Roller Derby is more than a sport: it’s a way of life that brings in influences from kitschy 50’s emblems of alternative lifestyles. Photo courtesy Sean Vranizan.
Roller Derby is more than a sport: it’s a way of life that brings in influences from kitschy 50’s emblems of alternative lifestyles. Photo courtesy Sean Vranizan.
Photo courtesy Sean Vranizan.
Photo courtesy Sean Vranizan.

The warehouse walls are covered in faded white paint, peppered with scuffs and stains. By the looks of the rafters the building could have been a retired factory, but around the edge of the room, there are hints of the owners’ distinctive style: a DJ booth by the front of the room, a smiley face lawn chair along the far wall, and a rainbow wheelchair with painted gold rims. However, the most distinguishing feature of the warehouse is the yellow tape that marks an oval track in the center of the cement floor.

On April 3, 14 local women arrived at the warehouse in skates, kneepads, mouth guards and helmets to learn the skills needed to be a derby girl. For three hours, Head Coach Shamrock Roller and team captain Lindsey Seiler of the Boardwalk Bombshells, one of two Santa Cruz Roller Derby squads, ran drills practicing the everything from the correct way to stop to the best way to fall.

There was a diverse range of skills within the group; some took painful spills while others effortlessly weaved their way around the track.

The desire to be a derby girl united this eclectic crew.

Nikira Hernandez, a queer youth program director at the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz, said that the derby girl boot camp was only her fourth time ever skating. Despite a couple falls on the cement floor, Hernandez was not deterred.

“I was volunteering at an event that the derby girls were volunteering for and I thought that they were about the hottest shit on wheels,” she said. “I wanted to be part of it.”

After one of Hernandez’s falls, Seiler, a brunette covered in tattoos, including a roller skate on each of her calves, screamed about the importance of toughness in roller derby.

“Falling is good — it strengthens you!”

Shayna Meikle, nicknamed Pigeon, has blond hair with pink tips and 22 tattoos of her own.

She said that although the derby girl lifestyle lends itself to tattoos and dyed hair, the team is a mesh of many types of women.

“Roller Derby is an alternative lifestyle sport,” Meikle said. “But we get sweet cupcake moms too.”

In fact, Pigeon said that the players’ professions are just as diverse as their backgrounds; there are doctors, bartenders, teachers, lawyers, dog sitters, and small business owners, with ages ranging from 23 to 51 years old.

Manuela Larios, nicknamed Insta Gator and a member of the Harbor Hellcats, the second of the Santa Cruz teams, works as a preschool teacher and has two daughters.

“Derby is really good because it shows that girls can do tough sports,” Larios said. “My 7-year-old does gymnastics, but she wants to be a derby girl.”

One of the few males in the warehouse was Dave Strauss. The skating and conditioning coach said he’s new to roller derby, but has a background playing hockey.

“It’s cool to see women have something that’s their own,” Strauss said. “Anybody can watch it and enjoy it — everybody likes to see someone get hurt.”

Larios finds that roller derby can appeal to anyone looking to have a good time.

“Who wouldn’t want to see a bunch of girls running around in tights and underwear, beating each other” she said. “And you can drink beer while you’re watching!”

The two teams play once a month, and each match has a theme — the season opener on April 10 is titled “Tokyo at Night.” Dressing up is highly encouraged.

While the nicknames and costumes are entertaining, Strauss said the masquerade element also holds real significance.

“It’s almost like they’re leading somewhat of a double life,” Strauss said. “They can come and really be themselves.”

For Kathleen Lee, who chose the nickname Snarls Darwin because she’s “kind of a big biology nerd,” the roller derby allows is a place where she can express parts of her personality that many have not seen.

“I’m really kind of quiet and shy,” Lee said. “I don’t really come out of my shell a lot, but I think I really needed to express that side of myself.”


If you think you have what it takes to be a Santa Cruz derby girl, email to get details about the May 2 tryout.