Is there anyone left who hasn’t heard of roller derby? If they are out there, fearsome New Yorker Fisti Cuffs hasn’t met them. Probably just as well – for them.
The Gotham Girls Roller Derby skater is in Melbourne with Gori Spelling of the LA Derby Dolls. They’re previewing Roller Derby Xtreme: a spectacular banked track (velodrome) version of the popular women’s sport.
“The past two weeks I’ve been in five countries because of roller derby,” says Fisti. And she’s made a discovery: “Everywhere you go, most people do seem to know what roller derby is – it’s very exciting!”
But maybe not so surprising – the 1930s exhibition sport has seen a decade-long revival, led by determined ladies with a thirst for full contact. While the sight of feisty females in fishnets undeniably helps sell the spectacle, Fisti says it’s the high energy and big hits that get fans hooked.
“Initially, everyone thinks of old-school derby – so first you have to explain it’s not scripted or choreographed, there’s actually a lot of athleticism,” she says. “I haven’t worn fishnets in like, six years!” (Image doesn’t take a back seat, though – lining up for photos in Fitzroy alley, Fisti suddenly halts. “Actually, can I swap sides? This ink is new – I want to show it off!”)
In this born-again amateur sport, veterans are anyone who can count their competing years on more than one wrist-guarded hand. Yet Gori and Fisti struggle to remember a time before they started skating.
“Life was boring before derby!” says Gori, who’s even met her 90210 namesake since starting her skating career in 2006. Fisti laughs – “I remember my childhood, I guess.”
Hundreds of Melbourne derby girls have also got the bug – since 2007, they’ve been flocking to compete in flat track derby. The Americans merrily warn that witnessing banked track will only step up the obsession.
“It’s such a faster game, skaters can get up to 25 or 30 miles an hour with a whip,” says Gori, describing a skater being accelerated by a teammate’s assist. “The track’s at 35 degree angle, there’s a four-and-a-half foot drop – it just feels like a battle ground!”
Going into the battle, the LA Derby Dolls play the Gotham City Roller Derby girls, in six big nights around Australia. “This sort of playoff series is completely unprecedented,” says Fisti gleefully.
Don't forget to support your local teams as well. The grand final of the Victorian Roller Derby League is held on November 24.