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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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