Mother City Mayhem

Roller derby in Cape Town

Raquel Welch flickers onto the projector screen, her red hair streaming behind her as she enters the roller derby rink. An army of quad skates charge. The Iron Meisies, the first and only team in the Cape Town Rollergirls roller derby league, watch transfixed.

Watch how the sport works here: 

It’s free-wheeling speed and free-falling mayhem; good-looking girls in saucy outfits bring the pain to their competitors. This sport is as physical as it gets, but while fishnet stockings may not be required, helmets, wrist guards and knee pads are—protection against the inevitable head butts, shoving, and face-planting.

Roller derby is played on a flat or a banked track, with two teams of 15 women. The ‘bouts’ (competitions) are comprised of an hour’s worth of roller skating around the rink and of two-minute ‘jams’: this is when a pack of ‘blockers’ try and prevent the opposing team’s ‘jammer’ from breaking through the pack and scoring points. The jammer scores by passing opposition team members—no easy feat considering how ready these girls are to rumble.

The American sport is enjoying a retro, all-female revival across the globe—including here in South Africa. Roller derby began in the 1930s and became most popular in the 70s, with televised ‘bouts’, just like the premise of The Kansas City Bomber. These days, the sport is once again gaining momentum, in Australia alone there are over 1000 leagues. Johannesburg was the first to start a league on home soil, now Cape Town has followed suit with the Cape Town Rollergirls. Still in the beginning stages - The Iron Meisies are the only team at the moment - the league is growing quickly and soon there’ll be enough athletes to populate more.

Like anything retro these days, the trend has boomeranged, and the culture surrounding the sport attracts alternative athletes. Think women dressed pin-up style on roller skates with plenty of tattoos and piercings. Style isn’t a pre-requisite to join though, but individuality is – and it’s tradition that all team members create an alter ego, for example the coach of the Cape Town league is known as The Hurricane, and the president as Faye Tality.

Hot wheels

One such personality is sitting across from me on the balcony of The Waiting Room. “We’re not tarts on wheels,” stresses Luisa Rodrigues aka HotRodrigues of the Iron Meisies. “Our mission is to be taken seriously as athletes; it’s not a fashion show or a party.” The first actual bout is as of yet unconfirmed, but:.  “Obviously we want to kick ass!”

These girls are tough cookies. “There’ve been a few injuries…but no hospitalisations,” Luisa says brightly.

Doll Vuis, the league secretary joins us; plaited pig-tails, red lips, and a cartoon top complete her look. Later I also meet the coach, The Hurricane. Hailing from the South in America, she has a commanding presence and a booming voice, and she’s very likeable; in fact, everyone I meet from the team is. Their excitement is obvious. They’re doing something new, something for themselves. I won’t bore you on how competitive sport is a male dominated arena – it’s the simple truth. The Cape Town Rollergirls heralds a chance to break societal norms: ‘a new platform for women to be recognised as strong, fierce and competitive in their own right’—and it’s an opportunity to get fit, while looking fit.

Anyone can join; just make sure you’re wearing your big girl panties. Open nights are released on the Cape Town Rollergirls Facebook page.

Oh, and no roller blades allowed.

By Malu Lambert

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