Roller Derby is a contact sport on rollers that came originally from USA in the 30’s. It consists of two-period games in which two teams compete to score more points than the oponent team, in a series of short match up called jams. It was popular until the 70’s, being broadcasted on television and radio, but early this century resurfaced in Austin, Texas, bond to DIY culture and Feminism.
I interviewed Esther Galván, “Cerilla”, Roller Derby Madrid player (#77) and photographer.
Roller derby is a sport that originated in the USA. How did this sport start in Spain? Who brought it to Spain?
Roller Derby started in Spain around 2011. The first team was Tenerife Roller Derby; later Barcelona Roller Derby, and then Roller Derby Madrid. It was brought to Spain by women who lived abroad and got to know/practise this sport in the countries they had been to.
How did you get involved in the sport? At what age?
Each player started for a reason. Drew Barrymore’s film Whip it had much to do in most cases, word of mouth, online videos, social networks.
The age at which we started also varies; there are girls who began at 30 and others at 20.
There are a female and a male version of the sport, but for some reason, the female version resonates more strongly than the male one. Why do you think this is?
It’s a women’s sport; it was created that way, and over the years, it’s been evolving and growing stronger with players competing almost at a professional level, and I say almost because I think nobody gets paid for playing roller derby. The players who live on it is because they give seminars and boot camps worldwide.
With the growth of the sport, men have been getting more involved in it, and more men’s teams are emerging, but it’s still a minority.
Why do you use traditional roller skates and not inline skates?
Quad roller skates are smaller and need less space on the track. The boot is low and flexible and gives you more mobility to make all the moves that the game requires. Still, they are specific roller derby skates; they’re not the classic four-wheel skates like the ones in artistic roller skating.
The war names and numbers grabbed my attention. There may be extremely high numbers, but there are not that many players. What criteria do you follow to choose the numbers?
Each player chooses their number (and name); they are not correlative numbers.
Unsurprisingly, roller derby is quite big in the USA, as it originated there, and we see it has also found its place in Spain. But what’s it like in other countries? Have you played against foreign teams?
In Europe, there has been a boom in recent years; many European teams play the WFTDA (the association that regulates roller derby worldwide) playoffs in the USA with national teams. In fact, we usually play with teams from other countries.
In roller derby, there are European and world rankings where you go up or down depending on the scores of the matches, so we try to play with teams at our level across Europe. Also, we have recently participated in a European tournament in Nantes and finished third!
We played at home against teams from Spain and Europe (Paris, Dublin, Essex, Coimbra, Croydon, Vienna, and Belfast) and away (Nantes, Cork, and Porto).
During childhood, girls are usually enrolled in girly activities like ballet or figure skating. Have any of you used to do figure skating in childhood? Would you say that skating was the previous step to roller derby (or roller derby has been the “answer” to figure skating as one of the roles imposed on us)?
There are several girls on the team coming from figure skating, especially ice-skating and hockey! They are usually women that as they get old, no longer compete in figure skating, and years later they learn about roller derby.
That feminist component that roller derby has, being a women’s contact sport, is what attracts many women. And also, I think it’s one of the beautiful things about this sport; we can hip check patriarchy that teaches us that women have to do fine and girly sports in which blocking, falling, and being strong is frowned upon.
What is the relationship between the LGBT community and roller derby? I see it as a very queer sport because it’s not what is expected of us and I find it very empowering, and empowerment is very important. I don’t know if I’m idealising it, but I imagine female roller derby as a kind of safe space, and I love that. What do you think?
You’re absolutely right. As I said in the previous question, it’s a completely feminist sport, which shows that women are strong and can be athletes in contact sports such as roller derby, which is very fast, strategic, tough, and it’s also a REAL sport.
It’s one of the few sports (I’d venture to say that it’s the only one) that accepts transsexuality. Moreover, this is closely related to the queer world as well. There is a team called VAGINE REGIME and consists of queer players. There is a VAGINE REGIME CANADA, VAGINE REGIME UK, VAGINE REGIME FRANCE, VAGINE REGIME EUROPE, etc.
I talked with Esther before being able to watch a roller derby match, but the more I researched, more I was willing to attend one. Shortly after I went to a match and it blew my mind, at rst you don’t understand a thing but later you get hooked on easily. There I bought Derby Zine, a collaborative zine about roller derby from a transfeminist perspective, loaded with sorority. It talks about personal growth, empowerment, body diversity and more. I totally recommend it.