Twice a week in a sports centre in New Addington, approximately 20 women (and a couple of men) don hot-pants, leggings, personalised team t-shirts, with names such as Carnal Sanders, Daft Ada, T-Vexed and VikiSpeedia, to participate in a sport so brutal and fast-paced it’s rare to leave without a bruise.
They travel from as far away as Walthamstow and Bermondsey. Off the track, they’re teachers, post-women, theatre ice cream sellers, bar managers and masseuses. Half of them are mothers. They are the Croydon Roller Derby team and they’re growing all the time.
Derby players rollerskate anticlockwise on a circuit track. Each bout sees two teams of five players going head-to-head. One of the five from each team is a jammer, who scores points by skating through the defensive wall of the other four opposing team members, scoring every time they pass a blocker from the opposition. So it is a game of attack (pushing through the pack to skate round the track and score points) and a game of defence (physically preventing the jammer from skating past you).
Heather Meek, a teacher who skates under the name of Sneaky Meeky, said: “Before we would have trained people up, but now, because it’s so popular, people are skating before they ask to join.”
The derby image is fun, with a lot of personalisation. A rite of passage is choosing a unique name that you use for derby. “Once you’ve earned your stripes you can have your t-shirt printed with your derby name.”
Heather concedes that it is time consuming: “It’s a lot of time out of your social life – pretty much half my week is taken up with derby stuff, but it’s a sociable thing. These are friends you can rely on, but if you’re going to get into derby you’ve got to be committed. You only get back what you put in.”
18-year-old Sian Moore (who skates as Angel DDelight), CRD’s youngest member, agrees: “This is my life. If I’m not training on Sundays or Tuesdays I’m watching it or buying stuff for it. It’s extremely sociable – everyone here is older than me but I don’t feel like it.”
During the training session, Sian had to stop skating when her foot got caught on a bench while she was moving at high speed. “You have bruises and marks, you fall down and you get hurt, but I wouldn’t count that as an injury. The first thing you learn is to be safe when you fall, and we have enough protective gear that it’s generally okay.”
One of the most exciting and refreshing things about roller derby as a sport is the diversity of body types. This isn’t a sport that requires you to be super fit, super slim, super young, or really anything other than a good skater.
Rebecca Hubert (or Smashasaurus Bex) says she is: “size 16 on the bottom and a 14 on top.
“I have never been a sporty person, ever, and this has been really good for me. I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my endurance from when I started six months ago. Everyone was really supportive, there’s nothing that would put you off coming in that respect.”
The commitment to derby is striking: one Croydon rollergirl has the CRD logo tattooed on her thigh, another has her shirt number permanently inked on her arm. There are even a few derby couples, undoubtedly owing to the amount of time they all spend together.
In the words of Sian: “You don’t just join the sport, you join the community.”
If you have vowed to get active in 2013 but your gym membership is languishing, untouched, then maybe think about roller derby.
If you want to start skating with Croydon Roller Derby, email firstname.lastname@example.org