The Campbell River Rink Minx roller derby team held its first local bout in three years on Saturday, which also happened to be their last match of the season.
Rod Brind’Amour Arena was buzzing for the event, which, for anyone who has never been, is unlike any other.
The sport is played on an oval track taped onto the cement of the rink, with inside and outside boundaries the players must stay within. One player from each team is designated as the jammer for each round, and the other four players per team are their blockers. The goal of the jammer is to get past as many opposing blockers as possible – for each one they pass their team gets a point – and the goal of the blockers is to both keep the opposing jammer from passing while also helping their own jammer get through the crowd of players to score points.
While it’s definitely a contact sport, and the ladies are being aggressively competitive on the track, it’s also a lot of fun, according to Rink Minx spokesperson Lindsey Ryzak, who goes by Lita Riot out on the track – part of the fun is that they players get to come up with their own names.
“It can be pretty serious, but we all know each other really well from playing each other all the time, too, so while it can get pretty intense, we’re not out there trying to take things out on each other and we’re having a ton of fun together while we’re at it.”
While the final score of Saturday’s bout was heavily lopsided in favour of the visitors, that wasn’t really the point of the event. After all, they’re not in a league fighting for standings or playoff position, after all. They’re just having some competitive fun.
So, where’ve they been? The last home game the team held was three years ago.
“We’ve just been kind of laying low the past couple of years,” Ryzak says. “Our numbers just weren’t high enough. Technically you need 15 to have a full roster, but we played with 11 on Saturday. It’s been a bit of a struggle.”
Unfortunately, recruitment has been kind of a Catch-22, ‘vicious-circle’ kind of situation for the team. If they don’t play because there aren’t enough players, it’s hard to keep the sport in front of people and generate more interest, recruit players and fundraise, but if they don’t have enough players, they can’t put on games. And in a smaller community like Campbell River, it’s harder than in larger centres, because there’s only one facility that’s big enough to host games, and most of the year that surface is covered in ice. They can practice at the Community Centre, but it’s not big enough to host games. And when the ice comes out at Strathcona Gardens, they need to work around lacrosse schedules and other events.
Then there’s the turnover.
“It’s not that often that people leave the sport, but sometimes you’ll get a few leave at once, just because life happens,” Ryzak says. “I mean, we lost two players at the end of last game because they’re moving, so it does happen. When you’re a small team, that makes a big difference.”
But she wants everyone to know that they are always interested in talking to prospective players and helping build the game.
“This summer we tried out a ‘Learn to Skate’ program at the Lacrosse Box, which wasn’t necessarily for derby, but just to teach people to roller skate,” Ryzak says. “And we’re not sure what exactly we’re going to be doing this fall, but we’ll be starting something in September/October that will be more of an introduction to derby. We’ll hold an information session and then people can come and try out or start the training and testing.”
While the training and testing to become a roller derby player isn’t extremely difficult or intensive, it’s very important, Ryzak says. And it’s a different process for everyone.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) has a set of minimum skills that are required for any player to meet before they can play, and for some, that whole process starts right at the beginning with learning to skate.
“Because we’re on skates playing a full-contact sport, it’s important that the girls all have the fundamentals down, for safety’s sake,” Ryzak says. “It’s just basic things like stopping, being able to take a hit, deliver a hit, do basic crossovers, falling without getting hurt, being able to do a certain number of laps in five minutes, that kind of thing. Some girls go through it very quickly, because maybe they already have some roller skating experience, but for some people it can take a year or more.”
But Ryzak says the training and testing is more than worth the effort, even for those who take a while to get through it.
“It’s really, really fun to play. Even though you’re out there trying to win, and you’re hitting people as hard as you can – which in itself is a lot of fun,” she says, laughing, “it’s also just really fun to be out there, and it’s really good for your self-esteem, too. When you’re out there, you feel really strong and awesome. It’s a great feeling.”
Anyone who thinks they might be interested is encouraged to contact the team through their Facebook page (@rinkminx) or by email at email@example.com
“I think it’s important for people to know that you don’t need any experience. We will teach you everything you need to know, right from the first time you tie up a pair of skates,” Ryzak says. “We rent out gear for the first bit, as well, so you don’t need to buy stuff right away while you see if you like it.”