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Get Yo Skates on for Anarchy in the UK - Interview with London Rollergirl Raw Heidi

London Rollergirls in action: Harbour Grudges vs Suffra Jets. Photo courtesy Derek Bremner

Photo: Derek Bremner Photography

 

Rollerskating is for girls. Except these freewheeling women have names like Kamikaze Kitten and Missyle Elliott, are slathered in warpaint and wouldn't bat an eyelid at the thought of slamming you to the ground for a point.

Step aside for London Rollergirls, the UK's first ever all-female roller derby league.

Next month the league hosts Anarchy in the UK, a two-day tournament that will pit our London ladies against the roughest, toughest skaters in the world.

It's the first time a Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) event has ever been held outside the US and an indicator of just how big this once counterculture of 'punks on skates' has become.

 

London Rollergirls Season 3 Bout 3 : Suffra Jets vs Ultraviolent Femmes. Photo courtesy Derek Bremner

Photo: Steve Newton

 

Originating in the US during the depression-era 1930s, roller derby sees two teams battling it out on a cyclical track with designated 'jammers' – usually the fastest skaters - attempting to overtake other players and scoring a point each time they do. Meanwhile their team mates, known as 'blockers' and 'pivots' skate in a tight pack just ahead, trying to stop the opposing jammers getting past.

It's fast and feisty, with an ear-blistering pop rock soundtrack to get you jumping out of your seat and baying for blood.

Using her skater name, London Rollergirls member Raw Heidi admitted: “It is violent. But I don't think it's scary, it's really exciting. Like any sport there are rules in place for safety, like no kicking, no punching, no tripping.

“And if someone knocks you on your arse then you just get up again. That's really the ethos behind it.”

Since forming in 2006, the London Rollergirls has swelled to more than 100 members and is now the only European member of the leading authority on roller derby, the WFTDA.

As a testament to their growing clout in a traditionally American sport, the London team will go head-to head against Canada's Montreal Roller Derby, Pittsburgh's Steel City Derby Demons and Baltimore's Charm City Roller Girls – all three listed in the top 25 teams in the world – at the Anarchy in the UK tournament from Saturday April 9 to Sunday April 10.

“They're extremely well respected and they will definitely annihilate us,” Raw Heidi joked, adding: “but once you've got your skates on you think 'we can win, we can do this.'”

 

Photo: Derek Bremner Photography

 

Raw Heidi, a 28-year-old TV producer during office hours, says she got involved in the sport after a friend invited her on a special birthday outing. From that moment she was hooked.

“My friend emailed me and said 'it's my birthday and I want to go drink beer and see girls in hot pants skating and hitting each other in Tottenham' and I just thought 'brilliant!'” Raw Heidi said.

“I love roller derby because it's completely changed the way I think about my life. Instead of a 20-something-year-old who works and then parties with their friends on the weekend, now I go to far-flung places, meet a diverse group of women I wouldn't normally meet, get fit and train three or four times week. It's inspiring.

“I love the sport. I love to put my skates on, bash other girls, score points, lose, win, go to the pub and celebrate.”

With it's punk aesthetic and world wrestling-style theatrics, Raw Heidi says part of roller derby's growing appeal has been in its blatant snub of the mainstream.

“I think people are always looking for something different. People whinge about celebrity culture and the rubbish in women's magazines and I think they aren't being catered to in that mainstream culture,” she said.

“Roller derby started as a rockabilly retro throwback but now it's really evolved. It requires a lot of athleticism, it's a sport.”

So what does it take to be a rollergirl? Apart from a killer skater name?

“I don't think there's anybody who's definitely cut out or not cut out to be a rollergirl. Sometimes the wide, big, broad girl ends up being an amazing power blocker. And the dainty little pony-haired girl gets past everyone and is an amazing jammer,” Raw Heidi said.

“The most unlikely of characters think roller derby will be too much for them. But then they just keep getting back up again.”