This article was originally published in print in South Carolina Woman magazine…
Official waiver statement- “due to its violent nature, roller derby is inherently dangerous”
Recently I was invited as a journalistic voyeur into a very special fraternity located right here in Myrtle Beach. It’s not a top secret spy group or a cult where you have to kill someone to join. All you need to participate is the willingness to hit, elbow, and bum rush other women while smiling and having fun, skate in circles while passing fallen, moving, and jumping women, and the ability to take a fair amount of pain while enjoying the entire process. I’m talking about the modern resurgence of flat track roller derby action right here in Myrtle Beach.
The Palmetto State Roller Girls (PSRG) recently held their annual boot camp. The event is held to recruit both skaters and volunteers and also introduces new people to the sport. There are some women who try out the sport and don’t want to skate but still enjoy the fraternity and friendships that develop with the team. The PSRG was the first team in South Carolina and they have encouraged a number of other teams to form in the area since their formation. Now, there are teams located in Charleston, Wilmington, Greenville, and other locales in the area where they travel to compete. Due to the resurgence of roller derby fame, more and more women are dusting off their skates and pads and joining up.
It’s not just all for fun, though. The PSRG is formally a non-profit organization. The proceeds from all of their bouts and special events are donated to charities chosen by the team. For anyone who thinks it’s all about taking out aggression and stress on the track, it’s not just that. It’s amazing how much more happens. There’s the camaraderie, the fitness aspects, the giving to others, and the joy of hearing cheers from a crowd with a mix all the way from rowdy rednecks to families with children. I often take my kids to the matches and they love it. We sit on the front row where the excitement is, where there’s always a chance a flying skater will come plowing into the crowd.
Flat track roller derby is a sociologist’s dream. There’s an amazing variety to be found in the participants. It’s a socioeconomic and occupational mixed bag of tricks. At this year’s boot camp between the newbies and veterans there was a PhD physics professor, a college librarian, a liquor sales representative, a pharmacy technician, a veterinary technician, a registered nurse, a schoolteacher, a barista, and more. In the past, roller derby teams have actually been the subject of college research into the demographic makeup of the teams. One peculiarity that’s been noted is how numerous are the number of academic degrees on the track even though it is not a college sport. There’s also a wide age range as well with a mix from 18 to a number I’m not going to guess because someone might beat me up. I was told by Piranha Mama (Michelle Lewis), the League President, that she was probably the oldest at 48.
Aside from the fresh meat (a term of endearment for new skaters) trying out professional skating for the first time or participating in a reunion with the four-wheeled beasts there are also a number of unique personalities to be found on the track. I had the opportunity to talk a little with the team’s coach Lesley Etherson, better known as Punk Blocker. She’s been skating for 5 and ½ years and has also brought her family into the sport. Her husband, a Coastal Carolina University professor, is also the unofficial-official photographer for the team. The proper reference for a skater’s significant other is ‘Derby Widow’. Then there’s Belinda Schanel, known as Sunday Skool-her, who’s been skating since last year. I love the names the skaters take on. They’re both interesting and often personally applicable to the skater’s personality.
If you’re thinking about trying out the sport or viewing it from the stands I would encourage you to jump right in. At least give it a chance and try it out. Although you can go wild with money if you want, a beginner roller derby package including skates and pads can be found for around $250. You could also shop around for used items and save a few bucks. Plan on a few extra bucks for the unique uniform as well. That’s one of the things I like the most, the sheer creativity among the skater’s clothing. There’s an official team jersey, but the rest is up to the skater. It usually consists of a smattering of weird socks, tights, and hosiery. It’s not just for fashion though. The official boot camp book recommended that skaters “wear tights or pantyhose to avoid rink rash.” Among the needed protective equipment also recommended are a mouth guard, helmet, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.
Ten women showed up for the boot camp and over the course of several weeks were subjected to a number of both fun and trying tasks depending on the skill level and fitness of the participants. I dropped in to view several of the practices and was impressed by the skills required to become a team skater. It’s not just rolling around a track. Many of the exercises centered on controlled falling skills and using the pads and not one’s hips, shoulder, and head to break a fall. Many of the practices take place at either the X Sports Center in Myrtle Beach or Fun Warehouse in Surfside Beach. The X owner Robbie Love is a big supporter of the team and not only offers free training space. He also gives each team member free gym access. It’s a great addition to the other unique offerings to be found at The X.
I had a great time watching the team practice. I don’t have any family participating, so I guess that makes me more of a ‘Derby Groupie’ than a ‘Derby Widow’. The next match is March 3 in North Myrtle Beach. Check out the team at palmettostaterollergirls.com to see the schedule. Maybe I’ll see you at a match. Even better, maybe I’ll see one of my readers on the track!