Derby night at the rink

I’ll admit to some bias. I play roller derby. Men’s flat track, to be precise. (The big inclined track that you saw in Whip It! is mostly played in the Southwest, pretty much.) My bias be damned, however, because what got me into the sport in the first place was that it’s great fun to watch. Everything from the clever names to the costumes to the intensity of the sport—it never ceases to surprise and delight casual fans and dedicated derby heads of all stripes.

Although it is a female-dominated sport, there are, indeed, multiple leagues of roller derby that you can see in most major cities and certainly here in Portland—adult women’s, junior women’s, men’s and sometimes co-ed flat track. They’re all an absolute blast to see live.

Here in Portland, you have the Rose City Rollers, boasting a robust roster of two competitive travel teams and four local teams. The Wheels of Justice, our hometown superheroines, are renowned worldwide for their ferocity and precision. The level of play they are at makes a strong case for derby being an Olympic event in 2020.

Men’s derby is like anything a man tries to do that a woman does better—faster, sloppier and more aggressive. A large part of practice is getting us to go against our top-heavy male instinct to body check somebody across the track and instead lock their legs and drive them out of bounds—you know, like the women do. While the Rollers have all the skill, production, budget and track time, some people say that men’s derby is more fun to watch. To which any male player would disagree. But it is probably because to the newcomer, precise plays aren’t as exciting as crushing body blows that lie players out flat on the track.

On the other end of the spectrum, the junior ladies’ league is a ton of fun as well. Seeing Portland’s own Rosebuds play against Eugene’s Reservoir Dolls (my favorite team name in a sea of great candidates) ranges from adorable to thrilling, and the slower pace of junior matches are a great way to get acquainted with the fundamentals of the sport.

Whether you’re going to see the Wheels of Justice play in the Rose Quarter, the Menace stomp the crap out of someone somewhere in Beaverton, or the Rosebuds race around the track at Oak’s Park, no matter how many beers you have, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.