OC Roller Girls in Orange County California

Locale Magazine Loves OC Roller Girls

on Feb 07 in Magazine, News, Web by

Do you Derby?

Erin Rose

 I found myself, once again, for this issue knee deep in something I know nothing about, fascinated, moved, and ready to share it with you. I am jotting most of this down in my fail safe spiral notebook between heats at a Roller Derby match. I cannot claim that I have found this gem of a sport buried in the far north side of Huntington Beach because it has been around for decades and this particular league has existed for over four years, but that’s how I feel sitting there while the girls fly past me. I have never witnessed anything quite like Roller Derby. A tip of the hat and a huge thanks goes out to The OC Roller Girls for inviting me into their world for this issue, I was instantly enamored. 

Before attending my first match I was invited to sit in on a practice and learn a thing or two about Derby. On a Tuesday night tucked away inconspicuously in a rented warehouse space of a roller hockey rink practices a fierce group of females who call themselves The OC Roller Girls.

I walk in cautiously not knowing at all what to expect and searching for a woman who goes by the name of Disco. Disco, Heather Irene Shelton, started this particular league four years ago on a late night with a dream and a craigslist add.

The league has since grown to include over 170 members that range in age from ten years old to 57 and has over eight teams. Disco is warm and inviting, she takes me in and makes me feel like I have always belonged here. I imagine other girls having this same exact feeling when they first found their way into this warehouse. I take my respective seat on the sidelines with my notebook. Disco and I spend the evening talking and laughing while she tells me the tale of Roller Derby, as it happened here in Orange County. 

We begin with the logistics of Derby, because my knowledge doesn’t go beyond some badass girls on skates. I learn quickly that this sport requires just as much strategy as it does physical training, which is something I would have never thought. The game is played in two minute heats, with two thirty minutes halves. In each heat there are four blockers from each team, and one jammer. On the first whistle the blockers take off on the circular track and on the second whistle the jammers go.

The objective is for the jammer to break through the line of blockers from the other team, and the blockers are supposed to do exactly what it sounds like; block them. Point are scored by breaking through, coming back around, and breaking through again. What I at first saw as a bunch of chaos, after this explanation became perfectly clear. At my first match I knew just well as anyone in the crowd what was going on out there. 

In my mind I am the least qualified person for a sport of this nature, because I posses the balance of an infant. Disco assures me though that, “really anyone can join,  its not just the cool girls, and its not just the fast girls, or the athletic girls. The fields are leveled and there is a place for everybody here.” I wondered if I could love this sport anymore than I already did. So I ask the magic question, “what would it take to turn me into a Roller Girl?” As she explains the process to me I am seized with excitement already imagining what my Derby name would be, Erin the Eliminator or Erinstotle. Disco reels me back to reality.

The first step is to send an email to freshmeat@ocrollergirls.com and you will receive an invite to an orientation, and they can have you on skates the very same day.

Fresh meat is where you skate before being drafted to a team. It is here the girls learn the rules, how to skate (and fall), strategize, communicate, and work together. Once the coaches see you are capable of not injuring yourself or anyone else you are chosen to play on a home team. The home teams are made up of new girls and veterans who keep the game running smoothly and the girls in check. There are training classes held almost everyday of the week.

On top of training girls to compete in Derby, and for the those of us that are more susceptible to injury, they also hold non impact fitness classes so everyone can get their skate on.

After getting what I feel is a pretty good handle on the sport during practice, I am dying to see these girls in action, and I vow to attend their next home game. 

Two weeks pass before I have the opportunity to attend a game. My girlfriends and I make a Saturday night out of it, we get decked out and go to the Derby. I am surprised, once again, by these amazing women as I arrive.

The event is a spectacle. Hundreds of people pour into the arena, friends, family, fans all sporting big smiles. The area has been transformed with lights and signs, the walkway is lined with vendors selling everything from hair accessories to chiropractic care. There are monsters from Knott’s Scary Farm, which I find terrifying, and girls from the league are selling beer to raise money for their chosen charity of the month. Disco had explained to me that the nature of their league is like one big machine with a million little parts all functioning together to make this happen.

Everyone in the league has their own responsibilities, no one get paid, and out of love and dedication this thing works. I did not really grasp the magnitude of what they are doing until I attended the game. “They come together as a team to make this happen… our success is completely dependent on the passion these girls have for skating,” said Disco. 

I am so impressed by the dedication everyone in the league has. It is a true labor of love. Not only do they keep their fierce ship afloat, but while doing this they raise money every month for a charity. In the past year they have raised over 20,000 dollars for Breast Cancer Angels. I can’t think of a better reason to have a drink, so my girlfriends and I did our part by buying a few beers for charity, and then found ourselves some prime seats for the main event.

The girls I had seen in practice were decked out in their skating uniforms, fishnets, face paint, tutus, and everything else they could think of. They looked fabulous. I was enamored with the theatricality of the sport, and I think it brings another dimension that you will not see anywhere else. 

The league has branded itself as family oriented fun, making sure there is no vulgarity over the loud speakers and everyone from grandma to the kids can have a good time. Their main message is empowerment, and they truly believe in the positive change one can witness by being part of such an amazing movement. While I sit and cheer the girls on, and they fly past my on the track everything about the sport becomes so clear to me. Derby provides a safe haven for these women to properly express themselves both creatively and physically. The sense of camaraderie that radiates from the team benches is something I haven’t seen in my adult life. Everyone has a derby name that they go by and a persona they create around it, like Chick Norris, Wild Bella, Skatie GaGa, Kill Zwitch, and so many more creative ones.

They can be whomever they want, and it is a chance to reclaim a part of themselves they may have lost sight of. “There is always an area of your life… you become something else and take on the title of your other life but when you’re here you have the opportunity to recreate yourself, you can be whoever you want to be,” said Disco. The culture surrounding Derby is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the sport, and I think everyone involved feels truly blessed to be a part of it. 

 If you are in anyway interested or intrigued by what these women are bringing to the table, I cannot encourage you enough to check it out. You can attend the next game, sign up for a class, buy yourself a pair of skates and see yourself on that track. With an everyone is welcome policy, the only thing you must have is personal health insurance. There are women involved of every shape, size, color, and profession. You can visit their website at OCRollergirls.com for scheduling information or send an email to freshmeat@ocrollergirls.com to receive an invitation to orientation.

These women are working hard to keep the dream alive and they need all the support we can give. Stop by their store they recently opened, OC Roller Skates at 17208 Beach Blvd, Huntington Beach, CA 92647 to check out everything from skates and helmets to outfits and advice. And then ask yourself, “Do you Derby?”

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