Thursday, April 14, 2011

Waterfowl and Roller Derby

When we teach girls how to do a two knee fall in roller derby we tell them it’s like doing a rock guitar knee slide: lean back, throw your hands in the air at first, and fall with all the weight on your knee pads. When I watch a group of girls do these slides, the sudden drop, the hard thwack, the raised arms, always remind me of a flock of surf scoters landing on water.

A surf scoter coming in from
The surf scoter is a common sea bird in Southeast Alaska. At first you think that there’s nothing graceful about the way a scoter hits the water: wings back, crashing at full force into the water, sending up a spray of white. But in the brut purposefulness of the landing, there’s something about it that is uniquely appealing, there’s no pretty finish to it, it is what it is.

I think about that a lot with derby. Derby done with skill is beautiful, but there is never the intent to be beautiful. If you focus on trying to skate gracefully, or are too conscious of how you might look, somebody’s going knock you on your ass. I’ve been helping with a beginner skating class, and over and over again when I’m trying to break down a skill or am speaking about skating form, the words I use are: efficient, power, stabile, strong, force.

Next month is the one year anniversary of the start of Juneau Rollergirls (if you count from the first day we actually skated). July 2nd, we’ll have our very first bout, a local event featuring all local skaters.

Gate City Roller Girl doing a two-knee slide from
 It’s been a pretty amazing development. There were six or seven of us at the first practice and only one person there had ever spent any significant amount of time on roller skates. The rest of us clung to the walls on shaky legs and tested out our new pads by trying the slides we had seen on YouTube tutorial videos. I had spent many of my pre-teen years obsessed with inline skating, which is pretty different from roller skating, but it meant that I was at least comfortable with the idea of having wheels on the bottom of my shoes.

Our first practices consisted of us skating around in circles, attempting to stop, and not really knowing how to start learning the game. Fast forward a year and our practices are highly structured, run by two dedicated coaches and a team of refs. We’re skating hard, working hard, and when I sit on the team bench during a scrimmage and watch the jam, I’m not watching a bunch of ladies trying to figure out what the heck is going on with their skates, I’m watching roller derby.

A couple of practices ago, as all of us were lined up doing wall sits* Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” came on the iPod and in the middle of our wall sits, practically every lady out of the twenty starting singing.

I’m so thankful to spend a couple of hours every week with a group of ladies who can sing through their pain and even in the midst of trying to knock each other down, give advice to their teammates on how to stay standing.

*A unique form of torture in which you press your back against a wall and drop into a squat so that your legs are at a 90 degree angle. Then you hold that position for a minute. We’re now up to doing four wall sits every practice.

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