If you overhear a group of women calling each other names like Hex and Tiger, you might have fallen in with the roller derby chicks. Boston has an active derby scene. Four home teams play against each other from February through October and the travel team is ranked 26th internationally. Four of the skaters — Iris “America” Ayala, Caitlin “Hexoskeleton” Boag, Chloé “Tiger Eye” Mason and Michele “Della Kinetic” Savery — live here in JP.
Not Your Mother’s Roller Derby
This is a time of revival for the sport. In the 1970s, play was theatrical. Wins and losses were predetermined. Penalties were goofy: Skaters might be required to have a pillow fight or arm wrestle. Now roller derby is on ESPN3 and skaters have been featured in Sports Illustrated. The style of play has become more strategic. Women have started going by their real names instead of their derby names.
Passion, Commitment and Fun
Skaters spend most of their time outside of work on roller derby. They practice two to three days a week. They cross-train. Tickets are sold at the games but the league is nonprofit. Every player pays dues to the league and every player has a league job. Most of the games are double headers and the skaters staff the games they don’t play.
The fans are passionate, too. It’s thrilling to see strong women play a full contact sport aggressively and unapologetically. The games are fast and action packed. The players interact with the audience. It’s family friendly. The skaters try to strike a balance between playing hard and maintaining a positive environment.
Discovery and Empowerment
“When I started skating, it was the first time in my life I believed in my ability to accomplish something for myself,” Hex said. “As I kept working, I began to realize that I was capable of being an athlete, and being strong and being powerful. Understanding this about myself has carried over into every facet of my life and has made it better in virtually every way.”
America talked about how roller derby taught her to love her body type. “I’ve been big all my life but for the past six years I’ve been active and now I love the body I’m in and I appreciate how strong I am. Athletes come in any size. Everyone has a different strength and you can play up to that strength.”
A Community of Powerful Women
All the skaters value the comaraderie. Roller derby brings different kinds of people together and they become as close as family. Sometimes they literally become family, like America and her fiancee, who met through roller derby.
Here’s Hex: “It’s a gift to be able to surround myself with other powerful, brilliant, strong women. It's not very often in this world that we get such an amazing space to learn and grow. It's also really queer friendly, which is really valuable.”
Tiger joined roller derby when she moved to Boston because she wanted to connect with people and have a social hobby. “Yeah you get your ass kicked,” she said, “but it’s so much fun. The people are amazing.”
“It’s Not about Elbows to the Face”
There is a perception that roller derby skaters get injured a lot, but the skaters are quick to point out that other sports are just as dangerous. Big showy hits are too obvious to be effective. “I got hurt more playing soccer,” said Della Kinetic. “It's not the elbows to the face from the 80s, or in ‘Whip It,’” said Hex. “It's a community of powerful women who can hip check you out the door and will stop to help you up afterwards.”
Della also explained that it’s important to cross-train to prevent injury. Because players always skate counter-clockwise, one leg can become much stronger than the other. For the safety of the skaters, the league assesses them regularly for endurance, strength, and agility.
Anyone Can Join
Tiger and Della both said that when they took up roller derby as adults, they had not skated since they were kids. Boston Roller Derby has a training program and a juniors league. The local men's league is Mass Maelestrom. According to Della, “We have people who never played a sport in their lives and they’re some of our best skaters. Even people who aren’t great skaters contribute valuably to the team.”
Curious about how the game is played? Go to wftda.com (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) to read the rules and see some video.
Want to go to a game? The local schedule is at bostonrollerderby.com. The home opener is Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington.
Interested in joining? Go to a game or visit bostonrollerderby.com/join.