It seems that when the stock market bottoms out, Americans enjoy seeing hot chicks on roller skates fall on…well, their bottoms.
Women’s roller derbies first became popular during the granddaddy of U.S. economic meltdowns, the Great Depression, and today—when the stock market is super-shaky—bouts are drawing record numbers.
Though hard data is difficult to find, women’s roller derby has long been a white women’s sport. However, in Southern California, especially, there has been a surge in hip Latinas competing in this rough-yet-glam game.
“I’ve been with OCRG’s derby league for just over two years and have absolutely seen a shift," says Maria Delgado Charnell (a.k.a. “Rolla Chola”) who competes with the Orange County Roller Girls and leads their recruitment. "I see all the new women coming in. Because derby doesn’t require much more than courage, heart, and a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone, derby is attracting women from all different cultures and socioeconomic groups.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Women’s roller derby began when sportswriter Damon Runyon noticed crowds going wild for women who collided during standard skate derbies, which began in the early 1930s as pure endurance competitions. So Runyon, along with Chicago-based promoter Leo Seltzer, began popularizing full-contact women’s races.
By the 1960s and into the 1970s, women’s roller derby began to devolve into a cheesy, fake-fighting form of entertainment, not unlike Hulk Hogan-type wrestling. However, contemporary roller derby has a much more post-punk, campy, DIY aesthetic, including plenty of tattoos, makeup, and sequins.
The rules of roller derby are schoolchild-simple: knock each other down. (For those who’d like to geek-out on point systems and play-by-plays, please Wiki away!)
OC Roller Girls was founded by Heather Shelton (“Disco Dervish”) in 2006. Shelton’s aim was to support the personal growth of a diverse group of women through sport. She has more than succeeded: she now has about 180 skaters – with awesome names like “Pulp Friction” and “The Wheel Housewives of Orange County” – up from just seven contenders five years ago.
Shelton explains, “Anyone feels like they can be involved; there isn’t a huge financial barrier for entry like there is with a lot of sports. Women like community. We get to vent our frustrations in a healthy way on the track; we also get exercise! Anyone can find a woman on our league to identify with.”
Freshman coach Albert Garcia (“Dos Pesos”), who has been volunteering for five years, says, “We start skaters at 18, and we have women who are in their fifties; one of whom, Rolla Chola, is one of our fastest skaters. It’s become a big family. Roller-derby changes you; if you join a league, you fit in somewhere. Body type doesn’t matter, your background doesn’t matter.”
And what’s the deal with the skating names?
“It gives you a chance to be whomever you want to be,” says Garcia. “You’re branding yourself, although our names have to be PG-13, because we’re a family sport and a lot of kids come to our matches.”
THE LATINA ROLLER-DERBY MOMENT
Adriana Nole (“Juana Pulmafinga”) skates with Central CA Area Derby team Atomic Assault, and she has an interesting take on why Latinas are embracing roller derby now.
“I feel the sport is very accepting. I sometimes think that it’s Latinas that don’t accept ourselves in this kind of sport,” she says.
“Roller derby is a full-contact sport that allows you to dress up in fishnets and short-shorts and wear crazy makeup,” says Nole. “I think old-school thinking makes some Latinas feel that it’s inappropriate to dress that way or act that way. But the sport itself is very inviting to all walks of life. I’ve been doing this almost three years and when I first started, I was the only Latina on the team, now there are several. Can I get an ‘órale!?’ ”
Cynthia Moore (“CinderBrawlla”) from the OC Roller Girls adds, “It’s hard work—you have to love it! I have two kids. My family encouraged me to do this. My husband, who works for Disney, helped build our awesome new banked track—Disney’s also where my handle comes from!”
Indeed, all of the women Fox News Latino spoke to for this story have families, and stressed how skating has strengthened their clans.
“Kids love derby!” says Tiffiny Samarripa (“Samy Stab’Ems”) of Central CA Area Derby. “I think when they see their moms on their skates they definitely look up to them. All the women are beautiful, intelligent, and strong.
"Who wouldn’t look up to their mom who has all that but can also do some damage on the track?" she added. "Being a mom of a two-and-a-half-year-old, myself, I hope to inspire her to follow her heart and to be a strong, confident women who knows she can succeed with anything she does and maybe play derby someday herself.”
Finally, as Adrian Nole says, being a Latina and competing in roller derby can mean that both worlds enrich each other.
“I love roller derby and I love being Latina. I’m so proud of my heritage," she says. "I have a ton of fun doing it and can't imagine life without it. Just because I’m a Latina that plays roller derby, that doesn’t mean I still can’t roll out tortillas or make nopales. It just helps me kick some nalga a little bit better.”
Laura Vogel is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor whose work has appeared on such sites as AOL, MTV Next Movie.com, and Real Simple.com; she has also contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Post, In Style and Martha Stewart Weddings.