Some in the front row have even brought their own targets to facilitate the process. That's the best part of roller derby, after all, and even the girls will tell you a spill into the front row, if executed properly, can be a rewarding experience.
“Sometimes, yeah,” the former figure skater explains during half-time. “It's kind of an exciting element of the game. The adrenaline rush is huge.”
And the crowd is loving it. The Big Four Building is rocking with 500 or so excited fans who've plunked down $15 to say they witnessed the first ever Wild Rose Challenge between the Calgary Hellion Rebellion and the Edmonton Oil City Derby Girls. Do you remember where you were April 5, 2008? Because here on the Stampede Grounds things are starting to get mean....
The punk music blares from the speakers under the fluorescent lights that illuminate perfectly every scar or unwanted line on the girls' bodies. The gray cement has taken a beige tone with the dimming of the lights and looks colder and harder than ever as Angi Septic, Sexy Wrexxxy and Dragstrip Dolly cruise that thin white line looking to score points any way they can.
And here comes their girl, LuLu Cthulhu, a star on her helmet, outlapping everyone, as those distorted guitar notes bounce off the concrete stage. It's LuLu's turn to be the “Jammer” and she's quite good at it, passing the Edmonton girls and scoring points for her efforts. (For those unfamiliar with the game, the jammer is the only one who can score points for the team. They start behind the pack and have to skate through the other girls one time and lap the pack before they can start scoring points.)
LuLu does it in spirited fashion, in a way few other girls can get it down. Her bum is arched a little higher than the rest, the pattern in her fishnet stockings spread a little thinner and there's that “juxtaposition” – as she would say – between those blood red lips and death black hair and those flirty eyelashes.
Girls are dropping from all angles now, as LuLu skates pass aided by the blocks and take-downs of her teammates. Oil City girls are flying into the crowd protected by their shields of elbow and knee pads. One of the announcers sends a warning:
“Remember ladies and gentleman, roller girls will be flying everywhere, so keep your eyes on the game.”
LuLu knows this although her eyes are not always on the game. Not when they're needed elsewhere anyway. LuLu's a jazz singer and a natural ham for the cameras. We all paused before the match and doffed our caps as LuLu performed the national anthem.
“I love performing and that's the thing that roller derby has that other sports don't,” she explains. “I have a background as an actor. I love how I can play to the crowd in this game.
“I'm a showboat. I love to go out there and I love to wink at cute boys in the crowd. I'm all about that stuff, but you don't need to be that way to play this sport,” she stops to ponder that last comment. “Every team needs one showboat.”
And the crowd is eating it up.......
A quick scan produces a perplexing equation. The women and men are about even in presence. There's a lot of women with piercings and tattoos in black tank-tops and then there are men in NASCAR hats and moustaches and others still in exuberant slim green suits with piercings all their own. Guys with slicked-back hair, guys with low-maintenance shaved heads, women with the same; mullets, brush cuts, pompadours, bangs, earrings in odd places, African-inspired hoops through the ear, bare lips kissing bare lips, and enough grease to wax a full-fledged green and black mohawk for three years.
Yes, it's all here at the 2008 Wild Rose Challenge.....
“Let the bodies hit the floor!!”
That's the chant we heard coming from the Calgary Hellion Rebellion bench before the match started. The girls' day personas had disappeared, replaced now by screaming derby girls ready to get dirty. And a ferocious crowd ready for the action.
It was reminiscent of a WWE frenzie, but something entirely its own. These people had signs and they seemed to understand the intricacies of this new pastime, in all its whizzing glory.
The notes from the audience were starting to reach a strange peak, when my photographer Peter leaned over to whisper something chilling, but at the same time logical for this setting. By the end of the first half, Calgary was ravaging Edmonton by something like 40 points and the crowd understood all too well what they were witnessing. It was a full scale blow-out and they were getting restless.
“Oh God,” Peter said. “They're gonna bring out a pig.”
It made sense in a twisted way. Yes, a squealing pig in leather swine-chaps, a leather bikers' hat and matching studded choker, being pulled out on a chain leash by a 40-year-old dominatrix to rousing cheers from the audience. The little bugger would undoubtedly be angry and disoriented and squealing like a bastard fearing for his life to the rhythm of the blasting music. What would they do with him, anyway?
But it didn't happen. The pig was spared. We went out for a smoke instead and found a couple of clean-cut university guys talking to each other about the game.
They were here out of curiosity, they told us, and liked what they saw.
“I've never been and the guy I work with has, so he was telling me about it and we thought we'd just check it out,” a guy named Blair said. “It's awesome. It's fun and the people watching it are great too.”
Blair's buddy chimed in:
“He told me about it. I don't get out much, so....It's cool.”
A lot of other people are starting to think the same way about roller derby in Alberta. Most of the audience here is made up of family members and friends of friends, but it's starting to catch on, organizers say, and every event draws more people than the one before.
The Calgary Roller Derby Association boasts itself as a “skater-owned, skater-operated, not-for-profit, women-only, flat-track roller derby league that is part of the grassroots re-invention of flat track roller derby”. Most of the girls are too young to remember roller derby's glory days of the 70s and 80s.
