At 6:12 p.m. one spring evening at Eagle Ridge Arena in Langford, giggles emanate from the change room. Over the next few minutes, the women of Victoria’s Eves of Destruction roller derby league emerge in battle gear — helmets, mouth guards and wrist, elbow and knee-pads — and make their way to the track. This may only be practice, but with the blow of the whistle, their stances tighten, their pupils dilate and those giggles turn into growls. This is not your grandma’s roller derby; these women know how to hit hard.
The modern roller derby rebirth happened in 2001. It was an all-female grassroots revival in Austin, Texas, and it spawned a global phenomenon characterized in movies like Hell on Wheels (2007) and Whip It (2009). From humble beginnings in Fernwood in 2006, Victoria’s derby league grew to produce two house teams by 2009, “The Belles Of The Brawl” and “The Margarita Villains,” and has gone on to stage events and practices at the Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt and at the Eagle Ridge Community Centre in Langford.
The staged animosity and fake hits of ’70s derby have been replaced by athleticism, sportsmanship and bravado. These days, derby is more sport than spectacle, and the actual competition is far from staged. But more than anything, today’s roller derby embodies a type of all-encompassing solidarity that few other sports have.
The culture is uniquely derby; a potpourri that mixes punk, camp and creative pseudonyms with down-and-dirty female empowerment and athletics.
“Derby isn’t just girls in fishnets,” says Ruby D. Vixen, a seven-year veteran of the league. She’s somewhat soft spoken and reserved, but there’s no denying the respect she commands. She reiterates the intrinsic derby notion that women should support one another. Women often take on the world, from raising a family to going through a divorce; going to school or working multiple jobs, explains Ruby.
“They don’t feel like they can have something for themselves,” she says.
Being on a derby team is like having a tribe. While the sport is highly competitive, it still manages to foster ties from team to team, across leagues and even worldwide. This sense of community is what has drawn women — ranging from 19 to more than 50 years of age — to derby and kept them coming back season after season. Although Eves of Destruction is the only league in Victoria, The Belles Of The Brawl and The Margarita Villains at times play against teams from other parts of Vancouver Island, the Mainland and Washington State. On these trips, players will often stay with their opponents, reinforcing the sense of community.
“It’s competitive during the match, but we have fun afterward,” says Ruby. “It doesn’t matter who wins. Our saying is ‘win the after-party.’ ”
The camaraderie is electric and the hits are hard, but whether it’s the outfits or alter egos, today’s roller derby leagues are some of the most inclusive and diverse groups around. You may see tattoos and piercings; teachers, moms or librarians. In a society that puts ever-increasing pressure on athletes and children to play harder and win bigger, derby is the epitome of diversity, acceptance and sportsmanship: a culture we should all strive for.