Most wouldn’t consider roller derby to be a popular sport in Montreal but the few hundred people who showed up to watch MTL Roller Derby kick off their seventh season might beg to differ.
People from all over the city packed the TAZ Arena on Saturday to watch the round robin between the three Montreal home teams La Racaille, Les Contrabanditas and Les Filles du Roi.
Roller derby is by no means a new sport; it was popular back in the 1960’s and 70’s and has since had a bit of a revival.
Unlike many other sports, it doesn’t involve a ball or a net but has players from two five-person teams skating around a track. Each team chooses a scoring player, known as the jammer, who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams try to help their own jammer get around the track while trying to stop the other teams’ player from getting through. The winning team must have the most points at the end of the 30-minute halves.
Despite the sport’s relatively recent growth in popularity, it still remains a somewhat secret to those who aren’t involved in the community.
“It’s not known in the public and in the mainstream,” said Smack Daddy, a player on the New Skids on the Block all-star team. “So these kinds of communities end up really close, since it’s an underground thing.”
In addition to playing on the all-star team, Smack Daddy is involved in the boot camp session that takes place after the season ends in August.
The girls are put through a series of tests where wannabe players learn different aspects of the sport, including how to skate.
“We start off with about 80 girls, and then about 40 girls who have passed the levels and are ready to be on a smash squad or join one of the home teams,” explained Smack Daddy.
She says while many girls who go through boot camp have previous experience playing contact sports, it isn’t a requirement to try out.
“People come into it with never having played a sport before, and there’s room in the league for them, too,” she said.
Gunmoll Mindy, captain of Les Contrabanditas, has been playing derby for six years and says the sport has come a long way since she first started playing.
“At first they would strap skates to you, throw you out there and tell you ‘try not to hurt yourself’,” she said. “Now, it’s an organized sport that draws huge crowds and is highly professional.”
For the players and organizers of MTL Roller Derby, the sport is something much more than just a game.
“There is a serious sisterhood in terms of derby,” said Smack Daddy. “The whole community is such a hodgepodge of diversity of different [sexual orientations], interests, body shapes and sizes, regardless we’re all together with this love of roller derby which makes a really intense bond.”
Gunmoll Mindy agrees, and likens the derby community to a family.
“To be able to walk into this and have 80 people who are your family is amazing. These guys will do anything for you,” she said. “We really have a tight-knit group.”
Though the rules have changed slightly since the ‘60s – now, there’s no punching allowed – derby is still a physically demanding contact sport.
When it comes to playing against friends in such a physical sport, once the whistle blows it’s important to remember that you’re all there for fun, says Smack Daddy.
“At the end of every jam you’ve got to give them a hug or high five because it’s so intense.”
“It’s hard here, we all skate together in practice and then we all have to hit each other in the games,” said Gunmoll Mindy. “You just have to turn it off and say ‘this person is my enemy and I will knock them down’.”
The Montreal Sexpos will play the Lumbersmacks on April 6 at the TAZ arena located at 8931 Papineau. Tickets can be purchased at mtlrollerderby.com.
Photos by Natasha Taggart