But all history aside, the new wave seems to be catching on in Alberta. A female fan at half time told us she's trying to start a league in Medicine Hat.
“I used to burlesque, so that gives me street cred,” she said.
There's talk of other leagues in places like Lethbridge starting up and word is, Hoochie Mama from Oil City might be starting a chapter in Red Deer. The Calgary league was conceived in 2006 by 10 girls who wanted to try it, including Scarla Maim. She says it's something positive that women can take part in.
“It was something that wasn't around and because it's a unique entertainment that really, nobody has ever seen here,” she says of why it works. “It's just an absolute, phenomenal outlet for any kind of pent-up energy. It fits me perfectly.
“Everybody's really good people that are involved in it, so you make a lot of friendships through derby.”
“I've always played more aggressive sports and the thing about roller derby is that it's a sport by women for women,” the Calgary team captain says. “In this sport, I am celebrating being strong and aggressive and feminine all at the same time. It's about being strong and kick-ass like a woman, not being strong and kick-ass like a man.”
The names are just a fun part of the sport, says Scarla, a councillor for troubled youth when she's not on the track.
“It's kind of like an extension of your personality that you bring with you. You kinda take your personality to the extreme,” she explains.
But, they say, it's all real. Roller girls often suffer sprains, strains and, in some cases, broken ribs. A fight between these roller sisters is always a real possibility.
“One hundred and 10 per cent is real,” Scarla says. “If there's fights, it's a real fight. If there's any kind of rivalry, it's because the girls really don't like one another or want to take each other out.”
With nine minutes left in the bout, Edmonton is starting to realize they've been maimed. Our bets were on Oil City, based on appearances alone, but this is roller derby and it's starting to become clear anything can happen.
One of Edmonton's coaches, a serious and deliberate woman by the name of Major Agony, is getting fed up with the bout and feeling it. Her team's down by 100 or so points and things are getting frustrating.
“You don't want to know what I'm thinking,” she says. “I'm not happy.”
“Well, Major,” I offer, “what went wrong?”
The refs, she replies. There were changes to the rules just before the game that the Edmonton girls weren't ready for.
“It's messing our team up pretty bad,” the Major tells me.
The other Oil City coach has had enough and with just under one minute to go, he's hand-picked his strongest girls to end this game the way they do a hockey blowout.
“Let's fuckin' hit,” he tells them.
Queen Chaos – her figure skating name was Princess Pain – is taking the loss hard.
“It's been bullshit ever since the beginning of the day,” she yells coming off the track in true tough-girl fashion. “We're getting called on bullshit penalties!”
Queen Chaos' voice is hoarse from screaming at everyone for a good two hours. She's still wired and her voice is reminiscent of the old female wrestling managers, or that woman in a small town bar who's just caught up to her husband. Her face is hard and puckered in a scowl, her vocal chords popping through the skin of her neck as she explains the shortcomings of tonight's effort.
“We need our fuckinggg jammers and those fuckinggg refs know that so they keep callin' bullshit penalties! They're lettin' Calgary get away with fuckinggg every little fuckinggg thinggg!”
I doubt the league has a drug policy in place at this early stage in its existence. But Queenie's on a roll and the whole rant reverberates through her jaunty body.
“Our blockers learned a valuable lesson on this game, big time,” she says, calming down slightly.
“Hopefully, our fuckinggg coaches learned a lesson!” she yells past me towards the male coach. “I knew! When I heard who our refs were gonna be, I knew it was gonna be dirty!”
Guys like Killhouse van Boutin and Cray del Robber. Cray had been hanging out earlier in the day and said he just wanted to be involved with this new sport any way he could. His testicles prevented him from participating as a roller girl, but this new sport is fun and he knew he had to get involved somehow. He's seen that intensity a few times during his year of reffing the league.
“I wish I was a derby girl,” he confessed earlier.
Which doesn't matter because, as Queen Chaos would agree, he doesn't have the balls for it anyway....
The Edmonton girls were upset about the humiliating loss, but looking forward to their bout in Victoria this week. Other girls from the team will be traveling to London, England later this year to take part in an international roller derby event.
After the Wild Rose Challenge, girls from both teams were hugging each other, celebrating the sport.
“We all want to win and we'll kick the shit out of each other, but at the end of it, we realize that we're all trying to build something together as well,” LuLu Cthulhu says. (Her name, Cthulhu, is taken from a 1920s H.P. Lovecraft horror story.)
What's good for the game is the main thing, both sides agree.
“We all come together and this is something that we build together as a group,” LuLu continues. “There's something really awesome about a group of really strong, independent-minded women working together. It can almost be like a magical thing. I know it's a corny thing to say....
“The juxtaposition of ultra-femme aesthetic, with super aggressive physical strength and sport. Those two things don't often get put together and there's something really fascinating about seeing them exist in one cultural object.”
Maiden Alberta, an Oil City Derby Girl agrees.
“Sweaty girls in fishnet stockings and short skirts, how can you go wrong?”