Roll on: Tahoe Derby Dames bring fast, fun sport of roller derby to South Shore
On old-school quad skates, Slayer rolls through a pack of teammates led by Scarlet Fire, Rodeo, Zippity and Vette the Threat. She eventually reaches the front of the pack to earn points for the Tahoe Derby Dames.
For the Derby Dames, the names are lighthearted, but the competition is serious. South Lake Tahoe’s all-female amateur roller derby squad is in its ninth season skating at the South Shore, and makes its 2016 home debut Saturday, June 18.
“It’s super fun, it’s exciting and it’s fast,” said Jessika Roberts, who skates with the name Scarlet Fire. “Girls are falling and getting up, scoring and jumping.”
The Derby Dames play their home matches — called “bouts” — at Bijou Community Park. Tahoe faces Woodland Area Roller Derby from Woodland, California, on June 18 in the first of three summer home bouts and has matches scheduled for July 16 and Aug. 20.
“Things are going really, really well,” Roberts, a stay-at-home mom, said about the season. “We have a lot of new girls, a lot of new energy and it’s really cool to see everyone progressing. We have a great group of girls and a great team this year.”
While most thoughts of roller derby conjure the theatrical version made popular in the 1970s and 1980s, the Derby Dames play a more strategy-based edition. But while penalties are dished out for overly physical play, there is still contact in the game — legal checks can be made with hips, shoulders and rears.
“Back in the day, it was a lot more about the silly names and outfits — a lot of the teams now have uniforms and are more formal,” said Sarah Cote, who skates with the moniker Zippity. “The teams have to come up with all different kinds of ways to make points.”
Tahoe plays its bouts on flat tracks governed by rules from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The contests are broken into 30-minutes halves made up of “jams” that can last up to two minutes.
When the whistle blows to start a jam, a group of eight players called blockers form a pack and skate around the track. Jammers — denoted by a star on their helmets — skate behind the pack and try to make their way through it to score points, which is where the strategy comes in.
“We’re a newer team, so some of the stuff we do is a little more basic,” Cote said.
As the jammers make their way to the front, blockers try to stop them — after one trip through, a jammer can start earning points. The jam ends when the lead jammer puts her hands on her hips or when two minutes elapse, and a new jam starts 30 seconds later.
“It’s definitely a contact sport, which is fun because there aren’t very many contact sports out there for women,” Roberts said. “It builds a lot of confidence — you get knocked down and you have to get up.”
Skaters don helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads for protection as they fly around the track. And while roller derby looks daunting at first glance, Roberts said it is an easy sport to pick up — to the point that those interested in trying it out need no prior skating experience.
“It does look intimidating — you’re on wheels trying to make contact and go through a pack of girls,” Roberts said. “But it’s a really neat, fun sport — at first I thought I would just do it for exercise, and I ended up loving it.”
Amy Terpening, a local teacher who goes by Slayer on the track, started the Derby Dames in 2008 wanting a closer team after skating for years in Reno. Since then, teams sprung up in Reno, Carson and at the North Shore — which has cut into the local team’s numbers.
The Derby Dames play bouts with a maximum of 14 skaters and are constantly looking for new team members. For as fun as roller derby is, the sport is also about empowering women in athletics.
“We have teachers, moms, managers, business owners — it’s a variety of different girls and I’ve made my best friends skating as part of this team,” Roberts said. “I love the contact, I love the exercise, I love the team and the girls, and everyone working together.”
Tahoe’s home bouts are free to attend, and feature a family-friendly atmosphere. Roberts insisted that the rules and scoring are easy to pick up after the teams make just a few trips around the track.
“It’s super fun and there’s a lot of action going on,” Roberts said. “It’s just a good time.”
And while the whimsical names ultimately take a back seat to the action on the track, they are still an essential part of the sport. The nicknames are not picked, but given over time — one of the Derby Dames’ skaters began this season with the temporary name “Not Yet.”
Tahoe Derby Dames holds practices Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Bijou Park. For more information on the team, visit tahoederbydames.com, find it on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.