By day they are mothers, college administrators, teachers and surfers. At night, they are hooligans, roughing each other up in Santa Cruz's only official team sport: Roller Derby.
Roller Derby has morphed from the hair-pulling, elbow-jabbing theatrics of the 1970s into a grassroots, family-friendly event. In fact, the Santa Cruz Derby Girls were started by the girls themselves in 2007.
“We pay dues and we all volunteer. Nobody here is getting paid. We’re doing it for the love of the sport,” said Blocker Sharon D. Payne, using her Derby alias.
She noted that all the girls live in the Santa Cruz area and include “your neighbors, your teachers, and your waitresses.” In real life, the brunette is the associate director for the Cabrillo College Foundation.
Compared to her teammates, she is small but she says you just have to work hard, like everyone else does. With a 7-year old son, a full-time job, and all the hours she puts in on practice and bouts, Sharon has to be an uber-balancer. She admits she is lucky to have a supportive family who “want to help me in this little dream.”
For novices to the game, she compares Roller Derby to football. “It’s a fast paced sport on wheels, but instead of throwing a ball, you have a person with a star, which is the jammer who’s scoring points and you have blockers who are trying to prevent that.”
Jammer Candie Hooligan is a striking opposite to Sharon with her Amazonian body and long blonde hair. She grew up roller skating at the Scotts Valley rink and watching America’s Team in the 1970’s, the Bay City Bombers and Joanie Weston, on television.
“Even the fake stuff took a lot of skills and those girls did get hurt,” she said.
Comparing today’s derby to the past is like comparing Olympic-style wrestling to television’s World Wrestling Federation. Gone are the days of the banked track which caused the girls to constantly fall down and Candie said that the competition now is a “legitimate sport and the rules are strict and well-followed.” To view vintage Bay City Bombers clips, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCsly6g04UQ.
When she heard about a Roller Derby team starting up in Santa Cruz, she “gathered up some old mountain biking pads and my roller skates and started showing up for practice and meetings.”
Derby Girls has brought together Candie’s entire family and surfer friends who have all become adamant supporters. She said that she has always been known as “adventurous and outside the box.”
Comparing the differences between her two favorite sports, she said, “Surfing is an individual effort. The team part of Derby Girls is the most frustrating and greatest part about it. I have to be on a group schedule. Sometimes I have to drive away from a beautiful surfing day, because it’s practice time and I have to be inside in a warehouse.”
Her goal for the team is “to get us to the West Coast Regionals that will be in Oakland this year, which hasn’t happened yet. I was a founding member in 2007, but I’m going to be 40 this year and my body has its limits."
One of her initial team goals was to sell out the Civic. That goal has been accomplished and the skaters now sell out every game.
Speaking of the bouts, Candie said, “A lot of passion comes out from the players and the fans, and unites all ages, male and female, and is a unifying force for the community.” The Derby Girls are the only sports team in Santa Cruz.
The 2009 film “Whip It”, directed by Drew Barrymore and starring Ellen Page, helped somewhat to popularize the derby, but the game still faces many challenges, like pay-to-play and small venues, which affect the Santa Cruz skaters.
Today, more than 450 leagues play flat-track derby around the world and many fans and skaters talk of the derby becoming an Olympic sport, but other countries will have to play a mighty game of catch-up to move up to the professionalism of America’s teams.
Every SCDG bout has a theme and this Saturday’s season opener will have fans sporting black and white. Limited seating is available and the cost is $23 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, visit http://santacruzderbygirls.org.