Rolling Into the Hearts of Hilo

Today’s Roller Derby Girls

Roller Derby HiloThe Hilo Civic Auditorium has only sold out twice in the last 30 years. The first time was in November, 2010, and more recently in March of 2011. Both events were due to the huge outpouring of support for Hilo’s newest athletic team: the Paradise Roller Girls. But is Roller Derby a sport? Absolutely! Today’s Roller Derby is played by conditioned athletes who skate their hearts out for their loyal fans.

The first bout took Hilo by surprise in November and left hundreds of fans standing outside of the Civic, unable to buy a ticket or get in by order of the Fire Marshal.

That event was actually a division of the Roller Girls into two teams; the Fairies and the Scaries. Over 3,000 people showed up to cheer the girls on. The teams were quite equally matched and in the end, it did not matter who won; what really mattered was that Hilo had fallen head-over-heels in love with the sport and the skaters who dominated the track and became instant heroes for little girls, old ladies and every female in between.

And then, of course, there were the male fans enjoying the hardscrabble sport played out by scantily clad women in fishnet stockings, very short shorts, sometimes embellished with ruffles or “bite me” embroidered on the rear. On the day after the first bout, the Hawai‘i Tribune Herald’s front page was filled with photos and news about the event.

The Athletes

These women give their all for the sport and it is not without considerable conditioning and sacrifice of personal time. There are four practices a week, three on asphalt and one on a sport court. Paradise Roller Girls invites any woman over 18 to join them. For those considering such a bold move, there is first an eight-week Rookie Camp and then the Basic Skills Tests and a written Rules Test.  Rookies give their all in class and special practices, and then they must past tests proving that they can fall properly, do crossovers and stop on a dime. After passing the tests, a derby name is chosen along with a number.

Some of the names on the Paradise Roller Girls roster are Anita Whiskey, Elechick KillJoy, Firefly Fatale, Von Slappenbitch, Crystal-The-Pistol, AvaTart, Devil’D Meggs and even a skater with multiple sclerosis (MS) who goes by Multiple Ferocious. Even the refs, scorekeepers and coaches have personas and dress the part. One of the refs goes by Spee D Gone Zales and another is known as Knuckle Slamwitch. The coach is Irish-I-Was-Bashin’Ya, and she has crazy face paint on one side of her face.

It is all in fun, which makes the sport enjoyable to watch and follow. There is an element of irreverent comedy interspersed with the athletic components in each bout.

The Crowd

The crowd is a big part of skating events. Cheering prevails; “The Wave” is encouraged by flag-bearing fans. More and more fans are coming dressed in fun costumes, hats and wigs. There is a great deal of entertainment at the bouts and the 3,000-plus fans are treated to dance teams, contests and fun skating. Vendors sell everything from food and drinks to skate equipment, tee-shirts and souvenirs. This is very much a family-friendly sport. There is even a Junior League being formed for girls and they skate at the bout during half-time.

History of the Sport

There is a history to Roller Derby. It is one of only three Major League American-invented sports. It started as far back as the 1880s, when skaters raced in an endurance race and contact was allowed as a way to overtake an opponent. This version of the sport endured into the 1920s on crude skates. Some bouts were skated by amateurs and others had paid contestants. During the Great Depression a transcontinental version of the sport was introduced. The first roller rink in Hawai‘i opened at Buffums Hall in Honolulu in 1881 with Queen Emma in attendance. In 1954, Hawai‘i saw its first Roller Derby bouts. In 1961 and 1962, The Honolulu Hawaiians were runners-up for the national title. In 1978, a six-foot woman skater from Kahuku, “Aloha Linda Villanueva,” became a national sensation.

Roller Derby is a sport that has been sensationalized on TV and films: “Bay City Bomber” with Raquel Welch, “The Fireball” starring Mickey Rooney and Marilyn Monroe, and more recently, “Whip It” with Drew Barrymore. Today’s Roller Girls are serious athletes, breaking the stereotype image and yet retaining some of the fun of the old game with Derby personas and fun costuming.

The Paradise Roller Girls are in the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby League. The team is member-owned and upholds the values of women’s empowerment, teamwork, safety, sportsmanship, fitness/health, community service/outreach and youth involvement.

Safety and Rules

Roller Derby is a full-contact sport and all skaters are required to wear safety gear. A helmet must be correctly fitted, a mouth guard needs to fit securely over teeth, and wrist guards made especially for Derby are worn. Along with elbow pads and extremely secure knee pads, many skaters wear knee braces under knee pads for extra protection. Derby careers have met their demise by damaged knees. All skaters must wear quad skates (four wheels on a strong axel) but refs are allowed to wear inline skates if they choose.

Rules are strictly adhered to and anyone committing four minor penalties or one major penalty is sent to the penalty box. Much like in hockey, the team must skate without that skater until she is released.

The Bout

There are two 30-minute periods in each bout. Each period is divided into two-minute jams. During the jams, packs of four blockers from each team skate together as one jammer from each team tries to break past the blockers. The first jammer to make it through the pack is the lead jammer. Scoring happens when, after the first circle around by the lead jammer, the jammers pass the pack of blockers.

The jammers have a star helmet cover to differentiate them from the rest of the team and the position of pivot is led by a skater with a stripe on her helmet cover. The pivot is the blocker who sets the pace for the blockers and calls out plays. If the jammer removes her star helmet cover, she can pass it to the pivot and the pivot can then become the jammer. This is all done at a very fast pace, which makes the game exciting and fun to watch.

There is no fighting, biting, “clothes lining,” grabbing, holding, pulling or tripping allowed. Injuries are infrequent, but they do happen. There is an occasional dislocated shoulder or ankle sprain that can take skaters out of play.

The Roller Girls are currently subdivided as an All-Star Team and a B Team. Plans are to eventually split the team into three teams based on geography.

The skaters are responsible for purchasing most of their own equipment and do not receive payment for their skating. They do get compensation for travel expenses and will soon be flying off to other islands for bouts, just as Kauai’s Garden Island Renegade Rollerz did when they came to Hilo for the recent bout on March 12. Some off-island training camps are also supported by the team.

The next bout is scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend at the Civic. On May 28, the Maui Roller Girls are coming to Hilo. Tickets are not yet on sale, but as soon as they are available they are expected to sell out. They seem to be the hottest tickets in town. If you want to be one of the lucky audience members, keep an eye on the Paradise Roller Girls’ website for information on where and when the tickets will be available.

Contact Paradise Roller Girls

In Kailua-Kona, there are two women’s roller derby clubs, both of which meet at Old Airport Park hockey rink.

  • Echo City Knockouts meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 5-7pm and Sundays 10am–12 noon. Contact Caroline at 808.345.0238 for info.
  • Tsunami Slammers meets Mondays 7:15–9:15pm, Thursdays 7:45–9:45pm, and Sundays 3-5pm. Contact Jamie Vendrell at 808.987.8549 for info.

Hilo Skate Plaza Coalition

The Paradise Roller Girls are actively involved in the Hilo Skate Plaza Coalition effort to develop a fun, family-friendly environment for skateboarders, roller skaters, inline skaters and roller hockey enthusiasts on Hawai‘i Island. They are working hard with the Hawai‘i County Department of Parks and Recreation to bring this dream to fruition. Through fundraising, the Paradise Roller Girls hope to help this project advance, providing our community an exciting venue that promotes exercise and healthy lifestyles as well as unity among area residents. To donate or for more information, email.

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