A coastal newcomer finds camaraderie, ferocity, and fun when she joins the Tillamook Coast Derby Dames.
STORY BY AMY KORST
FEATURED IMAGE BY SAYDE WALKER
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I GREW UP ice skating, spending so many afternoons at the rink that the sound of sharp metal blades on smooth, cold ice makes my heart beat a bit faster.
Then I moved to the Oregon Coast, two hours away from the nearest figure-skating club. The loss of skating felt like a phantom limb, a permanent ache for something no longer there. So, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that a fledgling roller derby league had formed in Tillamook.
The Tillamook Coast Derby Dames started skating together in January 2017 after a group of skaters from the recently disbanded Shanghaied Roller Derby team in Astoria created a league of their own. Because Tillamook is centrally located, skaters from as far north as Astoria and as far south as Pacific City trek to the Tillamook County Fairgrounds’ Tillaskate rink twice a week for intense—and intensely fun—practices.
I knew literally nothing about women’s flat track roller derby when I heard about the Tillamook team, but skating is skating, right? I walked into a practice in June, five months after the league formed, not knowing what to expect but knowing I couldn’t go any longer without skating.
I was an outsider looking in when I wandered through the doors of the roller rink. Women of all ages and body types lined the benches in various stages of donning protective gear. Roller derby skaters routinely wear helmets, mouth guards, wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads to protect themselves while playing a full contact sport—on roller skates.
The team’s camaraderie was apparent from the second I walked in, but I was welcomed with open arms. Loaner gear was thrust upon me, as I had no protective padding or roller skates. I told everyone I had no roller skating experience but I did have 18 years of ice skating experience, so I figured I’d catch on quick.
Perhaps I was a tad overconfident, because as soon as I stood up, my feet flew out from under me and I landed squarely on my backside. There went my pride.
I had officially earned the moniker all new derby skaters are known by—fresh meat.
The coach, Rad Pittstains, boosted me up and took me onto the track. He spent the first 10 minutes of practice helping me learn the basic mechanics of roller skating: stay in derby stance (bottom down, chest out), fall forward, don’t leave your fingers splayed out when you do fall lest a wayward skate run them over.
I got the hang of it fairly quickly, but it would be weeks yet before I felt proficient on roller skates, even with my ice skating history. Week after week, more new ladies joined the team, and we were quickly incorporated into practices and drills that were modified according to our skill level.
From the minute I earned that first tailbone bruise, I became part of the team and part of the family.
The first practice was such fun that there was never any question about whether I would continue with the team— it was just a given.
First, I had to learn to skate. Then I had to learn the rules of the game.
Women’s flat track roller derby has gone through various stages of evolution to reach the point it’s at today. When most people think of derby, they think of the heavily staged bouts of the 1970s—complete with choreographed brawls and fishnet stockings.
Today, roller derby is a bonafide sport, not the WWE on roller skates it used to be. It’s essentially football on wheels without a ball. There are two basic positions: jammers and blockers. Jammers are often small and fast, like football’s running backs. Blockers are like linebackers, and their job is to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from passing their “pack.” It’s full contact, and derby women are no joke.
While staged fights are a thing of the past, the theatrics of derby remain. Each skater selects an alter ego for herself, often a name that is either a punny cultural reference or an innuendo. On the TCDD team, fans can cheer for Carnage a Trois, Skid Vicious, Jac B Nimble, Beach Slap, and 19SlaydeFour, among others.
Skaters select their own number, too. TCDD’s Beach Slap recently changed her number to 46 “as in ‘life begins at 46,’ because it sure has for me,” she says.
Colorful costumes remain, too. Roller derby is all about empowering women, and attire is meant to accentuate, not hide, a player’s strong feminine side.
The women of TCDD, and indeed roller derby nationwide, are fierce females. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up for my first practice, but I’ll admit to some assumptions (and we all know what assuming does to you) about tatted up biker chicks. This preconceived notion couldn’t be farther from the truth (although many women do sport fabulous tattoos).
Derby dames come from all walks of life, but one trait every single member of the team has in common is an intrinsic drive compelling her to do great things. The team is filled with professionals— women who own their own businesses, nurses, teachers, writers, filmmakers, wildlife biologists—at the top of their fields. Some are mothers, some are rescue dog owners, some are married, some single, some divorced.
All want the world to hear them roar.
“When I found out I was having a baby girl, I suddenly felt all this pressure to be my best self and a good example for her. I felt—for the first time—a desire to not let fear run my life and to go after the things I wanted in life. I didn’t want to be boring—I wanted to be bold, individualistic, brave, and all the things I want her to be,” says 19SlaydeFour (Sayde Walker) about why she joined the TCDD.
The Tillamook Coast Derby Dames aspire to be more than just a roller derby team. In addition to practices and bouts (games), the dames participate in a variety of events intended to raise awareness for the team and give back to the community. Over the summer, the team created parade floats for the Tillamook June Dairy Parade, collected money in a Fill the Boot campaign for Manzanita’s fireworks display, and handed out candy in Pacific City’s Dory Days Parade. Team members participated in roller derby demonstrations at Tillamook’s annual Moonlight Madness event and held an all-ages dance party in the Pelican Pub’s Tillamook Tap Room facility.
The team is always recruiting fresh meat. No experience or gear is necessary, and affordable on-site childcare is available. Take it from someone with experience—come to one practice, and you’ll be hooked. ■
CONTACT THE TILLAMOOK Coast Derby Dames at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about them on their Facebook fan page. (facebook.com/route6rollers) The other roller derby team on the coast is the Adventure Coast Roller Derby Star Stompers, with matches held at the Coquille Community Building. (facebook.com/starstompers)