Crashing Nasty

BY Emily Colin

Ms. Chelle Shock. Crash Nasty. Gas-O-Leen. Double Barrel Bambie. If these strike you as stage names you’re right — but they’re not names intended for Broadway or the silver screen. These are the monikers of four Cape Fear Roller Girls the Port City’s very own flat-track roller derby league. A blend of wit attitude and personal significance derby names are as individual as the skaters they grace reflecting the independence originality and just plain toughness that characterizes contemporary roller derby.

The Roller Girls league is comprised of two teams the Convixens and the F-Bombs. Buffy Hughes who has skated with the league for almost two years says “The original group started in ’05 and the league formed in ’06. We came together as a team and started progressing to where we could bout. It takes about a year to get the fundamentals down before you can go out and bout. It can get kind of hairy.”

Strapping her kneepads on she adds “It’s always a challenge. You have to have the agility to take a hit and keep going. Knowing you did something good for the team is a really great feeling. I’m always learning something new.”

Roller derby which rose and fell in popularity over the course of the 20th century experienced a significant revival in 2001 as a women-only flat-track derby minus the WWE-style stunts of yesteryear. An Austin Texas-based league the Texas Rollergirls started the trend. Today with nearly 160 leagues around the globe the sport is undergoing a phenomenal rise in national and international popularity.

Though some skaters still compete in suggestive attire like short skirts and fishnet stockings make no mistake: Contemporary derby emphasizes endurance and athleticism rather than sensationalism. Derby matches called bouts usually consist of three 20-minute periods of non-stop skating with two 10-minute intermissions. Leagues are run with a grassroots business model that incorporates a powerful do-it-yourself cooperative ethic wherein more experienced leagues offer their expertise to newcomers.

For the uninitiated the basic rules of flat-track derby are as follows: Bouts take place on a circuit track with two five-person teams — usually comprised of three blockers one pivot and one jammer. When the bout begins skaters from both teams are positioned on the track in a single pack with the two jammers 20 feet behind the pack. The whistle blows and the pack takes off with the jammers soon to follow.

Each jam is two minutes long. During this time the jammers attempt to score points by lapping the pack. This is no easy task since the job of the pivot and blockers is to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from getting through while assisting their own teammates. Skaters can block by using any body part above their hips (except their hands head and elbows) resulting in spectacular high-speed falls. Breaking the rules — of which there are many — can result in penalties or in removal from the game.

Cabell Bryan is one of the Cape Fear Roller Girls’ top skaters. An aggressive experienced speed demon she’s done her time in the penalty box. Her derby name can’t be reproduced in its entirety here. The first half rhymes with “pits” and the second — McVenom — is proudly displayed across the back of her black shorts easily visible as she rounds the track.

“I’ve been here since the beginning since the very first night ” says McVenom who is a bartender at the Soapbox and an artist specializing in spray paint and stencils. “I love the physical aspect of it. It’s great exercise.”

The league is lucky to be located in close proximity to Raleigh home of the Carolina Rollergirls. Ranked fourth in the nation Carolina has often coached Cape Fear coming to Wilmington to offer tips and suggestions. “Carolina Rollergirls … got their start about two years before us and they are willing to share their knowledge along with the philosophy that they will have good competition nearby as well as community. It’s a great thing. You get back what you give and then some ” says former skater and team trainer Esoterica Cain.

The Cape Fear Roller Girls who are applying to qualify for national ranking think of Carolina as their “big sisters ” says skater Renee Newton aka Crash Nasty. A recent UNCW graduate who is currently waitressing Crash Nasty has been skating with Cape Fear for two years. She is quick to emphasize the importance of teamwork in derby: “We depend on each other so much. Without our teammates we can’t score points. Here working with your team can make the difference between getting hurt and not getting hurt. It’s about trust.”

Like many of her teammates Crash is eager to dispel the stereotypes that accompany the sport. “People think derby’s so counterculture ” she says. “We don’t all have tattoos and dyed hair. Anyone can do this. There’s no bounds or constraints.”

