum in rugby – except they have wheels under their feet.

Princess Slayer, who is a Jammer and co-captain for Wellington team Comic Slams, has been playing for nine years. Before joining, she says, “I considered myself to be a non-sporty, shy person but it’s given me a lot of confidence. I think it’s very empowering.”

While fun has always been the main objective, Slayer said the early trainings were intense and demanding.

During one of her first sessions, each skater lined up to hit her as hard as they could. “I thought to myself ‘Oh God, what have I gotten myself into’.”

Many of the veteran skaters believe that as the sport has grown and the players have improved, it has stepped away from the theatrics of the costumes and make up and is more focused on the strategy and athleticism.

Skater and commentator Greta Growler said, “A lot of people think its about physicality but it’s more about communication and the hive-mind.”

There was no shortage of theatrics on Saturday night, however, as teams Comic Slams and Smash Malice faced off in the Richter City Home Season final.

During half time, Comic Slams’ bench-coach Lisa Lilly was proposed to by her partner, Wylie, in front of a very excited crowd. After accepting, Lilly was met by an enormous group hug from her teammates, with Smash Malice eventually joining in.

Comic Slams went on to win the home season cup, 212 to 172, for the first time since forming six years ago.

“Beyond the pure joy of riding on skates, the best part is the people. It just a wonderful, welcoming group.” says Suffer Jet.

Before the final, a Wellington junior side of players ranging from ages 8-17 faced off against a combined Hutt Valley/Napier side, with both girls and boys in the teams.

“I want to grow the junior side of it because it’s the future of our sport. When I think back to when I was in high school, if something like this existed it would have been life changing for me.” says Suffer Jet.

Her advice to anyone who is on the fence about trying it out: “Come three times. The first time is going to be harder than you think and so is the second, but after the third, it’s addictive.”

Despite the violence, it seemed love was in the air on Saturday night.

During a lull near the end of the match, skater and commentator Rusty Stilleto’s mind drifted to games of derby past.

“I remember once our whole team ended up in a doggy pile… with our bench manager stuck at the bottom. He was never the same after that.” she told the crowd.

“But then he married me, so that was good.”