Hot wheels

The NorCal Rollergirls ride the sport’s wave of popularity

SKATE OR DIE <br>Rollergirl hopefuls await instructions at a recent team tryout held at CalSkate in Chico.

Rollergirl hopefuls await instructions at a recent team tryout held at CalSkate in Chico.

I hadn’t skated since I was about 12, and I was a little reluctant to join the NorCal Rollergirls on the rink during the final day of tryouts. But despite their gritty attitudes, the women were friendly and willing to help out the reporter who could barely stay on her feet.

From the skimpy outfits to their skills (or, in some cases, lack thereof) on the rink, the women of the NorCal Roller Girls are already creating a buzz in Chico. I was expecting to see plain old gym clothes—it was a tryout after all. Instead, these girls looked ready for a punk show—fishnets, mini skirts, bandanas—one girl even wore a T-shirt with the word “Sinful.” These bad girls definitely put a sexy and wild twist into their skating ensembles. As for me, I left the fishnets at home and hoped soccer socks would be a suitable alternative.

Once I got on the rink, I learned that roller derby etiquette wasn’t the least bit formal. For me, being polite has always been my style but once I got on that rink, manners didn’t matter. You can yell, swear, push and even play a little dirty. And when Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was playing in the background, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate song.

The girls performed several drills during the tryouts, one of them called the “Indian Run,” in which each of them lined up and skated behind one another around the rink. The girl in the back of the line would skate as fast as she could to get to the front of the line.

Although the girls were all trying out for the team, they acted like they were already a team. And when someone would fall down, they’d cheer, but the competitive tension was still present despite the encouragement the girls gave each other.

Getting through the drills was tough and falling down still managed to haunt me throughout the tryout. But apparently you’re still cool even if you fall down, which made me the coolest one out there. Most of the girls would just laugh if they fell. Not me. When I fell, I looked around to make sure no one had witnessed my clumsiness on the rink. I got knocked over one time and actually skidded across the floor on my knees and stomach. As I picked myself up, my knee started to bruise, but I think my confidence was bruised a little more.

Even with a stumble here and there, I managed to wobble enough on my in-lines to keep up with the girls. And as I looked at the Mt. Shasta mural in the rink I thought maybe at this point mountain climbing would have been an easier hobby.

Long before the debut of the new hit series Rollergirls, A&E’s latest reality show, the sport was made popular in Northern California in the ‘60s and ‘70s in cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay Bombers, as they were called, competed nationally and went as far as New York to compete in a jam. It only took a few decades, but the roller derby sensation finally made its way up to Chico.

Not only does the sport involve a lot of racing, but there is also a lot of shoving, blocking and good old-fashioned team work. The object of the game is for the jammer to race ahead of the pack of other players and continue to pass them to score points.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. After each bout, the girls head out for the after party to celebrate their victory over beers.

So what else makes the sport so appealing? Amiee Ghio, also known to her fellow skaters as “Pain Cake” tried out because she was inspired by the television show.

“I thought it was something I could do,” she said. “It’s a great way to get your aggression out.”

Adding to the adventure is the fact that there is a mix of girls who have never skated before and girls who know what they’re doing.

“We have three figure skaters doing this as well,” said Laurel Singletary, aka “Racie Gracie.”

Singletary, one of the founders and secretary of the NorCal Roller Girl League, wanted to put a team together in Chico since the sport’s recent rise in popularity. There are few competitive sports available for those who have graduated high school or college, but the NorCal Roller Girls accepts just about anyone.

Amy Parks, also known as “Motown,” said it isn’t necessary to be in high school or college to do an intense, competitive sport.

“When you’re in your 30s, [roller derby] makes you more competitive.”

The doormen had to turn people away as some 900 people filled Cal Skate for the first bout between Chico’s Travelin’ Hustlers and Sacramento’s Sac City Rollers.

The place looked more like a rock festival than a sporting event, replete with beer garden and live music from local slop-punks Socially Pink (Cammie nominee!). The teams didn’t disappoint—the players took spills, shoved and interacted with the members of the crowd, who already appeared star-struck by the women.

And it was a good night for Chico as the Hustlers took it to the Sac City Rollers by a score of 122-74.

After the bout, spectators were getting their photos taken with the girls and even asking for autographs. The autographs. The women seemed to enjoy their newfound celebrity status. And it would be a safe guess that a few of the fans followed them to the bar for the after party.