Sunday, January 31, 2010

Roller Derby In Austin

I can’t really say that it was something important enough to be enumerated on my “bucket list,” a bunch of things I want to do before I die, but ever since the 1960’s and 1970’s, when roller derby was at the height of its popularity, I’ve always wanted to see a roller derby bout live. Last night, I got my chance, and I was not disappointed.

It seems that Austin, Texas, is a roller derby town. The city hosts the TXRD Lonestar Roller Girls, a league of female skaters who demonstrate their athletic skills on a traditional banked roller derby track. I mention the banked track only because there is also a flat track league in Austin as well, organized as the Texas Rollergirls. Flat track roller derby actually got its start in Austin, and has now spread around the world, as the sport of roller derby enjoys a resurgence in popularity. Additionally, the city of Austin played a central role in Drew Barrymore’s 2009 film, “Whip It,” which portrays a fictional Austin, Texas, female roller derby team. Like I said, Austin is a roller derby town.

The TXRD league’s teams include Cherry Bombs, Hell Cats, Holy Rollers, Putas del Fuego, and the Rhinestone Cowgirls. Last night, at the Austin Convention Center, the Rhinestone Cowgirls squared off against Putas del Fuego, and I was there to watch it.

Driving to the convention center, I really had no idea what to expect. Upon arriving, I found the parking garage nearly filled to capacity, and I was there an hour early. Surely, I thought, all these parked cars were not here because of roller derby. But I was wrong. Roller derby, it seems, is more popular than I had imagined.

Having purchased my ticket ahead of time, I bypassed a long line of people obtaining tickets at the door, and entered the arena. Once inside, I pushed my way through another line of people waiting to buy drinks at a full service bar, and found a good seat in the stands. Before the bout started, the uniquely dressed roller girls from both teams were walking around, talking with fans, and having their photographs taken. A local band warmed up the near capacity crowd, and shortly after 7:00 p.m., the bout began.

Roller derby is all about entertainment. During each of the four, 8 minute periods, which are further broken up into individual “jams,” there are fights, penalties, and falling and crashing bodies. And, the announcers, seemingly direct descendants of “carnival barkers” of a bygone era, were present to energize and excite a somewhat inebriated but friendly crowd. Unlike many sporting events where tensions can run high among some of the spectators, everyone at the convention center was laughing, applauding, and having fun. The fun apparently continues after the bout, during the traditional roller derby “after party,” where both teams mingle with fans at a local bar.

Wanting to avoid driving home along side of many of the “drinking” spectators sitting around me, I left a few minutes early. At that time, Putas Del Fuego, was comfortably ahead in points. I don’t know which team eventually skated away with the win, but I do know that I enjoyed the evening very much.

And, while I won’t be getting online and ordering roller derby season tickets in the morning, I had a great time last night, and can imagine attending at least one more bout before the season ends. It’s a unique, different, and enjoyable way to spend a free evening, filled with a lot of laughs.

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