Kitting myself out with elbow pads, knee pads and a leopard-print helmet, I wondered what exactly I had let myself in for.
Watching the fierce-looking women whizz past me on their skates, baring their gum shields and flaunting tattoos, I was acutely aware of how wobbly I looked.
I was at a Bedfordshire Roller Girls training session at Luton Sixth Form College to find out what the sport is all about. After a rocky start, I discovered roller derby may not be for the faint-hearted, but it is fantastic fun.
Derby girl ‘Pixie Whoopass’ (that’s her skate name) explained the rules. It sounded like Quidditch at first, but the gist is you try to get your ‘jammer’, who wears a star on her head, through the other team’s ‘blockers’ and once they get through the pack of blockers they can start scoring points. At the same time, the other team are trying to get their jammer through your blockers and stop your jammer in her tracks.
It’s a full contact sport but as Pixie reassured me: “You’re not allowed to do any crazy manoeuvres. You’re allowed to hit from the shoulder blade down to the arms, but you’re not allowed to elbow anybody, use your head or push anyone. It’s more tactical barging.”
The ‘scrimmage skills’ are taught before you get on the track, so you learn how to give and receive arm and hip whips and pushes as well as blocking and leaning. There’s also a written rules test before you get on the track for a game.
Newcomer Jenny said: “Even if you don’t want to compete it’s good for fitness. I’m into fitness and the alternative scene and I think with roller derby the two are quite connected so I wanted to try it out. I’ve only done one session but it’s good, I love it, it gets your heart going.”
The first part of the training involves learning how to fall safely. I did not want to throw myself onto the ground while skating at full speed (OK, not full speed, but still), but using techniques like the plough stop and the knee slide, it wasn’t so bad. After your first fall you realise the pads will protect you.
The derby girls are all great fun, and although they might look tough on the track, they all got a bit hysterical over a strange-looking insect which interrupted the training session, so perhaps they’re not that scary after all.
As one derby girl said: “There’s three things all derby girls have in common - we love our skates, high action and tattoos.”
Go to www.bedfordshirerollergirls.com.