At the practice, we start off learning proper skating posture, how to stay low to the ground in a near-seated position to maintain balance (“Your back WILL hurt after this!”), and how to brake with a T-stop (Doing this won’t break our ankles, we’re assured). My bangs are quickly becoming drenched in sweat beneath the colorful loaner helmet I’m wearing. Unlike some of the other newbies, I’m struggling to maintain my composure and avoid looking like a wobbling, flailing amateur (which, of course, I am expertly doing).
Tiggz and Belle teach us to run in place and how to do plow stops, crossovers, and side-steps, among several other roller skating techniques. Small groups of us practice stopping from one end of the track’s width to the other; the move also unintentionally encourages a few of the less-experienced to practice falling (which we also learn to do properly). After my third or fourth fall, I lose count of how many times I manage to land on anything except my feet. I tell myself it is all part of the experience.
I’m there to get a glimpse of life in quad skates after I’d learned about the Valley’s brand-new roller derby team. After seeing an L.A. Derby Dolls game for the first time earlier this year, I always wondered what it might be like to be “one” with the wheels.
Rather than attending an SFVRD game as a spectator, I thought I’d to take it one step further and subject myself to the “fresh meat” process, despite the fact that I’m not a roller derby “type.” As the shortest girl in class with no natural athleticism whatsoever, I always earned the No. 1 spot — but as the last-picked member of any school sporting activity. If anything, I’m not even the type to casually stroll onto the sidelines of a football field.
Truth be told, however, there is no specific roller derby girl “type.” Players have often been stereotyped as tattooed tough chicks who’ve perfected Sid Vicious’ upper-lip curl while donning fishnets, spandex or knee-high socks (case in point: the 2009 roller derby film, Whip It, starring Ellen Page). But what players do have in common is the willingness to train hard and play hard — a requirement for any athlete in a contact sport. And on Monday night, everyone on the track—whether they’re new or seasoned skaters, inked arms or not—is putting 110 percent into every rolling stride.
As practice continues, I’m having trouble side-stepping without rolling forward. I watch the feet of the other recruits, who make the move seem so much more effortless. Belle notices me struggling to stay straight, so she shows me how to angle my foot with my heel outward to keep myself moving laterally. When we practice crossovers—moving the right foot over the left to gain momentum within a skating circle—she coaches me again and gives me basic pointers. Try turning your knees inward like this, she says as she demonstrates. I mimic her movements, turning my knees in and shifting my weight toward the inner arches of my feet. I am by no means getting any special attention as a member of the media; the SFVRD coaches make sure everyone gets a bit of one-on-one time.
Practice ends shortly after 8:30 p.m. and I’m sufficiently exhausted. Killo, Tiggz, and the other league leaders pack up suitcases full of loaner protective gear, and new recruits hoping to continue their training sign up for the team’s mailing list. I quickly take off the rental skates off my feet and let my toes finally breathe some fresh air.
At the end, I'm actually impressed with myself for my first time on quad skates. Still, I feel I’m not even halfway near the beginner level, which makes me all the more eager to return to the roller rink and put to use everything I’ve learned. And thanks to my pre-practice mental prep and the patient training of the SFVRD coaches, I leave Skateland feeling pretty good, even with the anticipation of the next day’s aches and pains.
The San Fernando Valley Roller Derby league’s next home game at North Hollywood Park is Saturday, August 18 at 7 p.m. against the Port City Rollers from Stockton, Calif. Admission is $10 and free for children under 10.
If you are interested in joining the SFVRD, you can email Recruits@SFVRollerDerby.com for more information and to RSVP for an upcoming First Date.