Sure, they kick ass and take names, but behind those crazy outfits, awesome monikers and tough moves lies a solid foundation built on teamwork and a sense of inclusiveness. Meet the women (and men) of Beach Cities Roller Derby.
- Written byKatie Griffith
You heard it here … the South Bay is home to a roller derby team. To most of us runners, yogis and Pilates addicts, Beach Cities Roller Derby (BCRD) seems like a unique and somewhat intimidating sport.
However, BCRD is a special group even among its peers on other city teams. It’s co-ed (very rare in the derby world) and forging itself into the scene, thanks to its fierce and never-weary leader, Pigeon.
The woman behind the operation swooped by me on quad wheels outside Square Cat Skates in Hermosa Beach, derby headquarters here in the South Bay. After walking into the skate shop, two of the staff—Killvester Stallone and Rage’n Ribbons—informed me that I’d “just missed her.” Putting two and two together, I realized that the smooth skater who whizzed by me out front was in fact the brains and heart behind the derby.
Without Pigeon, BCRD wouldn’t exist. She started it as a team in Wilson Park in March 2012. Today, competitions are still held at this park, and teams practice weekly in front of burger joint Boardwalk in Hermosa.
Pigeon is like many of the women in roller derby. She looks like the toughest chick you’ve ever met, and yes, she’s almost always on roller skates. But when you sit down and talk to her about the league, her passion and dedication shine through. You quickly learn that BCRD is her soft spot. Pigeon and her derby are firmly rooted in building community, being good teammates and spending time with a like-minded, passionate group.
“You can make derby whatever you want. Especially in my league,” explains Pigeon.
This former teacher at the Arts & Media Academy in Los Angeles only recently gave up her day job to focus fully on derby. “It was really difficult to not go back,” she shares.
But the derby is her first love, and it needed her full attention. Now she coaches and runs the league full-time. Her leadership ability is one thing that attracts people to Pigeon’s derby.
Take her first recruit, Phoenixx Hairizona. “Last year, I watched a couple derby documentaries on Netflix and felt an instant connection to the skaters’ stories and the sport itself,” Phoenixx says. “I was really scared of the idea of actually skating, though, and I didn’t have a lot of time or money to join leagues that were outside of the South Bay. So I canned the idea.”
About a week later, the derby’s unique power of persuasion made a play when Phoenixx caught Coach Pigeon doing a glorious power slide in a parking lot. Pigeon was just starting BCRD, and Phoenixx saw their chance meeting as a sign that she needed to be part of it.
“No matter how uncertain I felt about playing roller derby, it was definitely cosmic intervention to have met the coach of a brand new league starting in my area,” says Phoenixx.
Girls & Boys Club
“The Beach Cities Roller Derby is similar to a lot of other start-up leagues nationwide: grassroots, very do-it-yourself and made up of dedicated, self-sacrificing people who love the sport and want to see it grow,” explains Pigeon’s assistant coach (and derby referee) Oliver Clothesoff, one of the team’s male members.
Pigeon’s vision for a co-ed travel team—or even better, a co-ed home team that plays intramurally—sets BCRD apart. “This idea is new, daring and exciting, and as far as I know, hasn’t been done around here in recent history,” explains Oliver.
Beach Cities boasts members from 15 to 63 years of age, from every background and profession you could possibly imagine. “We slam each other as if we’re all the same age, and we all mentor and inspire each other uniquely,” says Phoenixx. “We are all super close, and I can’t think of any other situation where I’d have a bond with men and women of all different ages other than my family. And it’s definitely a family.”
There’s Safety on Wheels
Roller derby is an aggressive sport, and naturally, sometimes people get hurt. There is no avoiding that reality, but the team, coaches and officials take extreme care to limit the likelihood of injury. To play roller derby, you are required to wear a bunch of gear, including a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, kneepads and a mouth guard.
