SCDG Bomber Babes vs. Death Dealers. Photo: Shooter
I heard a lot of questions when I first started getting into roller derby, mostly from folks who had just seen “Whip It” and wanted to know if it was just like the movie. My answer (almost two years ago) was a casual shrug, followed by an explanation that banked track derby only happens in places like Texas and California. The banked track, styled after a bicycle-race velodrome, requires a lot more work in terms of build-up and tear-down, as well as a somewhat permanent home. From the players, it requires a commitment to skate against gravity. Two years ago, I honestly thought that roller derby would never get enough recognition in Utah to accommodate a banked track league.
When the Salt City Derby Girls announced last year that they would be making the transition to the banked track, I’ll admit that I had my doubts. After all, SCDG began as a flat track league in 2005. It’s likely that most of the league had never even set skate on a banked track before. Rumors started flying, but Salt City kept quiet. Finally, the track made its debut on May 5, to a home team beatdown between the Death Dealers and the Bomber Babes.
The rules of banked track derby are identical to the rules of flat track, with only a few exceptions. The track is about eight feet longer, allowing a gentler curve into the turns to minimize momentum. Jams are only one minute long, instead of two, and penalties are served for entire jams, as opposed to the flat track standard of going to the box as the penalty is called. It takes some getting used to.
As the game started, it was instantly clear to see that both teams had adapted their strategy to the new physics. While her pack of purple blockers pushed the Bomber Babes up the outside edge of the track, RollHer Kitty raced through the inside, instantly taking the lead jammer position. This move would be used constantly throughout the game by both teams, effectively getting their jammers through practically untouched. Blocking was easier too, as the force of gravity allowed for very light hits that still delivered knockdowns.
While the Death Dealers were able to build stronger walls in the first half, the Bomber Babes had the advantage of Nos, back on the track after a long hiatus due to an injured-and-reinjured shoulder. With a combination of agile dodges and incredible speed, Nos was able to glide past the Dealers jam after jam, helping to rack up a 20-point Bomber lead by halftime.
What I was starting to notice, as the second half began, was a complete absence of the knee starts and no-starts now ubiquitous in flat track derby, partially due to the slant of the track and partially due to such things being totally unnecessary. One jam employed a one-on-one strategy from the Dealers, easily knocking down every blocker on the track before the jammers even left the line. Another fact that stood out was that the lead jammer position can be taken, just by one jammer passing the other, giving much more incentive to actually race and catch up with the lead. This led to a brutal matchup between Nos and one of the Death Dealers’ strongest jammers, Xena Whorrier Princess, who called the jam off right as Nos was about to pass.
Towards the game’s end, the Death Dealers stepped up their hits, and landed some bone-crushers on the Bombers. But, as star blocker Etta Bull was ejected from the game for five major penalties, it was clear that the Dealers couldn’t catch up. The Bomber Babes took the game with a score of 174-112.
Overall, while exciting to see a banked track game and follow the action, it did feel somewhat restrained. As Salt City gets a little more acclimated to the new track, I’m certain we will see more of the raw force and energy that has made them famous among Utah’s derby fans. Many will be watching to see if other leagues follow in Salt City’s footsteps and make the change, or stick to their flat track roots. Only time and demand will tell. The Salt City Derby Girls have now proven: if you build it, they will come.
Want to start fulfilling your dream of skating just like Ellen Page? Salt City is holding tryouts May 12 at the Classic Fun Center. Must be 18+, register here. For a full schedule of SCDG’s upcoming games, visit their website. Congratulations to Brew Ha-Ha and her new fiancée!
For more photos of the bout by Shooter, check out the photo gallery here.