Since spring appears to have very well and sprung, Rick and I decided that we would try to knock off another of my 35 Before 35 over the weekend. As fate would have it, there was actually a roller derby tournament going on all weekend, so I got us a couple of one day passes. Being a weekend, we didn’t actually make our way down to the arena until closer to 5 PM, after picking up a new USB key and chowing on ridiculous food at ART:BRGR, but there was still lots of derby action going on by the time we finally got to Arena St-Louis, home of Montreal Roller Derby.
We got there just before the first elimination match of the double knock-out tournament and I did my best to explain what rules I remembered from my Sound on Sight sponsored viewing of the Drew Barrymore roller derby film, Whip It. However, as soon as the first jam started, it soon became clear that we were going to need a better idea of what was happening in order to appreciate what was happening. Rick quickly got on Wikipedia and gave us a crash course.
Each match has two periods of thirty minutes, with five skaters from each team on the track at a time. Each team has one skater with a star on their helmet called a “jammer.” They are the ones that can score points. The other four are blockers, with one blocker with a stripe on their helmet who is also the “pivot.” This means that they can also become a jammer when the conditions call for it.
At the start of a match, both teams sort of glom together in a pack, each jammer trying their best to get ahead of the pack. The first jammer to emerge from the pack becomes the “lead jammer,” a.k.a. the one who can score points, and initiates the “jam” or points scoring round. The lead jammer then goes around the track and attempts to pass as many of the opposing teams skaters as they can without being knocked off the track. For each skater they pass, the jammer earns one point to a maximum of 5 per pass. A jam ends when the lead jammer touches their hips, meaning the points are tallied and it starts all over again.
While it all sounds simple enough, Rick and I noticed that there was a fair amount of strategy involved in when to stop a jam, meaning a jammer has to be smart, fast and agile. It wasn’t long before we were picking teams and cheering them on, all while chugging the requisite PBR. Matches at the tournament were only 1 period, but considering the tournament went from 8 AM to 9PM, I’m guessing it was to keep everything moving as quickly as possible without completely exhausting anyone.
The atmosphere of the tournament was somewhere between a pep-ralley, an all ages punk show and your typical amateur sporting tournament. In fact, watching the various team members milling around outside the arena started bring back memories of my days skating in Synchro tournaments (although, in my day they called it Precision). It’s funny to think that I was ever actually “athletic” as I’ve always identified more as an artsy than a jock, but back in high school I was skating a minimum of four or five times a week. Which of course led me and Rick to hypothesize on what I would be like as a derby skater.
We decided that because of my size and speed I would probably make a good jammer, but the real challenge was finding a good derby name. In keeping with the punk-rock roots of this current incarnation of roller derby, all derby teams and members have violent punk names or nicknames, with puns being a big part of the aesthetic. We opted for either an obscene Quebec-Asian pun: Saoul-Chie or an homage to my classic Horror love: Eliza Langslasher or Beat-her Cushing. We’ll see if I ever work up the nerve (not to mention the free time) to take on roller derby, but until then Rick and I will definitely try to hit another match as soon as we can.