Standing in line to buy a t-shirt the atmosphere begins to sink in: driving rock music, a buzzing crowd, squealing wheels and a decidedly tough team cheer. Welcome to Montreal Roller Derby. Picture it: a flat donut of a track with five scantily clad women per side bumping and bruising to prevent the other team’s “jammer” from skating past them and scoring points. And next Saturday night (August 7), the city’s Mile End neighbourhood will welcome people from all walks to watch local teams Les Contrabanditas take on Les Filles du Roi for the Montreal Roller Derby championship.
The all women’s league has come a long way since its first season in 2007 and though some things, like clever player names and cheap beer, haven’t changed, others certainly have. “The skill level has improved tremendously and a lot of the people that weren’t necessarily athletes then have turned into athletes,” says league founder Alyssa Kwasny, who goes by Georgia W. Tush on the track.
This year, the New Skids on the Block, the league’s top travel team, became the first international team to join the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in the U.S. “We went from a little road team, a little cutesy team from up north to a very competitive team,” says Cheryl Gladu, captain of Les Contrabanditas, whose player name, Ewan Wotarmy (you and what army) is representative of the league’s tough but playful reputation. The “we-think-we-can” attitude is what roller derby is all about. Gladu, who is also the communications person for the league, says, “The resurgence of derby is a do-it-yourself kind of sporting league and it’s one that’s run for the players by the players.”
And in Montreal people have taken notice. The frequently packed house at Saint-Louis Arena lines up early to secure good seats. Why not try the “suicide” seats directly next to the flat track? You might get to meet a player as they crash into your lap. The key is not to knock over one of the beer can “beeramids” that rise up from around the track as the night rolls on. And just behind the suicides, the kids run back and forth, making the most of the electric atmosphere and the open space.
With such popularity and a string of sell outs, the league is now toying with the idea of moving to a larger venue to accommodate its growing fan base. What is certain, however, is that no matter who you are, derby is a whole lot of fun. Thirtysomething fan Tanya says, “It’s very exciting and there’s so much to look at, even if you’re not looking at the girls skating. It’s fun.” Tanya’s silver-haired mother Erika, attending her first derby, agrees. “It was fascinating, oh yes I loved it. I certainly would like to come back.” And with an atmosphere as entertaining as Montreal Roller Derby, you’ll certainly want to as well.
Check out the Sounds of Montreal Roller Derby with this rockin’ radio mini-documentary: