Flat-Track Smackdown

by Eliza C. Thompson

In anticipation of this week’s release of Whip It, starring BUST cover girls Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat, we interns caught some serious flat-track action at the Gotham Girls Roller Derby bout Saturday night at Hunter College. Neither of us had any derby experience under our belt, so neither of us knew quite what we were in for. But by the end of the night, we had cheered our heads off, found about 20 more girl crushes, bought tons of derby merch, and were pretty convinced we had just discovered the greatest sport ever invented. Ever.

The line around the block (for will call alone…) was a good clue that the 20 bucks we shelled out for tickets was no waste. And once we got inside, the pre-show trivia questions reminded us that were not at any ordinary sports match. Q: Which Whip It star has tattoos of bear claws on her chest? A: Eve, AKA Rosa Sparks. Even before the whistle blew, people were screaming and cheering for their favorite skaters — we shared a row with some avid fans of Queens player Steel Magnolia, which got a little tricky once we started cheering for Brooklyn.

Roller derby 2

Fans (of all ages and sorts) packed the basketball gym where the bout was held, some with signs (jealous), some with really good cameras (jealous), and all super energetic. Oh, and so competitive! But no wonder — the match was a neighborhood brawl between the underdog Brooklyn Bombshells and the top gun Queens of Pain. From first glance, the Queens seemed to have the advantage: black-clad, totally jacked, and flat-out ferocious. Let’s just say if any women in the world could make pants with writing on the butt work, it would be the Queens, only because questioning their ‘Queens’-emblazoned booty shorts is a risk I’m not willing to take. Plus, gymnasium buzz said the Bombshells didn’t have the best track record, and their Sailor Moon-ish uniforms were a little less threatening. We were worried.

Worried…until Brooklyn burst forward, cresting 100 points way before Queens had even half that! The Queens may have been at a slight disadvantage in this match, as their ferocious-looking captain Suzy Hotrod was sidelined due to a leg injury. Suzy was still in full force, though, hobbling around the track to scream advice at her players. FYI: Suzy Hotrod is totally ripped. Even with her leg bundled up in a cast, she was one of the most menacing ladies on the track. One can only wonder what happens when she’s jammin’ alongside her teammates. (If you’re reading this Suzy, heal up before the next match! We’re dying to see you in action.)

Even the half-time show was awesome. No pep bands or rah-rah cheerleaders here — just a girl with a Rainbow Brite costume and 75 hula hoops. Yes, 75. I never thought I’d use the phrases ‘hula hooping’ and ‘badass’ in the same sentence, but this girl proved me wrong. At one point, her assistant just started throwing whole stacks of hoops at her, which she caught with a very effortless shimmy move.

hula hoop girl
By the way, derby works kind of like this, as far as we understand it: teams crowd together in a pack, trying to prevent the ‘jammer’ on the opposing team (the girl with the star on her helmet) from getting to the front of the pack (or, more specifically, from getting past the frontmost player on your team). Our programs described it like a quarterback getting through the linemen at a football game. And like football, getting from one side of the defense to the other isn’t very pretty. Girls were flying, checking each other this way and that, skidding on their knees, and doing this really great butt block move that left a couple ladies face-planted on the track. Not that crashes slowed anybody down; as soon as they stopped spinning into the bleachers (there was a great three-car pile up directly into the stands at one point), these ladies immediately leapt up and skated back in the game with a vengeance. No wilting flowers here; apart from being ripped, these women were fierce athletes, so let’s dispel any rumors now. This is no powder puff sport.

Still, it’s the camaraderie between players that made the game so fun to watch. Within teams, girls were always slapping fives, or screaming encouraging words. And the teams seemed pretty sincere as they hugged after the match. Then again, derby is all about not taking the game too seriously: hence the outfits, and, more importantly, the sweet Derby names. Every player gets to pick her own pseudonym and number: for instance, our fave players were Barbara Ambush and Carmen Monoxide, though Anna was partial to OMG WTF, and both of us girl-crushed on sequin-shorted MegaHurtz.

In the end, Queens got clobbered, despite the efforts of Hyper Lynx, a deceptively teeny jammer who sliced through packs of players like buttah. Already, we’re making plans to hit the next locally-held match later this month, and I would suggest that you, dear reader, join us for the bloodbath. In the meantime, check out Whip It, and, more importantly, kill time like we did making up your derby name.

– Reilly Coyote and Lil Payn

photos courtesy Sports Illustrated

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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