We went to our very first flat track bout and although it was super different than what we were used to it was still pretty awesome.
In Austin we were fans of the Texas Roller Derby (TXRD) Lonestar Rollergirls. Their bouts were on a banked-track and many would say they brought derby back after starting up in 2001 and being featured on an A&E docu-series in 2006. The league embodies Austin’s motto “Keep Austin Weird” with their toughness, their rock-bands at 1/2 time, their crazy costumes and small business/entrepreneur attitude. They’ve had 10 years to perfect their model and one thing’s for sure they don’t play by anyone else’s rules. The Gotham Girls Roller Derby (GGRD), our new home league, on the other hand plays on a flat track! They too have a very unique spirit and shortly after founding their league in 2003, were also founding members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in 2004 which now consists of over 100 leagues worldwide. We went to their season opener on Saturday at the CCNY campus on 137th street. We splurged for the “VIP” tickets which means we got reserved front row seating, a gift bag, and no wait in line. Nice.
With the banked track there are railings between you and the players – sometimes they fly over or through the railings and often they force each other into the railings but in general it keeps you apart. Flat track was different, there was literally a strip of bright pink tape keeping the players from charging into us. This was a little alarming especially after a pregnant woman sat next to me on the bleachers. I was constantly worried for her!
The bout was great but very different. TXRD has a lot of silly antics which keeps the crowd’s attention like a penalty wheel which is spun by a player after they receive certain types of penalties. Sometimes this just gets ridiculous. Like a pillow fight. No one really wins and it doesn’t actually progress the game in any way but the crowd goes wild for it. GGRD seemed to be perched precariously on this odd middle ground between professional sport, silly antics and high school sport. They had “Jeerleaders” which featured the “Waste of Human Flesh” – a man dressed in full S&M gear lead around on a leash – totally out of place under the bright lights of the CCNY gymnasium! The gym is really a gym complete with CCNY students selling hot dogs and candy bars and the GGRD banners are taped to the wall with the same bright pink tape they use to mark the track. The women are athletes first a foremost. They play hard and they play to win, their outfits are more uniforms than the costumes the TXRD players hand-make and there are no pillow fights in sight. There are several referees on skates that speed along with the players keeping up with the fouls and there were no brawls on the track whatsoever. It wasn’t as “rock ‘n roll” as I expected but that wasn’t necessarily bad just different.
One major difference I noticed was the pace of the bout. Their jams are 2 minutes which means the pack can literally choose not to move at all until the whistle blows for the jammers to start which seems like it takes 30 seconds! In a 2 minute jam that’s a loooooong time with no action going on. When the jam did get going there were some very exciting moments but with no railing keeping them apart I felt like the players pulled their pushes and shoves when they were near the audience. There’s more intensity with the banked track somehow but I will definitely go out to some more GGRD – bouts the delivery is different but the spirit is the same. Women playing to win.
I should mention my borough team the Queens of Pain lost to the Bronx Gridlock 152-81. It was not pretty but it was fun. For a full game recap check out the GGRD website. I couldn’t even begin to try.