By James Clark

When you see a bunch of tattooed, lip-ring-sporting, fishnet-clad women hurtle by you on roller skates, the last thing that springs to mind are the words “compassionate” and “supportive.” Yet that’s what the Santa Cruz Rollergirls are trying to show the community they are.

The Santa Cruz Rollergirls are opening doors for the community this Saturday for their season’s kick-off party, to be held at the Santa Cruz Skate Shop on 41st Avenue.

Founded last year by Robin YoLife, the SCRG is a women’s roller derby league made up of several teams who compete with each other and teams from different leagues.

The kick-off party will reveal the team’s upcoming schedule, something the teams are understandably excited about.

“We’ve got an 11-game season coming up and we’re training really hard,” YoLife said. “I’ve personally started training instead of coaching. We’re all feeling the pressure a little bit. We really want to impress them and live up to their expectations.”

Danny Keith, owner of the Santa Cruz Skate Shop, where the kick-off party will be held, is excited for the team, as well.

“It’s a good opportunity for the girls because they will have an area where new members can come and check out skate gear that they can’t get other places,” Keith said. “It also gives a point of contact for the Rollergirls to interact with prospective players and community members.”

Players and supporters will also be able to purchase SCRG merchandise such as skates and equipment, as well as T-shirts with pictures of cruising rollergirls.

In order to participate in the high-contact and aggressive sport, the Rollergirls spend a time, energy and money trying to give back to the community.

“We have a committee called Community First, because that’s the top priority. There’s a higher meaning than just playing, it’s about using what we’re gaining from this to give back to the community.” YoLife said, adding, “Why do it if you can’t share it?”

Raven von Kaos, the league’s PR representative, highlights the difficulties of running the league and the work that goes into community projects.

“One of the many things that makes roller derby unique is that it’s a small business. It’s made up of different committees, like PR and marketing,” von Kaos said. “We pay $50 a month to skate and we’re trying to make a name in the community — to do that you have to spend money. We try to give back to the community and support different nonprofits, like the SC AIDS Project.”

Since the league was founded, SCRG’s members have been working hard to create teams of skilled players.

“When people first came they didn’t know the right techniques, and just kind of winged it. Since then we’ve concentrated really hard on overall fitness,” YoLife said. “It’s not all about skating, but also healthy lifestyle choices. Some of them have never been or thought of themselves as being truly athletic.”

YoLife is excited about the progress the league has made, she said.

“In a short while we’ve already gotten a rep in the community as being the ones to watch,” YoLife said. “It’s been pretty phenomenal to see them improve so much, and helping them do something really cool for themselves and contributing to their lives in a positive way.”

Von Kaos and YoLife explained that the benefits of the sport move beyond the purely physical. The SCRG has a code of conduct that members must obey. Among other things, players are required to come to practice sober and represent the team appropriately.

Von Kaos said that roller derby also offers its players a safe and friendly environment where a player can cut loose and let out her aggression.

“Sometimes it gets really intense — you see fighting. I understand how it happens now. I’ve been to that point, but I’m a real believer in good sportsmanship,” von Kaos said. “If you’re still angry after the game, you didn’t try hard enough. I’m an angel in other parts of my life now because I have a safe place to let out aggression.”