OCEANSIDE — On Monday night, team members of North County’s only women’s flat track roller derby league gathered at Martin Luther King Park for their tri-weekly two-hour practice.
Each of the Hidden City Derby Girls (HCDG) is geared up for a night of training, skating drills, and game technique with elbow pads, kneepads, wrist protectors, mouth guards, and helmets decorated with team nicknames, wild colors and glitter.
Ranging from their early-20s to late-40s, the skaters are wearing neon colors and leopard prints galore.
Two women are wearing socks covered in decorative blood splatters. Several came to practice wearing touches of mascara and lip-gloss. All of them are wearing tight shorts, leggings, and tiny t-shirts, typical practice wear.
“You’re stronger than you think!” yells their coach Johnny Guns, as the skaters shove each other while practicing a blocking technique.
One skater falls so hard that she bruises her tailbone, and another is elbowed in the face.
In the midst of practice, Carrie Bono, known by her team nickname “Carrie Bomb,” skates to the sidelines and gingerly takes off one of her roller skates.
Her foot is visibly steaming in the cold night air.
“It’s worth it,” she pants, wincing as she rubs her blistered foot.
She said since joining the team she has made a number of new friends and lost weight.
“I’m 40-years-old, and I do roller derby, and I have diabetes,” Bono said. “I feel better than I did when I was 30.”
“Oh-my-gawd the pain!” she moans as she flexes her foot.
A few minutes later, Bono laces up her skate again and rejoins her team on the track.
Although make-up and flirtatious costumes are a common sight out on the track, in recent years women’s flat track roller derby has been gaining popularity and recognition for the physically demanding and even combative sport it is.
Founded in 2001, there were over 1,000 women’s flat track roller derby leagues last year, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Over the past few years, the sport has gained a boost of media exposure from television appearances and movies, including the 2009 film, “Whip It” and a newly released Dr. Pepper commercial featuring a roller derby player.
With roller derby’s new popularity, the HCDG is relying more on the qualities of the sport and the camaraderie of its teams to sustain itself, and is considering phasing out the league’s feminine flashiness that it used to depend on.
“I’m one of those girls that absolutely hates the fishnets and the stereotype that you have to dress sexy and wear fishnets in order to play,” said Amie Dewees, aka “Rosey Graves,” co-founder of the HCDG.
But because the league struggled to find players and sponsors when it first started, Dewees said that the team used to hold “Spank Bank” fundraisers where people could spank a player in exchange for a donation.
Now, for the first time since the league was founded in 2008, HCDG has enough players to have two competitive teams this season, the Beach-side Bullies and the Beach-side Bruisers.
The HCDG has numerous sponsors, as well as trainers and a chiropractor that donates their time to help the skaters stay in shape.
“We used to use our ‘ass-ets’ as a way to make money, but we don’t do that any more. Gone are the days of cute outfits and spanking,” said Dewees.
Currently, the league’s members are split over whether to ban fishnets from its games, referred to as bouts, or not.
During a roller derby bout, five members from each team skate around an oval track. One member of the team, called a “jammer” scores points for her team by lapping members of the opposing team. The other four-team members skate in a pack in order to block the opposing team’s jammer from completing laps.
Each bout consists of two 30-minute periods, and usually lasts from one-and-a-half to two hours.
“As much as (the costumes are) fun, it can also be a distraction as well,” said Kristie Hallcox, who goes by the name, “Merry Go Down.” “We don’t want to be a joke on the track.”
Many of the skaters acknowledge that while the costumes helped spark their interest in roller derby, the sport and their teammates are what convinced them to join the HCDG.
“You can knock a girl over and it’s sexy. She falls and there’s fishnets in the air,” said Erin Pistilli, aka “Celtic Knotty.”
But Pistilli said that she joined HCDG to feel better about herself and make new friends.
“What better way to boost my confidence than to get shoved around by a bunch of cool people?” she said.
“You can wear what you want and do what you want,” said Alexandria Dougherty, whose nickname is “Axle Breaker.” “(Roller derby is) pretty much my release, a way to get out and be your own person aside from a mom and a student all the time, and a wife.”
Many of the HCDG skater said they are attracted to the closeness brought about by belonging to a roller derby team.
Dewees described HCDG as “a sisterhood that beats the crap out of each other at night time, but still loves each other off the track.”
“You’re out there on the track and you have to communicate and you have to be a team and you have to be strong. And I think (camaraderie) comes naturally,” said Tammy Fogleman, who goes by “Nasty Nightingale.”
“I think (roller derby) makes women empowered to be out there on the track and doing something that’s competitive,” Fogleman added.
The HCDG currently has over 30 committed members. Its 2013 season will start with an away bout March 10. Their home bouts are also played at Martin Luther King Park. Visit HCDG’s facebook page or website at hiddencityderbygirls.com for more information.