On a Roll
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
Women's roller derby is making inroads into the Hawai'i sports scene. With two teams on O'ahu (the Voluptuous Villains and Axles of Evil), one on Maui (Crazy 808s) and a brand new all-star team that plans to play in national bouts, the sport is quickly gaining popularity here.
Roller derby is a mix of athleticism and entertainment with an indie, DIY vibe that appeals to women who might otherwise avoid team sports for more solitary athletic pursuits.
Yes, there is some entertainment value for the roller derby spectator, but this is not a phony sport; it requires some serious athletic prowess. While it's nice to look good in the team uniform (which often becomes a costume for themed bouts), athleticism and a competitive spirit are important.
At last Saturday's bout at Barbers Point, behind the Hideaway Bar in a makeshift roller rink, the theme was cops and robbers, and many of the players rocked their costumes. We saw a mix of tattoos and tutus, rockabilly and burlesque, shredded fishnets and sequined hot pants.
We also saw a local attitude toward the sport: kindness and collaboration rather than cruelty and competitiveness. Sure, there was plenty of pushing, shoving and lots of 'ōkole landings, but the spirit of camaraderie was palpable.
NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
Many, if not most, of the women on the Hawai'i Pacific Roller Derby teams have no background in the sport. Some had never even skated before.
Mercy Shammah (whose roller derby name is Just Mercy) is a key organizer of Hawai'i Pacific Roller Derby. She played with the Dallas Derby Devils for three seasons before moving to Honolulu a year ago. She was a high school and college volleyball player, but said many of the women who join roller derby have no athletic background.
"You have to have a competitive heart, and we'll do the rest," said Shammah.
When faced with "fresh meat" (inexperienced players), Shammah encourages them to work on their cardio and strength to survive — and excel — in the high-energy, high-contact sport.
"The best type of training is just skating," Shammah said. However, they also train to prevent injuries by doing traditional strength, core and flexibility exercises. Cycling and swimming are ideal complements to roller derby.
Learning to fall without being injured is critical. Of course, their helmets, mouth and wrist guards, and elbow and knee pads help, but agility is even more valuable.
"Skating form is important because we receive some serious contact. You have to skate in a way that's good for giving and taking hits," Shammah explained.
Shammah said one of the positive aspects is a sense of empowerment. "Some wo-men are super-shy, but when they get out on the track they're amazing. They block and hit and just take off," she said. She described local skater Shaka Raka Han as "a little Asian girl who's quiet and shy — and you get her on the track and she's totally aggressive; she's not going to let anyone knock her down."
Lisa Hogue (who skates as Miso Rowdy) of Schofield Barracks is a stay-at-home mom who relishes roller derby. "It's fun to get out of the house and it's a great way to meet other girls. I feel like I'm in sixth grade again," Hogue said. The bouts are a family outing, as her husband is a referee and daughter Gabrielle, 10, is her No. 1 cheerleader. "It's so cool," said Gab-rielle. "She got into better shape with it. I asked Mom what were her two favorite things, and she said Disneyland and roller derby. She loves it!"
Gabrielle also enjoys helping her mother with costumes. For the cops and robbers bout, they cobbled together a Hamburglar outfit. Gabrielle looks forward to a day when women's junior roller derby is available here.
The bottom line, said Shammah, is that roller derby "is a great sisterhood."