by RITA MANEATA
For Christmas, I bought myself one thing, Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby. Since derby has taken over most my brain and much of my time, I thought it only appropriate that I read about it. And I will say, authors Kasey Bomber and Axles of Evil did a phenomenal job compiling this compendium. The book delves into the history of roller derby, from the 1800s to today. It profiles members of the roller derby world who’ve contributed important things to the game we play today. It breaks down the game into simple, understandable parts. It even includes an annex of times roller derby has been featured on tv and in the movies.
I think this book is for everyone, whether you play or not.
For the Veteran Skater: You’ve got scrimmage shirts in every color of the rainbow. You’re experienced and hardened and can play this game blindfolded. But, did you ever wonder why the WFTDA Nationals trophy is called the ‘Hydra?’ That’s in here. There are tips for “winning the afterparty.” There are profiles of skaters you admire and ones you love to hate. Roxy Rockett offers her ‘Dos and Don’ts’ on how to switch leagues smoothly. There’s some advice on dating in the realm of derby. There’s even a short article on how and when to retire gracefully. This book will allow you to further obsess over the sport you love. The authors organized Rollercon and offer some insights about what kind of experience you can have there. It will give you fresh perspective and might remind you that you appreciate this weird thing you spend your nights and weekends doing.
For the Newbie Skater: You’re just catching the roller derby bug. You’ve spent a few hours Googling the skates you want to get when you can actually afford to. Down and Derby is for you too. There is an entire chapter on what to do when you’ve decided that roller derby is for you. It starts with doing your research on finding a league. In 2009, when the book was written, there were only 400 or so derby leagues worldwide. Today, there are more than 1100. There is derby somewhere for you. The next step goes into purchasing your gear. Axles and Kasey kindly go into all the required gear and even talk about some optional gear that you should consider investing in. They give advice on choosing skates, derby names, and jersey numbers, in that order. In just a few pages, they bring you from your first day of practice to skating your first bout. The authors are experienced skaters who played a role in developing the sport that’s taking over the world. Their words help to humanize derby and make it seem less intimidating. Remember, that when you join a league, you gain a family.
And finally, for the Fan: Maybe you come to a few bouts a year. Maybe you went once a few years ago, and keep meaning to go back. Maybe you’re a proud season ticket holder. You can still get something from reading this book. My mother, who as of Saturday, had been to three bouts, picked up the book recently and she has been enjoying it too. She loved the history of roller derby, “I didn’t know derby had its roots in the Great Depression.” Down and Derby caters to the fans also, offering a chapter entitled, “If You Can’t Be an Athlete, Be an Athletic Supporter!” detailing the many opportunities you have as a fan, ranging from announcing to coaching to just showing up to games. You’ve seen these girls skate, but this book will give you a deeper understanding of the hours that skaters put into training just so you can enjoy your monthly bout.
I’m so glad I found this book. Though already a little outdated, it has valuable wisdom from skaters who’ve been there, done that. It’s well-written and comprehensive. I learned a lot from reading it and have been able to use much of it in everyday conversations and roller derby practices! I promise to pass it around to my derby sisters as soon as I’m done re-reading it.