By Kel Rowe
A simple highlights package on an American reality TV show was all it took to convince Jessica Hunt that the glitzy sport of Roller Derby was made for her.
Colour, flair, strength, and power — all balanced on the precarious footing of fabulous four-wheeled skates. The sport itself presents with a strategic bent and requires participants to skilfully skate around an officiated ring, whilst using their bodies to challenge and confound their opponents.
That whole package resonated strongly with Hunt. ‘I was a cool kid, I skated in the 90s. So, I googled it and WestSide [Roller Derby] came up, I emailed them and joined the next week,’ she said.
Thanks to the presence of Roller Derby leagues like WestSide, the sport has seen steady growth in popularity, with people like Hunt readily joining in. WestSide presents a unique offering as the only bouting mixed-gender league in Melbourne’s west — and provides members with an opportunity to learn skating skills and compete against other derby teams across Victoria.
Hunt (who is now the Coaching Coordinator) along with derby-mate and sometimes opposition Sam Court (President), has been a part of the sport for the last 6+ years. Both noted that the inclusive nature and community around roller derby were key to their decision to get involved.
‘The best part for me is that I can embrace my own femininity through strength, which is something I haven’t been able to do a lot, growing up. It’s so focused on what your body can do, not what it looks like — it’s so inclusive,’ Hunt reflects. ‘You join derby, and suddenly you have a community spanning across Australia.’
Court is in firm agreeance, noting that ‘it’s the community for me, and a sport that I’m actually good at — it’s cool!’
And cool it is. Roller Derby amassed global notoriety in 2009, after the release of Hollywood movie Whip It. The film produced a glorious vision of glitz and punk glamour; and introduced the world to the break-neck speed and big hits of derby. Like their film counterparts, Hunt and Court each play a role in their team scrimmages, Hunt as a ‘Blocker’ and Court as a ‘Jammer’.
‘My job is to stop the opposition Jammer from getting points — they get points by passing my hips. So, my hips are a weapon,’ Hunt laughs.
‘Me and my team — I’m on the track with 3 other people — our job is twofold. First of all, its defence, making sure the Jammer doesn’t get past; and secondly its offense, we try to get our Jammer through,’ she explains. ‘It’s a bit of a mind game when you’re out there trying to achieve both of those goals.’
Court’s job as a Jammer is in direct opposition to Hunt’s — the two were preparing to go head-to-head when this interview took place — and it’s clear that speed is the part of the gig that she thrives on.
‘I LOVE jamming. You get to go fast; you get to be hard-hitting. I really like fast dodging and weaving – being really quick on my feet,’ she notes. ‘There is a bit of strategy to it — you rely on your Blockers a lot to have a good offense. If you’re scoring points and doing really well, it’s often a whole team-effort.’
Whilst it sounds complex, both Hunt and Court are quick to reassure — WestSide offers a great introduction to the sport of Roller Derby, and regularly hosts come-and-try days.
We welcome people from every experience level and teach them how to skate first. Once you’ve got the basics down, then we move you through our star levels,’ says Hunt.
The levels of progression include topics like derby basics, contact, strategy and being bout-ready, and with over 8 leagues across Melbourne, there are plenty of opportunities for new players to get involved.
One of the most prominent aspects of the sport, outside of skating prowess and strength, are the persona’s that the players adopt when they take to the rink. Usually pun-based, and of a humorously tough or menacing nature, Hunt says that players can choose their own nickname, or have one bestowed upon them by teammates.
‘Mine is Massica Jones, because my name is Jessica, and I love Jessica Jones the TV show, but the name that was put upon me is Jonezy,’ says Hunt.
Court’s nickname origins are decidedly different, with the Jammer using her love of sandwiches as inspiration. ‘I like sandwiches, so I am Club Slamwich,’ she laughs. Even her scrimmage armbands are emblazoned with her favourite food.
The two go head-to-head in Home-team games — as the Asteroids vs Dinosaurs — exhibition matches that they hope will encourage more folk to join the fun. Hunt notes that their regular season, however, takes them all over Victoria.
‘There are other games where we play as WestSide Glory, about once a month, within our Statewide Stampede — it’s like our regular season. It happens all over Victoria, the last one was in Macleod and the next one is in Sale.’
As Hunt and Court head off to prepare for their next scrimmage, it’s clear that the vibe of roller derby is infectious, fun, and resoundingly, for everyone. So, if you’ve ever considered yourself good at blocking or speeding out of a jam, roll on over, and get those skates on.
Home-team game results:
Asteriods v Dinosaurs
Asteroids win 191–167!
For more information or to start your Roller Derby adventure, follow WestSide Roller Derby on social media: