Published on October 3rd, 2014 | by Em Dash0
Photo: Paul Erhardt
Hacking Roller Derby
This year, I started working for a startup-y internet company, even though I’m not a very technical person. It has been intriguing for me to move from the stolid, tradition-oriented, slow-moving world of book publishing to the intellectually curious hacker culture of a website. Last week, we had a company-wide Hack Day, where each employee could spend the day working on any project they chose. Some people worked on things to make our site better, others tried to invent something new, and still others made something that seemed cool with no idea of how it might be useful.
I left my company’s Hack Day projects presentation today and biked to practice, where I was leading a practice for our B team, the Wall $treet Traitors. The season is winding down, so our attendance has been light, and I opened the practice up to skaters who were there for an earlier practice and offered to work on whatever the skaters wanted to do. When there were no passionate voices, I indulged myself and declared that we would be working on offbeat apex jumps.
I’ve been entranced by the fantastic videos that Kamikaze Kitten has been publishing on Vimeo lately, and have been messing around with some of the skills at practice, but I needed an extra body and some time to try the assisted apex jumps she did in her most recent video. The ten skaters who stayed were totally up for it, so after giving them a brief demonstration of a few different apex jumps and some tips, I let everyone try the jumps on their own. Everyone could jump the apex, though some were more gung-ho than others. Some started right in on the 180-degree apex jumps I had mentioned, and even tried the in-and-out ones from the video with Jukeboxxx.
I showed the videos, and we all messed around with different skills. Every skater did things a bit differently, and there was something to learn from every single person. Through fearless trial and error (and a number of hilarious wipeouts), we all started to become comfortable with skills that had previously seemed mind-boggling. We even made some improvements of our own on the skills. Everyone was having fun, everyone was pushing out of her comfort zone, and everyone was learning.
As the sport of roller derby has begun to mature, we’ve created formal programs for learning and teaching, and that has been great. It has allowed us to share skills with each other and get fresh meat players skating at a high skill level very fast. But sometimes it feels like we’re losing a little of that sense of adventure and “what the hell” or “I’ll just try it!” which is how we all built this new sport over the last thirteen years. When you think about it, pretty much all the skills we have in modern roller derby have been hacked together by skaters following a crazy idea, stealing bits from other sports, or just messing around and doing something ‘cuz it seemed like it would be cool.
Let’s not be too quick to leave the startup phase of derby. One of the things that is most attractive about the sport is that it is a living, protean thing that we’re all building together. I hope to see a lot more derby hacking in the future.
If you have a favorite derby hack video, please share it in the comments. I’m already planning my next practice.
For more writing by Em Dash, check out her upcoming book, Derby Life: Stories, Advice & Wisdom from the Roller Derby World.
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