Suzy Hotrod is one of the Gotham City Girls heading to Australia for the Roller Derby Xtreme tour.
Suzy Hotrod is one of the Gotham City Girls heading to Australia for the Roller Derby Xtreme tour. Contributed

Roller derby girls play for keeps

MENTION the words roller derby to any baby boomer, and you'll receive flashbacks of the 1960s television spectacle, where men and women sent limbs flying as they thumped each other into side rails, in a staged wrestling-on-roller-skates type of broadcast entertainment.

Flash forward to 2012 and the modern game is a far cry from its origins more than 50 years ago.

The edgy sport spectacular played by fiery women has transformed the game into an eight-wheeled modern day gladiatorial battle, minus the soap opera.

The all-female, full-contact sport is one of athleticism, skill and strategy, far from the spectacle it once was.

But that's not to say it's not spectacular to watch, one blasting with confidence, raw aggression, passion and fierceness.

There's a reason why roller derby is one of the country's fastest-growing sports - the fastest-growing women's sport in the world.

At last count, there were 80 flat- track leagues in Australia, including 20 in Queensland alone.

The Land Down Under even fielded a team in the first Roller Derby World Cup, held in Toronto, Canada last year.

And our girls held their own, ranking fourth among international heavyweights USA, Canada, England and other European teams.

Australia is the home of the fastest-growing roller derby community outside the US.

International roller derby advocate Ivanna S. Pankin, who runs world-renowned derby skate shop Sin City Skates in the US, said the sport's popularity in Australia was huge.

"My unofficial take is that Australia has the next closest growth of derby after the US, based on interacting with Aussies, visiting to coach and talking to so many Australian skaters through my day job," Ivanna said.

So it's no surprise the underground sport has evolved into the mainstream arena.

In its southern hemisphere debut, Roller Derby Xtreme will feature 28 of the world's best skaters on a state-of-the-art banked track.

Queens of the banked track LA Derby Dolls take on world flat-track champions New York's Gotham City Girls Roller Derby, bringing their fierce rivalry to Australia in three arena shows across the east coast, including Brisbane, in November.

RDX was created by FremantleMedia Enterprises, produced in conjunction with Nine Live, to generate a new fan base for the sport.

Gotham City's dynamite blocker Fisti Cuffs said modern roller derby was thought to be fake by parts of the public, and the skating community was fighting that misconception.

"But the more that I speak to people, the more they are asking about the misconception rather than 'do you punch each other in the face'," she said.

Fisti said there would be no punches pulled in Roller Derby Xtreme.

"Fremantle and Nine Live approached Gotham and LA saying we want to import what you guys do. They wanted us to play the game we play. We don't have to compromise what we do."

Fisti said the skills used on the flat surface translated well to the banked track.

And she's no stranger to the elevated-edged track, with Gotham having met the LA Derby Dolls on the banked many times.

"We're lucky because we're in good shape and a lot of the skills translate to the different games. With the rail you need to understand the differences of physics because you're working with gravity."

The purpose-built banked track, custom-designed in Australia for this tour, is a steep 35-degree, 137cm bank, made from 12 tonnes of reinforced steel.

Built in 44 individual sections, the track is transported by road and reassembled at each venue.

"It's a sport just for women. I love that about it. The structure of the sport is unlike any other in the world," Fisti said.

"When I started playing roller derby in 2003 it was more of 'let's go around and hit each other'."

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