Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – It’s about adrenaline. About being tough and aggressive. About speed.
It’s about quad skates and fishnet stockings and short plaid skirts. About women, being sexy. About sisterhood.
This is roller derby, and it’s back in South Florida.
Popular in the 1970s and revived in recent years with a reality show on the A&E television network, the high-energy sport is gaining momentum among a growing group of tenacious women from around the region.
They call themselves the Broward County Derby Grrls and they’re part of the only all-female, full body contact roller derby league south of Stuart.
Inside Fort Lauderdale’s dimly lighted Gold Coast Roller Rink on a recent Wednesday night, 30 of these fast-action women laced up their roller skates, strapped on their elbow and kneepads and tightened their helmets for a two-hour practice session. Some wore lacy ankle socks. Others meticulously rolled up black and white stripped knee-highs before pounding the flat, wooden rink.
The women range in age from 21 to 44. Some are tall and feminine. Some have tattoos and body piercings.
Among them are librarians and knitters, Web developers and sign language interpreters. They all have a license for violence once they put on their skates.
“It’s a bunch of hot women letting out their aggression,” said Lynn Lipszyc, 35, a Web developer from Aventura, after the practice.
Roller derby is played when two teams of five players race around a track in a pack formation, said Brenda Bach, 42, vice president of the Derby Grrls.
Blockers in the pack stay close and try to keep jammers from the opposite team from skating through the pack. Blockers can push, wrestle and slam the jammers to try to stop them, Bach said. Each jam lasts about two minutes.
Points are scored when jammers break through the pack and lap around as much as possible. Each game consists of three 20-minute periods.
The sport was wildly popular on television in the 1950s and in arenas in the ’70s. It regained mass popularity in 2006, when A&E premiered the reality series Rollergirls.
In 2005, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a national group that governs most well-established leagues, was founded and counts more than 100 leagues around the country.
Most of the women have derby names that represent the skaters’ alter egos or are just plain fun, said Kate Underwood, founder of the Grrls.
By day, Underwood is employed as a social worker, but once she hits the rink, she becomes Domme E. Nation. She picked the name because derby allows her to be forceful and let out stress from her day job. Lipszyc goes by Yo’ Mama and Bach by Sin D. Lapher.
“I’ve been in a lot of jobs that have been very emotionally taxing on me,” said Underwood, 24, of Lake Worth. “So when I come here, I forget about everything and focus on skating and getting better and working hard and having a sisterhood of people.”
Underwood started the league after searching for one she could join and realizing the closest was in Martin County. She organized a recruiting event in August at New Moon, a lesbian bar in Wilton Manors, and created the group’s MySpace page.
From that first meeting, the group recruited about 30 skaters – straight women, lesbians, professionals, and stay-at-home-moms – eager to skate. Many of them hadn’t skated in 15 years, so the group started attending open skate nights at various rinks around Broward for the first few months.
A few men joined the fun as referees, since they can’t compete in the game. The group began formal practice sessions the week of Thanksgiving.
At the recent practice, Andrea Franklin, the group’s coach who skated professional roller derby in the 1980s, had the women zig-zag around small orange cones and practice falling on one knee, before having them attempt a pack formation.
Jessica Velez, 27, a construction computer administrator from Sunrise, ducked and pushed her way through the pack during the drills. She has been in-line skating since she was 14 but started quad skating only a couple of months ago.
Other skaters, like Lipszyc, hadn’t been on skates in nearly 20 years. But when she heard about the new league, she knew it was a perfect fit. “We beat each other up when we’re out there, and then we’ll hug each other and have beers,” she said. “It’s just fun.”
Both women said falling and bruising are all part of the fun. Velez said she finds a new mark on her body every day. As she spoke, she pointed to a new bruise on her leg.
“When I got my first black eye I went and got my nails done the next day because it looks good together,” said Lipszyc, laughing when she added it was a French manicure.