/Texas Rollerderby

Texas Rollerderby

We’ve been in Austin, TX this past week for the South by Southwest conference, and we’ve had a great time meeting tons of fellow technomads.

We also wanted to get a sense of the local culture, but we weren’t sure where to start until the awesomely badass Erica (of OverYonderlust fame) came to our rescue on Twitter. She referees for the Austin Rollerderby, and managed to get our names on the guest list for this month’s bout.

It. was. incredible.

Rollerderby Bout in Austin, TX
Rollerderby Bout in Austin, TX

Rollerderby as a whole has a theatrically over-the-top, in-your-face vibe. This month’s bout was between the Hellcats and the Putas del Fuego (if you need a translation check out Urban Dictionary… spoiler: it’s not exactly family-friendly 😉 ).

The Hellcats were popular big shots, having won the local championship a few years running, and the underdog Putas arrived with a rabidly supportive fan base (despite having won only a single game in the past three seasons), so the entire arena was packed with screaming Texans.

The Hellcats Rollerderby Team
The Hellcats Rollerderby Team
The Putas del Fuego Rollerderby Team
The Putas del Fuego Rollerderby Team

It’s easy to forget in the heat of the match, but there ARE rules to this sport. A quick overview:

Each team has a jammer, a pivot, and three blockers skating in each bout (so with two teams competing, that’s ten people on the track). The basic premise of the game is to have your team’s jammer score points by lapping everyone else.

At the first whistle the blockers and pivots from both teams skate off in a pack, and a few seconds later the two jammers (easily identifiable by the stars on their helments) set out after them.

Rollerderby Blockers
The blockers (and two pivots) skate in a pack and try to prevent the opposing team's jammer from passing.

The blockers are, unsurprisingly, trying to block the other team’s jammer from making any headway while also helping their own pass through the pack as quickly as possible.

The pivots apparently have deeper strategic responsibilities (and perhaps ability to take over as jammer?), but as newbie fans we basically just considered them additional blockers.

Once a jammer makes it past the pack the first time, every additional opposing blocker or pivot she passes results in a point.

Rollerderby Jammers
The two jammers score points for their team by lapping the opposing team's players.

Rollerderby is, by definition, a contact sport; while blockers technically can’t use their hands, forearms, or heads to block, they can certainly make good use of their torsos to knock their opponents to the ground or slam them into (or, in one case, through) the railing.

When a player gets a minor penalty for ignoring some of these rules they have to arm wrestle, or pillow fight, or skate a no-holds-barred race, or engage in some other random-yet-entertaining activity.

A major penalty results in that player sitting out the next bout in the penalty box, much like in hockey. If a player gets three major penalties, however, they’re ejected from the game and will be escorted from the arena by security.

Rollerderby Arm Wrestling
Penalty arm-wrestling! The Hellcat won.

Or at least, that’s the theory.

FOUR PLAYERS were ejected from the game we were watching. FOUR.

Including both team captains… and they didn’t leave the arena! It was very difficult to tell what exactly was going on, what with all the yelling and chucking of helmets, but by the end of the match the four theoretically-ejected players were pacing outside the rink and ranting at their teammates still on the track while security guards laughed nervously and (perhaps wisely) kept their distance.

The announcers kept commenting on how surprising it was for the ejected players to still be in the arena, let alone coaching, but their words didn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever.

Rules? What rules?! This is derby.

P.S. The Putas won!