By Jessica Allen
Way back when, roller derbies were all about endurance: who could skate around a looped track the longest? Beginning in the early 2000s, however, a different type of derby began to gain popularity, thanks in part to the efforts of derby aficionados in Austin, who thought teams of women on skates crashing into one another might make for some serious entertainment. Today, thousands of people skate in leagues around the world, and the sport is even under consideration for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Herewith, our guide to roller derbies in New York, from how to watch to how to train to where to buy your skates.
How to Watch: Gotham Girls Roller Derby
Since its founding in 2003, Gotham Girls Roller Derby has sought to shape, support, and promote an all-women roller derby league in New York—or, as the founders explain, GGRD was initially “created by a handful of girls who just wanted to skate and hit each other.” Currently GGRD has four NYC teams: Brooklyn Bombshells, Manhattan Mayhem, Bronx Gridlock, and Queens of Pain. These teams play one another around town (check the calendar for upcoming events, locations, and ticket info), and their very best players comprise GGRD’s official All Stars team, traveling to compete in other parts of the country. Events are super fun and super popular.
How to Watch: New York Shock Exchange
The New York Shock Exchange (get it?) is the premier men’s roller derby league in the city. The league was founded in 2007 by a former Gotham Girls Roller Derby coach, and today has several interleague and travel teams, making stops in locales like the United Kingdom and Australia. As is the case with the women’s teams, the men’s teams play hard and fast, win championships, and have supremely talented skaters. Think you’ve got what it takes? Sign up for tryouts—no experience necessary, all sizes and shapes OK, beginners definitely welcome.
How to Learn: Basic Training
Strap on your skates and roll! In addition to serving as the city’s #1 roller derby league, Gotham Girls Roller Derby holds regular training sessions. For 10 weeks you’ll learn the basics of blocking, calling off the jam, falling small, hip whipping, and passing the star. Intermediate or advanced skaters can work on their moves and, in some cases, prepare to try out for the teams themselves in level 2 or 3 classes. Some advice: the ladies who skate as part of GGRD have awesome nicknames like Space Invader, Caf Fiend, Sir Vix-A-Lot, and Low Maim. So put on your thinking cap about how you want to be known.
Where to Skate: RollerJam
236 Richmond Valley Road
Staten Island, NY 10307
Brothers Joe and Tommy Costa opened RollerJam in 2007, giving skaters in the five boroughs and beyond a fun, safe place to get their wheels on. You won’t win any friends slamming into people, as the rink is meant for skating, not derbying, but you can nevertheless skate your heart out. A full-service bar means you can load up on liquid courage, should you need to, and the adults-only Saturday night special makes a fun alternative to the typical dinner-and-a-movie date (must be 21 and older, with ID). The lights are low, the music loud, the atmosphere lively. Have a peek at the calendar for teen parties, family nights, and other cool events.
Where to Shop: Five Stride Skate Shop
178 Bushwick Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11206
The city’s only full service roller skate shop is run by two well-known roller derby skaters and enthusiasts: OMG WTF and Bonnie Thunders, who retired from skating with the Gotham Girls Roller Derby in 2016. You can shop for your skates off the rack, so to speak, or ask for a customized package, in which the sales staff will outfit you head to foot, regardless of whether you want to skate for fun, profit, or bruises (or some combination thereof). Apparel, bags, and tools too. Fans take note: members of GGRD regularly drop in for adjustments and to see what’s new.