Did you know we have our very own Roller Derby League on the Beaches?
The Northern Beaches Roller Derby League is an athletic association centred on the rapidly expanding sport of roller derby. The club hosts several teams, which consist of players aged 16 to 60+ of varying experience and fitness levels. The Sirens, their elite squad, compete in the premier NSW/ACT tournament, known as the Five By Five (5×5) Roller Derby Championship, against teams from across both states.
The competition kicks off this weekend, Saturday April 15, in an indoor arena at Sydney Boys High School, near Moore Park.
Deciphering the rules of roller derby is challenging for an unfamiliar observer. On first impression it appears a complex tangle of 10 skaters attempting to roll in an anti-clockwise direction around an oval course, whilst simultaneously preventing each other from making much headway.
In fact, it’s far more complex (and ruthless!), with two competing squads of five skaters employing complicated and sometimes devious tactics to facilitate their ‘jammer’ forcing a way through four ‘blockers’. More on that shortly…
Manly Observer watched The Sirens in training at DY PCYC and spoke with co-captains Priss and Van Demon, and ‘jammer’ Ruby Whipper (players all adopt imaginative nom de guerres), to discover what drew them to the sport.
“I grew up roller skating in the 80’s skating the local roller rink,” Priss, who joined The Sirens in 2014, revealed. “I found skating again around 2011/2012 and started roller derby as I didn’t think there were many other options at the time.
“I joined NBRDL the year the Sirens had their first games, so it felt right being a new skater on a new team. It took me a little while to get up the courage to play, but now I love it.”
“I’d always skated as a kid and loved it,” Van Demon, who joined NBRDL in 2016, explained. “Then my daughter had joined Northern Beaches Roller Derby as a junior skater so I spent a year watching her from the sidelines before I decided to give it a go myself.
“Initially I thought I would just do the Northern Beaches Roller Derby League Learn to Skate course but I enjoyed it so much that I kept going until I was eligible to join the Sirens.”
Whip it good
Ruby Whipper, the more experienced competitor, began roller derby in October 2010 whilst living in England.
“I watched the movie Whip It,” she declared. “I had never heard of roller derby. And when I watched the movie I thought it looked amazing and immediately Googled if there was a league in Bristol, where I was living at the time, and they had just started one three months earlier!
“I fell in love with the whole world of roller derby as soon as I put skates on at my first session. Whip It is an amazing movie, it absolutely captures the feeling of falling in love with this sport, and I had that same experience.”
The film is based on a young adult novel, Derby Girl, by Shauna Cross, which Wikipedia describes as “the story of Bliss Cavendar, a girl from the fictional town of Bodeen, Texas, whose mother wants her to compete in beauty pageants, and seeks escape in the world of roller derby.”
“Roller Derby involves athleticism, as well as strategy, which is what I adore about it.”
Ruby continued, “When I joined the Northern Beaches [in 2013], The Sirens hadn’t played any competitive games yet, but were already training and getting ready to. So I was keen to join them and be part of the team and help them with whatever experience I could bring.
“When I started I was never going to be a big strong blocker, without a scrap of muscle on me, so I naturally became a jammer as I had always done athletics. So, you sort of play to your natural strengths, but training off the track for derby specific skills is massively beneficial… The game is much more fun to play when you feel physically fitter…
“Roller Derby involves athleticism, as well as strategy, which is what I adore about it.”
Can roller derby be played with rollerblades, or do the traditional four-wheeled roller boots (two at the front, two at the back) provide a better form of balance and agility?
“We play under the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) ruleset,” Priss explained, “so only quad-style skates are allowed. Inline skates (rollerblades) are not permitted.”
About the bouts
Roller derby matches are called ‘bouts’, and they’re played over the course of two half-hour sessions with a 10 minute break in between.
Priss explained the rules and tactics:
“The game of Flat Track Roller Derby is played on a flat, oval track,” she began.
“Each 30 minute half is broken up into ‘jams’ which can last up to 2 minutes, and there is a 30 second break between each jam. So, you try to score as many points as possible within each jam. Some jams run only 30 seconds, while other run the full two minutes.
