RollerCon is the largest roller derby convention in the world and is hosted annually in Las Vegas.
It’s effectively the Mecca for anyone in the derby community, whether a skater, non-skating official (NSO), a referee, photographer, or even an avid fan.
Roller derby has evolved from the area of sports entertainment in the 1930s to one of the most brutal, yet rewarding and athletically challenging sports in the world. There are approximately 1,250 leagues across the globe and almost half of these are outside the US — the sport’s place of birth.
Like all sports, the nitty gritty rules can become complicated but roller derby is kind of like rugby or American football, without a ball.
An official game has a roster of 14 players on each team and has two 30-minute halves. The game consists of a series of short bursts of play (up to two minutes in length), with four blockers and one jammer from each team on the track. The jammer has a star on their helmet and is the only player that can score by passing a player on the opposing team, after initially passing the pack of skaters in the first lap. The blockers try to hinder the opposing jammer by blocking, forming walls in front or around a jammer, or hitting while also assisting their own jammer.
Like I said, it gets complicated, so if you want to read up about it, check here. If you want to see some of it in action at RollerCon, then check out this slideshow!
I skate with the London-based league Croydon Roller Derby and this year was the first time I got to go to RollerCon.
This is me with all my gear on. What you can't see here are my roller derby skates and massive kneepads, shot by derby photographer Neil Biggs.
And this is why we wear so much protection. Roller derby is a full contact sport and we all fall over a lot. This is me during an annual outdoor tournament in Britain, only five days before RollerCon, called Eastbourne Extreme.
My league celebrated our fourth consecutive year of winning the Eastbourne Extreme trophy. While most of my team celebrated with champagne, I headed off with a few of the girls to Vegas.
RollerCon is the mecca for the roller derby community. Although, it's costly for those living outside the US, hundreds travel from across the globe to get to the skater's holy land.
Meanwhile, the Americans that take a road trip to get to RollerCon usually let everyone know where they're going!
And you get some pretty epic licence plates adorning the car parks. (Incidentally, a 'power jam' is when one of the jammers is sent off the track to serve a penalty, leaving the opposing jammer to continue to try and score points on the track by themselves).
RollerCon is in its tenth year but only two months before the event was meant to take place in the Riviera, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought the Riviera out for £118.2 million ($182.5 million). The LVCVA plans to demolish it.
However, the organisers were incredible and managed to secure the new venue at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, attached to the Westgate Hotel across the road. Here's the view from my hotel room.
Unlike most conventions, RollerCon's ticket prices are incredibly cheap. The most expensive ticket is around $149 (£96.50) for the whole event, which includes hundreds of seminars, on-skates training sessions, games to participate in, games to watch, and the parties. Our passes had to carry our real names and derby names, as you can see below.
There are three full-sized flat tracks for challenges (one 30-minute, non-stop game), bouts (two 30-minute halves with a 10-minute break in the middle), and scrims (pick-up games). Look at that lovely polished concrete.
There is even a 'banked track,' which is the elevated and inverted track that you see in the film 'Whip It' with Ellen Page. I tried it out for the first time here.
The reason why the tickets are so cheap is because, like the roller derby community in general, it's heavily reliant on volunteers and self-funding. From the people that work the doors, the officials that run the games, to the Emergency Medical Technicians, many people work for free so we can all enjoy this incredible sport.
This is usually the 'uniform' of a derby player at RollerCon. Our tops with our league, derby name and number, bumbags and something warm to wear while we wait. Also our pass with our ID behind it. You get your pass and ID checked at every event, registration, or party.
Skaters, officials, and EMTs, all have derby names. However, an increasing amount of players are starting to use their real surnames as the sport grows.
On-skates training classes started from as early as 8 a.m. However, you could register as early as two hours beforehand, which led to sometimes incredibly long queues at some ungodly hour. However, it was totally worth it to get into a training session with a world champ.
There were hundreds of classes over the course of five days and were spread across five designated, full-size training tracks.
Once you got in, you got some of the best training from the world's roller derby elite. Can you spot me in the crowd after training with the World Cup skater for Team USA, V-Diva?
Training sessions could last up to two hours and ranged from developing skills as a blocker or jammer, or even as specific of learning how to do advanced stops. (Believe me, when you're going around a track as fast as 15 m.p.h. you need all the help you can get in knowing how to stop without breaking something).
And injuries do happen. One EMT told me there were several broken and injured ankles during RollerCon. Luckily though for my team mate Lady Painelope, she only sprained her ankle when another skater fell on top of her during a game.
If you're not in classes, you're playing games. Prior to the event, you would go online and apply to play in challenges and bouts. Luckily, here, I got to skate with a lot of friends from back in the UK, in geographical themed game 'Team GB versus We're Not British.'
Other team names and themed games are usually tongue-in-cheek and have some form of sense of humour. For example, below is 'Marmite versus Jelly.' There were also games called 'Donkey Punching Kangaroos versus Kung Fu Pandas' and 'Black and Blue Dress versus White and Gold Dress.'
However, some teams are formed as a support group for those with similar life experiences and to raise awareness of their cause. For example, Team Crazy Legs (below) played against Team Metal Legs. TCL raise awareness about mental health and chronic illness, while TML is formed of skaters that suffered a serious injury in their past. These types of teams are tantamount at demonstrating how inclusive the roller derby community is.
Before each game you get to warm up by skating around to warm up the muscles. Here I am below before a game.
But this also means you get the chance to be on the same team (as well as against in some cases) with a World Champ. Here, I got to skate on the same team as London Rollergirls' Kid Block. (It's like being in a doubles match with Andy Murray).
You also get to push your limits and play against some serious competition. Here I am jamming in a CO-ED game (men and women), which had some World Cup skaters on both sides.
And by events, I mean parties! There were several over the course of the week, including the Riedell Superheroes and Super villains costume themed event.
There was also the epic pool party called the 'Black and Blue Ball.' You were only permitted to wear black and/or blue, as a play of the fact that we are all always covered in bruises from playing derby.
Many of the costumes were NSFW viewing, and I don't think people wanted me photographing them in their swimsuits, but here I am in a luchador mask that I teamed up with my outfit.
A lot of us also, un-apologetically, made excursions to some mega eateries, such as the Heart Attack Grill.
Meanwhile, especially the international players, took the time to try and sightsee and pooled resources together to get over to the Grand Canyon just before or after RollerCon.
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