Lex Plode, Max Voltage, Lady Macdeath, Jackie The Ripper, and Sherry Bomb were whipping up a storm as they whizzed around the circuit with The Buzzcocks lending an edgy punk soundtrack. This was just the warm up of my first roller derby match and if those names weren’t intimidating enough there was always the seven officials including Bella Karlofa and Belle Anger. I had only recently discovered that this popular ladies sport wasn’t just confined to America and now I was seeing it first hand in Santa Cruz at the Pancho Camurria sports centre.
The visit of Batter C Power from London reeled me in and a few hours before the action I met Hannah Charles, AKA Baby Cheesus, near the London teams hotel by Plaza del Candelaria. The Welsh international explained some of the basics and the UK angle. “London Roller Girls is a big club with around 60 players and we play out of Crystal Palace but for this trip we’ve brought 11 players from the third team. Normally there are 14 on a side with five skating at a time, four blockers and a jammer that does the scoring by overtaking opposition players. “
My nearest points of reference to Roller Derby were following ice hockey, and the 1972 Raquel Welch film Kansas City Bomber but it was amore recent film that drew Hannah to the sport. “I saw Whip It three years ago and had to have a go, I was soon hooked. It’s great for all body types, I’m a jammer and that’s more about being nippy but the sport has a strong physical edge that I like. Broken legs and concussion can happen and there are always routine bruises.” Hannah showed off a shoulder bruise at this point but I was already enchanted long before that.
Tenerife was just one of many stop offs since Hannah took up the skates. “I went to Belgium last year with the Wales team, we finished fifth out of eight countries. London Roller Girls were the first non American entries in the World Club Championships last year in Nashville.”
I had also made contact with Tenerife Roller Derby and arriving at the Pancho Camurria for the warm up I had a chat with captain Mercedes (skating as Mercromina) who brought me up to speed on their history. “Esther Arrocha formed the team four years ago, she had played for Erasmus in Manchester and is now living and playing in London. Spain are playing in the World Championships in Dallas this December and there will be seven players from our club as well as Esther.”
There was a lot of preparation before the game started, the refs were marking out the oval track with tape, the teams were practicing their drills and slipping in their gum shields to go with the knee, elbow, and wrist pads. Mutual respect was high on the list too, the teams each skated a few laps to get the applause of the near 400 crowd and then swapped high fives as they filed past each other. Once the first 30 minute half started the niceties were at a minimum as the jammers (identified by a star on a helmet cover) tried to barge, dodge, and power their way past the blockers. Effectively there were two battles going on as the teams tried to shield their own jammer until they could break through and also keep out the opponents scorer.
The officials made sure safety was preserved with sin bin seats for offenders, and close attention to the furious action but there were medics with a trolley on the sidelines just in case. The Pancho Camurria also hosts boxing but it didn’t come to that and when skaters did crash there was an instant ring of refs around them as they recovered. It was quite technical, alert minds and bodies were definitely needed, my little pea brain was just about getting to grips with the scoring. Breaks in play for pack changes and new laps extend the game time to nearly two hours including a 15 minute halfway break.
Sadly my schedule meant I had to shoot across the city to meet the Armada Sur for the CD Tenerife game so I left at half time. It was long enough to get a taste of the dedication, skill, and passion of these players, there’s no big money for them, just late training around jobs and studying and paying for kit etc. The London ladies had to cover nearly all the cost of their trip over and undergo similar unsocial hours for training. Tenerife loves sport, with regular games the Pancho Camurria could be packed but it’s costly for other teams to come for friendlies. You can’t fault them for organization, they run their own drink and snack bar, produce a programme, and sell replica shirts and merchandise, they were even selling London shirts for their visitors, that’s a classy touch.
It was a close run contest, Batter C Power edged it by 153 points to 149 and the two sides enjoyed an after match party to cement the links between the clubs. Tenerife games are as and when they can arrange friendlies so if you want to catch the action or take up playing join them on Facebook at Tenerife Roller Derby. UK based readers can do the same via www.londonrollergirls.com