A new roller derby team based at the Menlyn Skate Park will start practices this week.

The Savage Sailor Dolls is a roller derby team based in Pretoria for women over the age of 18 and will participate in the C-Max Roller Derby League.

Roller derby is classified as an indoor contact sport. In a roller derby match, called a bout, two teams of five members compete by skating around a track. The bout consists of a series of “jams” where a designated member (called the “jammer”) from each team scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The jammers from each team stand about three metres behind the rest of the skaters on the start line. These skaters form a pack. The bout starts when the referee blows the whistle for the first time and the pack starts rolling forward. When the referee blows the whistle for the second time the two jammers begin sprinting. They have to pass the pack of skaters and sprint for a full lap in order to overlap them. A point is earned for each opposition skater a jammer passes legally after this lap. The skaters in the pack try to stop the opposition’s jammer from passing them by using their shoulders or knees to block the other skaters. It is legal to knock skaters to the ground to prevent them from scoring points.

The sport of roller derby originated in roller skating marathons in America in the 1930s. It became a popular professional sport during the next decade, with active teams in 50 cities across America. The sport’s popularity diminished during the 1970s and interest in roller derby only resurged in 2001. Although male and mixed teams are becoming more common, roller derby is largely regarded as a women’s sport.

The portrayal of roller derby in popular culture has seen a renewed interest in the sport. It is being increasingly recognised as a competitive sport and will be considered as an event in the 2020 Olympics.

In roller derby, performance and theatrics is sometimes more important than athleticism. Players often assume “skater names” to encourage them to adopt an alter ego while skating. Tournaments are also given unusual names that are often puns on popular cultural references. In America, there are tournaments called “Night of the Rolling Dead”, “Knocktoberfest” and “Spanksgiving”. Gauteng has a roller derby tournament called “Skate Wars”.

Melinda Lotz, who calls herself “MissChieff”, is credited with establishing the sport of roller derby in South Africa. She began the C-Max Roller Derby League in 2010 with Candice van Niekerk (“Ling Kong”) after watching Drew Barrymore’s 2008 film Whip It. They organised Africa’s first roller derby bout “Rage in the Cage”, held in March last year. There are currently 81 registered C-Max members participating in the sport across the country.

To participate in the C-Max league, skaters must join a registered club. New skaters attend “Fresh Meat” training sessions for five weeks to complete a level-one programme. They must pass a practical exam at the end of this before they can advance to level two and then level three. The level one programme aims to teach participants the basics of skating and does not include physical contact between skaters.


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