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Culture, Sport

An Introduction to Roller Derby

by Hugh Upsher / 03.09.2013

I was in the same position as most of the people trickling through the doors of the enormous Sunningdale sports complex. There was an overarching state of mild excitement and confusion. This was the first event of its kind in Cape Town and no one really had a clue for what we were in for. All I knew was that there were going to be girls on roller-skates bashing into each other.

Northern suburbs

I couldn’t remember the last time I travelled this far north out of Cape Town but thankfully there was a bar and a solid rock ‘n roll soundtrack to ease me in. I spent the next half hour trying to get my head around the rules of the game. The fact that it seemed like there were more referees and officials than both teams combined didn’t help the matter.


Basically two teams loop around a circuit simultaneously with the Pivot players setting the overall pace. The ‘Jammers’ job is to barge through a peloton comprising of members of both teams who can either help or hinder their passage. The teams score points for each player a Jammer overtakes.


By the time I had gotten to grips with the gameplay it was half time and the Revettes and the Storm Riders were tied up (nail biting stuff). I couldn’t help but think about how much better it would be for everyone if they just upgraded to rollerblades instead of the vintage-cred roller-skates.


The halftime raffle seemed to take longer than both halves combined. I couldn’t help feel they gave out more prizes than raffle tickets they sold. My personal highlight was the announcer calling out Justin Kemp on the loud speaker. I was bitterly disappointed that it was not the boundary hitting Protea batsman but in fact some random chum with the same name.


The event was sold out but the hall still looked sparse at the best of times. This was due to fire hazard regulations putting a tight lid on maximum attendance. The other issue was that the drunker I got the brighter they turned up the hall lights. It was as if they were doing their best to counter the buzz I was working so hard towards. The fact that they ran out of drinkable beer didn’t help either; I was lucky enough to get my hands on the last beer, a Millers (lucky me).

hunters gold

The second half was more intense than the first with the audience finally knowing when to cheer. There was more speed and more bails, which helped boost the entertainment value. In the end the Revettes claimed the win making them the top team in the country and possibly the continent. I’m pretty sure these are the only two teams in Africa, putting Storm Riders at the bottom of the log.

Overall Roller Derby seems like a much cooler, meaner alternative to field hockey. I mean these ladies wear war paint and have badass nicknames like Pepper Anarchy, Doll Vuis, Wolverming and Skidd Vicious. I’m certain it’ll pick up momentum over the next few years. Surely.

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  1. Doll Vuis says:

    Who? Oh, Hugh.

    Hi there.

    Tips for next blog:

    1) Do sufficient research of topic prior to writing about it. I think this is what all good writers do. Possibly, maybe.
    2) Do not quote your GPS as it seems to only embarrass you.

    Have a fantastic day!

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  2. hugh says:

    Hi Doll Vuis

    I had a fun time at the event and felt like giving the sport some well deserved exposure.

    1) I’m sorry for denying the existence of other African Roller Derby teams. We can all agree that being “pretty sure” ain’t good enough. I made an lazy assumption due to the rarity of such an event.
    2) Not sure how the geographic element can be in disrepute?

    PS: Please don’t make fun of my name

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  3. morgmorbid says:

    …Well if you put it out there long enough it will fester & Putrefy, which should make for good manure.

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  4. Faye says:

    Shoo, Hugh.
    As entertaining as this piece is ( I can appreciate good writing, erroneous as most of your information is), you really didn’t do much research. There are four Joburg teams (and growing), one Bloem, one Pretoria, one in Durban and of course, the two teams that make up the Cape Town Roller Girls. Roller Derby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, with leagues from America to Finland. In fact next year there will be a world cup held in America. The governing body of the sport is the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) and they’ve been going for over 12 years now. The Joburg girls are about to have their fourth bout, and you’d (perhaps) be interested to know that the last two have had a sold out crowd of 2000 people. Yes. 2000. And the next looks set to have the same.

    Also. Sunningdale forms part of Tableview, which is the West Coast.

    Here’s hoping we’ll make a fan of you yet, Hugh. Beer depending, of course.

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  5. Justin Kemp says:

    So glad I was the highlight of your night…The billtong was great!

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  6. Blah Blah Tshabalala says:

    This article is hilarious, its actually comedy and not journalism, im not sure if anyone gets that (besides the writer)?

    Anyway, im glad to see there are some facts about the reality of roller derby, and im sure a conventional journalist at some point will help make the rest of us aware of its more accurate existence.

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  7. Danteofdoom says:

    Rollerblades? Skateboards would take this to the NEXT level! Skateboards and ninja stars

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  8. coxy says:

    I was blown away by the 3D effects on your illustration of the rules. Simple magnificent. However, the first illustration to this piece (breakdown of the audience members) seems to be a bit pixelated though. Am wondering if you managed to capture a Super High Definition version of the segments?

    Also; who won the biltong?

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