Pigeon will not let any BCRD member skate on a team until they have proven their skating (and falling) ability. That’s right, she even makes sure everyone is properly trained on how to take a spill before they can start skating with the team.
“Fresh meat,” as newbies are called, can start on the “Bunny Slopes,” an intro course to all of the basics on skates taught by … who else? … a skater named Bunny. “I also teach a Derby 101 class at Hawthorne Middle School,” says Pigeon. “There is a lot to learn about roller derby—from the numerous rules to the language we use to the technicalities of the sport.”
“Knowing how to skate and being comfortable skating derby are worlds apart, and everyone involved in roller derby knows this,” explains Oliver. “No one expects someone walking in off the streets to be a badass derby player. Those folks are built—out of hours and hours of practice, effort and sacrifice—rather than born.”
Pigeon herself didn’t own skates when she was approached during college to go to derby try-outs. Instead, she rented a pair and showed up without really knowing how to skate. It seems few people are “born into” the roller derby scene, and yet it found each of these members as though it was a fated relationship.
“I was an inline speed skater and triathlete when I was hit by a car in 2005,” says Oliver. “I was in a wheelchair for the better part of a year, and one of my legs was almost two inches shorter than the other.”
After recovering, Oliver started cycling again, and during a stop while riding in Long Beach, a couple girls on skates asked him about his leg and whether he could still skate. “They told me they were skaters from the Orange County Roller Girls and that they were in need of referees,” he remembers. “Shortly after that, I hobbled into the OC practice space and started my career as a roller derby ref. That was almost seven years ago.”
The roller derby lifestyle truly can be compared to no other. And as with most other sports, it requires a dedicated group to keep the team and the league running as inexpensively as possible. Thus most skaters are highly involved in the day-to-day operations of their leagues.
“This is part of the strength and unifying component to the derby community,” says Oliver. “How often do you hear of other sports’ players changing out toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms or picking up garbage after playing a game? Roller derby is unique in that both the sport and the culture in general is that of a team mentality. Derby people succeed or fail not so much by individual efforts but by a sum total of individual contributions focused to the same goal.”
A grassroots operation from top to bottom, the roller derby culture is consistently friendly and open. The members acknowledge that some of the folks involved look tough and intimidating, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people with bigger hearts than those in their sport. And their passion and enthusiasm is palpable.
“No one is getting rich playing roller derby or running a roller derby league,” explains Oliver. “Derby typically takes up as much room in one’s life as it’s allowed to. It will move into any unoccupied space and sometimes will force other things and people out. It’s not easy to be involved in roller derby, certainly not at a level where one is competitive as a skater.”
Everyone involved in BCRD is there because they love it. They are passionate about it, and it wakes them up in the morning—excited to get back to it. “If you’ve ever been around someone doing something they’re absolutely passionate about, something that ignites them, you know how appealing and attractive that is,” adds Oliver.
Pigeon focuses her league on being all-inclusive. She says, “I want it to be open to all ages, genders, people who can skate and those who can’t (yet). I want derby to find everyone who needs it.”
Fighting for the Future
Beach Cities Roller Derby remains a work in progress, and it will be for some time. The tryouts for the first-ever roller derby teams in the South Bay were just held in January, and soon those teams will start playing travel teams from other leagues, in addition to some intramural bouts at home.
Committees within the league—those that govern things like merchandise, fundraising, sponsorship, recruitment, etc.—are finally up and running and already making significant headway. “Pigeon and the others have the opportunity to make something beautiful and rewarding out of nothing and then share it with the community that they love,” says Oliver.
Pigeon’s goal is to get young people involved in what the derby has to offer. “I want to see the Junior Derby grow a lot over the next year,” she says confidently.
And what do team members say is the best part of the roller derby? The alter egos of course, complete with cool names and all the stylistic expression they can dream of.
Says Phoenixx, “Basically it’s your chance to be over-the-top and magical … like an epic superhero.”
For more on Beach Cities Roller Derby, visit beachcitiesrollerderby.com.