It’s dusk at Cal Skate in Grand Terrace, and scores of families are loudly swarming out of the arena and into their awaiting Tahoes and Suburbans. In the main lobby, dozens of women of all shapes and sizes wait patiently for their turn on the rink, talking amongst themselves and tightening their helmets and elbow pads. A few minutes later, the main floor of the roller rink that once held awkward teenage couples and children struggling along the side wall transforms into a furious flurry of skates, pads and helmets. Women in eye-popping uniforms crash into each other with calculated precision, and the rink is riddled with skidding skates and stinging sweat.
And this is just practice.
This is just a snippet of the Inland Empire Derby Divas, an IE-based roller derby club that has been around since 2006. For years, women from many different backgrounds – hockey players, moms, students and teachers – have joined the Divas’ ranks to kick some serious derby ass. One of the Divas, who goes by Teeny Meanie, has been part of the group for over a year and grew up playing hockey.
The rules of roller derby are simple. According to the Derby Divas website, there are two teams, with each team made up of one pivot, three blockers, and one jammer. The pivot runs at the head of the pack and controls the speed of the group while acting as a defender, the jammer is the only skater who can score a point, while the blockers protect their jammer while simultaneously trying to take out the opposing team’s jammer. Jammers can only score a point after lapping the pack, and one point is earned per lap. Each bout is 60 minutes long, with three periods of 20 minutes or two periods of 30 minutes. Periods are made up of jams, which can last for up to two minutes each. After each jam, the players have a short 30 seconds to line up for the next jam, or else she won’t be able to participate.
Contrary to popular belief, the use of hands and/or elbows in a roller derby match are strictly forbidden, as are tripping, kicking, punching, or pushing/shoving. Most of the moves are made via bumping. Despite these relatively strict rules regarding contact, the Roller Derby life is a tough one, and broken bones are a common and very real part of the game.
“One of our girls, who was in her last game, broker her leg three minutes [into a match],” said Morrigan McTerror.
The divas themselves are the most exciting and colorful part of the IEDD. The group was founded in 2006 by Pretty Mess, and CheckHer WreckHer is the current head of the group. Over the years, the group has grown from just a small handful of skaters to a full-fledged Diva army of over 50 members. Skaters such as Morrigan McTerror, Teeny Meanie, R2-Beat-You, Jailhouse Jessie, Registered Curse, and Bambi Beat Down have been members of the elite roller squad for years.
An interesting aspect of derby culture is the sense of family that is developed between different skaters. A derby girl can take a ‘derby wife’, a term of endearment that signifies the platonic bond between two skaters. A derby girl can propose to a fellow skater at any time, but they can only be married during Rollercon, an annual worldwide “meeting of the wheels” that takes place in Las Vegas where scores of derby girls and their fans convene to compete, learn, and meet up. There, hundreds of derby marriages are officiated.
“Your derby wife is like your derby best friend,” said R2-Beat-You while proudly wearing a shirt with ‘Mrs. Jailhouse Jessie’ emblazoned on the back. “She’s the girl who’s always there for you.”
The bond that the skaters share with each other is easily the defining part of the derby culture and what makes it so empowering. Here, women are free to show their wild side and get in touch with a part of themselves that is seldom unleashed.
When asked about her favorite part of being in a roller derby, one skater, who was sidelined due to an injury and was acting as a referee, paused for a moment as she watched her fellow skaters swarm around the rink in complex patterns. After a few quick moments, she finally had her answer.
“The sisterhood,” she said.
The Divas will be playing an upcoming bout against the San Fernando Valley Like OMGs at Cal Skate on September 8. For more information and a schedule of upcoming bouts, you can visit the Inland Empire Derby Divas website at iederbydivas.com