Almanac Other Sports – Roller Derby in New Zealand

My good friend Kate used to skate as a kid in England. She hadn’t put skates on for 25 years until she went to an event run by “Chicks in Bowls” that was organised by the Queenstown roller derby team two and half years ago.

That skate date was held at her friend’s house and she was instantly attracted to the sport and never looked back. Her previous experience on skates helped her to pick up the skills quickly and to get hooked.

Originating in the banked-track roller-skating marathons in the 1930s, the first Roller Derby game was played in 1935 in Chicago. The sport has been popular in the US since then and most of approximately 1,250 amateur leagues are based in the US while it has spread all over the world.

Like Australian Rules Football, it is a full contact sport that is fast-paced and with powerful actions. It is currently the fastest growing, full contact, women’s sport in the world!

Teams are fielded with up to 14 players, and up to five players from each team on the track at a time. The game lasts for two 30-minute halves and is split into episodes called “jams” which last a maximum of two minutes.

Circuit tracks are formed with a scoring player called “the jammer” and four blockers from each team. One of four blockers is designated as a pivot who can become a jammer during the course of the jam if required.

Players skate in an anti-clockwise direction once a whistle is blown. The jammer is awarded points by passing the opponent’s blockers and jammer. They are only awarded the point when the jammer’s hips pass the opposition’s hips.

Blockers form a ‘pack’ on the track hindering opponents passing through the pack and helping their own team’s jammer passing through the pack.

Positions are identified with helmet covers; jammers wear the ones with a star, pivots’ ones have a stripe, while blockers have none. The jammers can pass their star onto the pivot when she gets tired or the pivot is in a better position to score. Pivots are likely to be experienced players who establish team strategies and set the pace of the pack.

Jams last two minutes unless called off prematurely. This is usually when the “lead jammer” (identified as the first jammer to escape the pack) has scored points and wants to prevent the opponent’s jammer from scoring. They do this by tapping their hands on their hips quickly, at least twice.

Four years ago, Jenny ‘Betty Boom’ Matiu and Sophie Kennedy established Queenstown Roller Derby (QTRD), the club where Kate is skating.

Jenny trained with Whenua Fatales in Kapiti, north of Wellington, while Sophie had an ice hockey background. Then Jenny and Sophie were keen to have a roller derby team going on in the New Zealand town.

Jenny’s hard work is inspiring with building up the team’s gear inventory, purchasing gear and equipment online and sorting out a temporary training venue.

Finding a training venue has been one of biggest challenges for the team, but they have got permanent venues now. They are training at the Queenstown Events Centre on Sunday nights and at the old Wakatipu High School Hall on Wednesday nights. They also go to Wanaka once a week and train potential recruits at the local primary school hall.

This hard work together with great coaching roles filled by two experienced skaters from Christchurch’s Otautahi Roller Derby League, Jen ‘Katherine Manslaughter’ Smart and Auckland’s Pirate City Rollers, Fiona “Machete Confetti” Peat, has brought the team success.

With two-months’ hard training after a six-month break due to unavailability of training space, QTRD held a graduation bout in Timaru at the end of June 2016.

Many first bout skaters were on the skate track at the time and Kate was one of them and skated brilliantly both as a jammer and blocker.

By the way, all skaters have derby names and numbers. Kate is known as ‘Miss Jellyfish Stings’ and wears 37 – that is the age when she started playing roller derby.

On Sunday afternoon, they participated the Roller Derby extravaganza held at Southern Trust Events Centre in Timaru. The event attracted more than 200 spectators.

The event was covered in the local newspaper called the Timaru Herald.

Organiser and Timaru Derby Dames manager Megan Colvill told the Timaru Herald that she was delighted with the turnout and the event was not all about result. She said that the match was all about the best they could and mentioned many first bout skaters in the match.

Queenstown Roller Derby competed their first match of just Queenstown skaters, against Timaru Derby Dames and won 198-111. The second match was played by the host and Dunedin Derby. Timaru won at 211-95.

I wish all the best to Kate and Queenstown Roller Derby as well as sport’s promotion.



About Yoshihiro Imagawa

Love, passion and pride are seen on the footy that is the biggest part of my life. 1. St Kilda Club member: I am a passionate and crazy Sainter. Just hope we will win the second flag soon, especially after Dogs and Tigers having ended long premiership draughts. 2. The Osaka Dingoes Player and Public Relations Officer: Player number 44 that I chose to honour Stephen Milne with my wish being like a small forward like him. Lenny Hayes' hardworking attitudes are adopted on my trainings and practices. Nick Riewoldt's great plays are in my player audiobook too. 3. Writing: Here on the Almanac and also on the World Footy News. My skills utilise on great footy websites.

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