International roller derby players Juke Boxx and Ballistic Whistle visited Byron Bay on the weekend to host almost six hours of gruel served up hard and fast to skaters from Lismore, Coffs, Yamba, Armidale, Tweed, the Goldy and Brisbane as well as the local Bay Rollers.
Skaters were put through their paces with drills and exercises designed to hone technique and give the girls the edge over other players.
Apart from being a skater for Team USA, Juke Boxx is captain of the Minnesota Rollergirls as well as a derby coach. Ballistic Whistle is a Melbourne lad who discovered derby while overseas and now plays for Southern Discomfort in the UK and coaches the London Rollergirls.
Originally from Denmark before moving to Australia when he was two, Ballistic Whistle has been living in the UK for the last 10 years. Juke Boxx is a Wisconsin girl who lives in Minneapolis. This is her first visit to the country.
Juke Boxx and Ballistic are in the country for just two weeks this time around – one week in Brisbane teaching the league there, and then a workshop in Tweed as well as the Byron event before heading down for a week in Melbourne with their league, where they will coach five teams in six days.
Ballistic Whistle was a skateboarder in Australia before he left for overseas. He discovered the derby in the UK in 2006. When he left Australia 10 years ago there was no derby so it has been a pleasant surprise that is has grown in his absence. ‘There was no derby here before I left,’ says Ballistic. ‘It’s great. I had been curious about whether is had grown since I left. I always thought that Australia is always good for a counterculture and also good for a sporting activity – and after living in the UK, I see that females in Australia are much more involved in sport. In the UK it is difficult for women to get involved in sport, especially once their education is finished. There is much more access over here so I was really excited to see how far it had actually developed.’
Juke Boxx says that even though the sport has always had some sort of presence in the US, there is certainly a resurgence there and all over the world at the moment. ‘It died off,’ says Juke Boxx. ‘The derby really started a revival about 10 years ago when they started a flat track derby in Texas. That’s where it all started again and the reason that it caught on so quickly was because of the flat track. Flat track versus banked track? Flat track is so much more accessible than the banked track they used to use.
‘Also, it’s a different game now from what it was before. It use to be more like WWF wrestling – everything was more staged. The way it has been revived it is not at all like that any more. It is much more of a sport now, an athletic endeavour rather than a spectacle. These days skaters are going to do it whether people are watching or not, that’s the big difference. These days it is a sport that knows how to have fun.’
Juke Boxx says that what she loves about derby is that it is a sport that is inclusive regardless of age, race, gender and transgender, body type, religious belief or education. ‘There’s just no room for bigotry.’
To parents who are looking at derby for their kids, Juke Boxx would say that the derby ‘family’ is a big drawcard. ‘I think it’s one of the most amazing communities you can be involved in,’ she says. ‘It’s like church, but not. Roller derby is really the only sport that doesn’t discriminate against the non-’jock’ type. It’s really accepting of anyone. Really the only people that aren’t accepted are the bigots. There’s really not anything like it in the sports world for girls. Derby doesn’t care if you are or if you are not the athletic type.
To girls and boys who would like to play, both Juke Boxx and Ballistic say simply: ‘Get a pair of skates’.
‘If you love to skate it’s a great thing,’ says Juke Boxx. ‘It’s physical and for me it combined a lot of things about a lot of the sports I love to play. It’s taught me a lot of life lessons as an adult. I can’t imagine getting that diversity as a child anywhere else’.