"Intense. Family. Drive."
That's the derby culture summed up in three words, at least according to Jessie Alvarez, better known by her derby alias, Kine Lee Killz, of Gold Coast Derby Grrls.
Pioneered out of the Riot Grrrl movement of underground punk feminism in Austin, Texas, in the early 2000s, modern-day flat-track roller derby isn't the elbows-in-the-face, unabashed fighting, and banked tracks of the 1930s-born derby from which today's version was resurrected. Instead, it's a soundtrack to female empowerment, a sport made for women, by women.
Things get rough, and injuries aren't unlikely. As Kine puts it, "It takes heart. It's not for the weak-minded."
On its most basic level, derby is essentially a race — although it's much more than that. Games are called bouts. Periods within these bouts are called jams. And participants are called jammers. Each bout lasts an hour, with ten to 15 jams in which a jammer tries to score points by lapping members of the opposing team. At the center of it all? Team camaraderie and support.
"We love it because we share that passion and drive to challenge ourselves and one another," says Kine, who has been a Derby Grrl off and on for five or six years. "Derby is one of those sports where you'll find things within you that you didn't know you were capable of doing. [The team is] my family."
Beginning jammers start out as "Fresh Meat" and focus on falling properly, learning how to skate safely, and developing technique. And be warned: When you first start skating, it's nerves galore, according to Kine.
"You're worried about what everyone is thinking about you. You don't want to make a fool of yourself," she says. "It's Bambi on ice. You're absolutely clueless because there's a million things going on at once."
But once you've perfected your technique, you'll graduate to Rotten Meat, then the Cat 5 team, and eventually the All Star team. There's no time limit for advancing because everyone goes at their own pace. And as this progression occurs, so will a more personal one.
"So many girls mold into these strong, confident women. It's incredible," Kine says.
As physically grueling as the sport is, though, the most difficult part isn't acquiring the taste for the track — it's not being able to play when you've injured yourself.
"You realize life goes on, and you're heartbroken you're not out on the track," she explains. "It's hardest when you have to walk away. It feels like your identity is stripped away. Derby is my life."
Think you have what it takes to join the Gold Coast rush? Stop by the team's recruitment event Tuesday, August 16, at Galaxy Skateway to get better acquainted with derby, learn how the league functions, and see the commitment needed to be a Gold Coast Derby Grrl.
As Kine puts it: "Don't be afraid to take that leap into derby. It can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. The bond and relationships are phenomenal."
Gold Coast Derby Grrls Recruitment Event
7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, August 16, at Galaxy Skateway, 7500 Southgate Blvd., North Lauderdale. Visit goldcoastderbygrrls.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.