Have you seen the film Rollerball? The original, not the god-awful remake. Roller derby’s like that, just without the motorbikes, the ball and the custom track. If you’re of that age (I am) it also feels like you imagine Speedball 2 would be. Maybe it’s better described as team speed skating, except you score points by one of your team, the “jammer”, lapping the other players. The rest of the team tries to clear a path for your jammer while blocking the opposing jammer. Sort of rugby on wheels – without the ball.
It’s pretty important to know how to play your chosen sport. More so in roller derby where the stakes don’t mean just winning or losing – but the very real chance of doing yourself an injury! I’m not in the best shape ever but it’s a shape I’ve grown fond of – and I’d quite like for everything to stay attached. Turns out the members Nottingham Roller Derby have a similar attachment to their body parts, so they run a “Fresh Meat” course to teach would-be members how to skate safely too.
Lacking the basic equipment to become a roller girl, I signed up for the Brollers ‘Fresh Meat’ course. At 34 I’m not sure how fresh I am, I’ve certainly been left hanging for a while. On the plus side, with great age comes great wisdom; although not so great since the idea of getting on skates didn’t seem like a bad idea. We have the National Health Service, ‘it’ll be fine’.
So I emailed my request to join-up, explaining that I’d seen the movie ‘Whip It’ and owned a pair of roller blades – ahem (which despite never actually using I really had intended to). Worst case, I’d signed away 16 weeks of Mondays, it’s not like I was busy.
Getting your skates on!
It’s always a little daunting when starting something new and this was no exception. The first step ‘finding the sports hall’ wasn’t the easiest. It appeared I had chosen to live at the furthest point in Nottingham away from it. Everyone gets in 10 minutes earlier to get their kit on. Kit is provided by the Nottingham Roller Derby so you don’t need to go rushing out and buying everything before your first lesson. It’s not a small amount of kit either: I was issued with a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards (very important, I value my love life) and skates (red ones, yellow wheels). Then, we were issued with stickers to write our names on. Pretty handy when meeting fifteen new people, all of whom have half their heads covered by helmets. It’s also clean, at least when you get it. This won’t bother you on your first week but it’s important, trust me.
There’s a great variety of other students. There were a couple of little ones, a couple of tall ones and the remainder were pretty average. To get to know everyone we went round a circle, introduced ourselves and why we were there. It appears the number one reason that men start roller derby is because their girlfriends or wives play and at some point they’d like to spend some time together.
The skill level is a big mix as well, some of the guys had ice-skated before, many had roller skated at some point in the last ten years, and a couple of us had no idea what we were doing. Fortunately, we didn’t do anything too complicated. We skated round, tried plough stops (or plow stops if you’re reading this over the pond), and then tried pushing each other while plough stopping. The movement is a bit like bracing yourself to be pushed back in rugby or wrestling, with your feet at an angle while pushing them into the ground, so I’d hoped my experience would be useful here. On wheels, however, any previous experience means nothing as everything seems backwards, they’re a great equalizer!
We learnt some other bits and pieces too! Lemons are a way of moving by pushing both legs out and then bringing them back in, sort of the skating equivalent of breaststroke. It’s a fairly graceful movement but you’ll feel it the following morning and after a few weeks you’ll have thighs you could use to crack nuts!
Derby stance is another crucial skill you’re taught right at the beginning. This is how you’ll spend most the time skating round the track. You need to get as low as possible by bending your knees on skates. Like everything in roller derby it’s really easy to do for the first couple of minutes but over time it agonizingly gets harder and harder. I think the key to improving these is to do lots of squats. If you get bored of doing lots of squats you can break it up by doing one-legged squats.
We also learnt how to fall, preferably forwards where the pads are. I got plenty of practice there and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t hurt anywhere near as much as you’d imagine. Falling backwards on the other hand is not so good – but I didn’t cry (not on the outside at least). After spending the evening knocking ourselves about, the final advice from the trainers was to run ourselves a nice hot bath to relax in. Obviously in a room full of lads this was met with a little derision but I suspect more than a few of us may have had a soak on the QT.
All said and done the first sessions were great fun and I was looking forward to the next, and the next, and the next.
If you are interested in joining one of our intake courses then have a look on the join us section of our website for further details: https://nottsrollerderby.co.uk/join-us/