“During a jam, each team fields up to five skaters. Four of these skaters are called ‘blockers’ (together, the blockers are called the ‘pack’), and one is called a ‘jammer’. The jammer wears a helmet cover with a star on it.
“The two jammers start each jam behind the pack, and score a point for every opposing blocker they lap, each lap. Because they start behind the pack, they must get through the pack, then all the way around the track to be eligible to score points on opposing blockers.”
She continued, “Usually a team will aim to have at least 8 blockers for a game, plus 3 or 4 jammers. That means there can be two groups of four blockers rotating on and off each jam, while the jammers play every third or fourth jam. As each jam can last up to 2 minutes, it can be exhausting, so you need that many players to play safely.”
And if skaters roll across the guidelines that mark the course, can they rejoin the scrimmage?
“Both blockers and jammers are meant to stay within the track boundaries, however if they step or are hit out, they can just re-enter the track behind all the other players and continue playing.”
The aim of the game
Priss summed up what the competing packs set out to achieve:
“The aim is for the jammers to get through the other team’s four blockers. If your jammer gets through the pack before the other team’s jammer, they become the ‘lead jammer’ and earn the right to ‘call off’ or end the jam.
“This means they can score some points and call off the jam before the other jammer scores any – a common tactic! Or both jammers can continue doing laps and getting through the pack to score points until the two minutes are up.”
“Blockers continually switch between defence (blocking the other team’s jammer) and offence (helping their own jammer get through the other team’s blockers).
“Jammers juke and try to confuse the other teams blockers by switching directions, or they may hit the other jammer off the track to slow them down.
“Points are scored by passing the opposing team players, so you can score a maximum of 4 points per lap of the track. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.”
The bouts resemble a roaming rugby ruck on wheels. But there are regulations on how to achieve your aims without resorting to underhand tactics.
“Roller derby is a full-contact sport,” Priss concedes. “However, skaters cannot use their heads, elbows, forearms, hands, knees, lower legs, or feet to make contact to opponents. Skaters cannot make contact to opponents’ heads, backs, knees, lower legs, or feet.”
Can blockers link arms and position themselves to prevent jammers from pushing their way through?
“You can’t link arms, that’s a ‘multi-player’ penalty,” Priss warned.
“Play that is unsafe or illegal may result in a skater being assessed a penalty, which is served by sitting in the Penalty Box for 30 seconds of jam time.
5×5 for 2023
The 5×5 sports league summarise the 2023 tournament as follows: “The Five by Five (5×5) Roller Derby Championship is an ongoing round robin tournament that sees ten leagues from all over NSW and ACT face off in fierce interleague competition across two divisions to claim the 5×5 Armageddon and Battlegrounds Championship and roller derby supremacy.”
The Sirens compete in the Battlegrounds division, where they can expect rapacious rivalry from formidable foes as the season gains momentum.
There will be five rounds in total before the finals in mid-October, which takes place at Hawkesbury PCYC in Windsor.
Do The Sirens compete in other games outside of the premier 5×5 tournament?
“How often we compete in bouts is determined by what competitions we apply for or are invited to attend,” Priss explained.
“We have also, in past years, hosted teams from interstate for ‘double-header’ games, including Murder City Roller Derby from Adelaide and Kingston City Rollers from South East Melbourne. The Sirens have also travelled to other regions for similar ‘one-off’ type events. We also arrange “scrimmages” (practice games) with other teams to practice our game play and strategies.”
After the April 15 tournament in Moore Park, when can the public watch The Sirens in action?
“The next tournament game for the Sirens will be round 3 of 5×5 (we have a bye in May), and that will be on Sunday 4 June in Hawkesbury [Windsor at the PCYC],” Priss said.
“We do have our first home team game on Sunday 28 May at Dee Why PCYC – more to give our up-and-coming skaters some game experience and for their friends and family to come and see them try derby.”
The sirens train twice a week: Wednesday nights 7.30-9.30pm and Sunday mornings 9.00-11.00am. See the website below for further details.
Northern Beaches Roller Derby League
5 x 5 Roller Derby Championship