Well none except for the willingness to give and take a hit. Derby is not for the fainthearted. “It’s a dangerous sport ” Crash admits. “We spend a lot of time learning how to fall … one-knee falls 180-degree falls two-knee falls keeping ourselves in.”

Everything that fans see on the track is real — the blocks the hits and yes the falls. Skaters can sustain serious injuries especially at Scooters (the legendary Wilmington skating rink on Shipyard Boulevard) which is not designed for the high-speed pack-traveling sport of derby and features what the skaters affectionately refer to as the meat wall (think about it). The Roller Girls are on the hunt for a new space to better accommodate the action and to make it possible for more fans to come out. “We can practice anywhere — on concrete a sport court an outdoor venue ” says skater First Degree Marie.

Required protective gear on the flat track includes helmets kneepads elbow pads wrist guards and mouth guards. Girls who are new to the sport don’t have to purchase all of their gear before they try out for the league; Scooters allows girls to use their speed skates and says First Degree Marie “We have some hodgepodge equipment.”

Once a skater decides that she wants to join the Roller Girls there is a two-month period of training and practice before she undergoes a formal assessment. “We want to make sure you have the basic skills to be stable on your feet ” says rollergirl Suicide Barbie “that you know how to maneuver and stop — things necessary to play the game. You need to be confident and comfortable on your skates.”

Being skillful is important but Suicide Barbie is quick to point out that alone doesn’t qualify you to join the league. “You need to show dedication and enthusiasm because this is a team sport ” Barbie says. “Even if someone’s a great skater she may or may not be assessed if she can’t work with the group and nurture the team’s dynamic.”

The 2008 season’s schedule hasn’t been formalized yet but one thing’s for sure: The Roller Girls will have the opportunity to do a lot of traveling. “Our home bouts will be held on Thursday nights at Scooters ” says First Degree Marie. As the schedule is finalized games will be posted on the Roller Girls’ Web site. Tickets are also available through the site with discounted prices for children 12 and under.

On a good night the Roller Girls pack between 300 and 400 people into Scooters for a home bout. “They sit right around outside the track ” Suicide Barbie says “and then there’s standing room.” Track-sitters be warned though: You might wind up with a roller girl in your lap.

Skating not your thing? There are other ways to get involved. “We need volunteers to relay stats relay penalties do scorekeeping even do track repair. Some of our other volunteers give out programs and then we have “cigarette girls” who sell our buttons and stickers and hand out waters ” says Suicide Barbie. “We always need fans ” she adds. “The support from our fans is really important.”

Derby’s governing philosophy — “By the skaters for the skaters” — definitely applies to the Cape Fear Roller Girls who have local sponsors hold fundraisers and pay dues to keep afloat. Luckily for them more established leagues have already walked in their shoes and can lend a helping hand. “Most leagues are skater-owned and operated which means that the girls are not only keeping things together on the track they are also running a business ” says experienced rollergirl Bone Crawford who skates for the New Jersey Dirty Dames but had a chance to bout with Cape Fear when she visited Wilmington last year. “Many skaters have little or no experience with things like insurance taxes sponsorship event production dealing with the press and all the other things that come along with sports management. Initially everyone was sort of figuring things out for themselves but now there are leagues that have been in operation for years and a lot of common problems have been solved. The level of information sharing is really high so it benefits the newer leagues a great deal.”

The sense of community extends offline as well. Says McVenom “All of the teammates are like a little derby family. No matter what city I go to I always take my skates with me. There’s always someone in that town that will give you derby housing help you out.”

“It’s so positive … we have moms teachers social workers … it’s eclectic ” Crash Nasty says of the league’s vibe. “I’m not really getting any aggression out because we’re all such good friends. It’s nice to have that camaraderie. Everyone brings their own fire to the mix.”

Want to skate with the big girls?

Though the formal bout season runs from March through November the Roller Girls practice year-round at Scooters three evenings per week; starting in February they plan to add a fourth night. Tuesday’s practices are set aside to teach newbies basic skills. Folks who are interested in coming out should contact the league via or The league also holds periodic recruiting nights; check its Web sites for more information.