South African roller derby takes it to the next level
Clad in fishnets and face paint, oozing attitude and ready to rumble, the ladies skate on to the track ...
The atmosphere is electric as the two teams gather at the starting line, winning intent etched on every face. From the stands, hundreds of fans cheer them on, competing with blaring music as the race begins.
There are falls, scrapes, scuffles and bruises as the teams jostle for position on the flat oval track, but no one is deterred as they fight for first place. Except maybe those momentarily sent to the sin bin for getting a little too rough ...
Welcome to a typical weekend in the exciting world of South African all-female roller derby.
Watch the video below for more on how roller derby works:
It’s a discipline that commands attention, not only because of its physicality and the striking characters who take part, but because it is quickly gaining international traction as a serious sporting code.
So much so, in fact, that the International Olympic Committee announced in February 2012 that roller derby is one of eight sports being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.
And from its humble beginnings in South Africa roughly four years ago, with only a handful of participants competing in Johannesburg and Cape Town, all-female roller derby has quickly become a countrywide hit.
‘Being in the presence of such incredibly strong women is not only inspirational, but this space has become the place where I know I can be exactly who I am,’ says Claire Hayward, aka Miss C Malice, captain of Johannesburg-based derby outfit the Raging Warmones.
Claire joins a team of 18 top athletes from different roller derby leagues around South Africa who will proudly represent South Africa at the Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas, this December.
'Team ZA will be our first official introduction to the world, and we hope to make a mark. It has been an incredible chance to form bonds between the current leagues in South Africa, and has given us a common goal to work towards. I think it’s also inspirational to the newer skaters to see where hard work and perseverance takes you,' says Claire.
Excitement is rising as the ladies prepare to make their international debut, and training has intensified.
'Most of us do about seven or more hours of skating a week, as well as other training, including CrossFit. Every second Friday night we do video analysis and sports psychology. We spend a lot of our free time thinking, watching and talking about roller derby, so I feel that we will be well prepared by the time we get to Dallas in December.'
Teri Roberts, aka Gazelle, skates for Cape Town-based team the Storm Riders, and is relishing the chance to compete against some of her international heroes as part of Team ZA.
'I’m so excited. I have so many derby idols – some from the London Rollergirls and others from American leagues like Gotham, and I’ve always dreamed of the opportunity to skate against them.'
Like Claire, Teri agrees that forming a national squad has brought the different leagues around South Africa closer together.
'It was awesome skating with girls from different provinces during tryouts, who all share the same enthusiasm. I think we will get loads more fans and new skaters after the World Cup. It’s also great to have this exposure, as we would all like to see roller derby become as popular as cricket or rugby.'
Until then, it’s business as usual. Friday Night Roller Derby is a regular attraction at the Modderfontein arena in Johannesburg. These weekend matches are always open to the public, and never cease to entertain.
'There’s such a great vibe at these events; the girls really put in a lot of effort,' says spectator Greg Licence.
The next Joburg game will take place on 16 August in Modderfontein, where the Savage Sailor Dolls take on the Raging Warmones.
Team ZA will be our first official introduction to the world, and we hope to make a mark. It has been an incredible chance to form bonds between the current leagues in South Africa.
Team ZA is:
Michelle Dosson, aka Booty Queen
Philippa van Welie, aka Pippa
Rozanne du Preez, aka Betty Bone Crusher
Teri Roberts, aka Gazelle
Aimee Plank, aka The Iron Tyrant
Samantha Scholtz, aka Slam-U-Well Jackson
Jeanette Venske, aka Sugarfists
Emilia Domagala, aka Bug Off
Claire Hayward, aka Miss C Malice
Candice van Niekerk, aka Ling Vom Bot
Szerdi Nagy, aka Julia Seize-Her
Laurie Bauer, aka Sookie Smackhouse
Kelly Wooldridge, aka Electri-Kell
Lauren Barkume, aka Pit Bullet
Zani Fourie, aka Red Mist
Jolize Jacobs, aka GI JoJo
Christl Bouwer, aka Ming Die-Nasty
Ashleigh Pienaar, aka Ashtrix
Nicholas Chalmers, aka Coach Nic
Roller derby: a brief history
Roller derby began in America during the 1930s and waned over the decades before enjoying a global revival in 2009, thanks in large part to the film Whip It. This revival brought with it a grungy, alternative spin to the sport, where skimpy outfits, tattoos, polka dots, and an extra dose of attitude became commonplace.
The sport was officially introduced to South Africa through the efforts of Melinda Lotz, aka Miss Chief, and Candice van Niekerk, aka Ling Vom Bot, who founded the C-Max roller derby league in greater Johannesburg. Leagues have since been formed in Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Grahamstown.
According to Claire, big things are on the horizon.
‘We see a lot of growth in the future, and we hope to see leagues popping up in every city. We predict a lot of international travel for local teams, as well as hosting international coaches and teams in South Africa. Junior roller derby for kids is also in the pipeline, which is very exciting!’
All the best to Team ZA; South Africa is behind you.