Lauren Rabaino

The sound of small wheels spinning and clicking can be heard from the parking lot entrance of the Santa Rosa Park. Groups of helmeted women surround the rink at the end of the lot, strapping on skates and protective gear, while a few skate circles in the Tuesday night cold. It’s 8 p.m., and the Derby 101 class for the Central Coast Roller Derby (CCRD) is about to begin.

This fall there are about 60 Central Coast rookies who want to be a part of the feminine, yet bone-crunching sport where women with names like “Hex Kitten” skate circles in short-skirted costumes and try to knock each other over in front of boisterous, beer-drinking crowds of over 700.

Although roller derby’s heyday in the ’70s drew national fans with televised bouts, today the sport remains relatively unknown. Se¤orita Cheeba is on a mission to change that.

Cheeba founded the league in January 2006 with her friend Rotten Peaches, just because they needed something to do. Roller derby provided that and more, establishing itself as a fun and effective way to exercise while meeting like-minded women in the area.

Roller derby is “chicks in short skirts beating the crap out of each other, with beer,” CCRD co-founder Se¤orita Cheeba said. But roller derby isn’t all hits and bruises, at least not on the Central Coast. CCRD doubles as a nostalgic non-profit group with “kick-ass chicks” that give back to the community, Cheeba said.

All of the proceeds from each CCRD bout are donated to a different local charity. CCRD has supported organizations such as Woods Humane Society and DeGroot Nursing Home for Children.

And then there are costumes. “Derby girls love cute outfits,” Cheeba said. “Or a reason to dress up.” Derby girls also love nicknames. In fact, regular names are not even used at roller derby games and practices. Each derby name is registered in a national registry, and once it’s taken, it’s taken. No one is allowed to have a name that’s too close to another skater’s. That’s why CCRD requires all of their skaters to complete their training before registering, ensuring that the women are there to skate, and not to just put on a costume for a while. “You have to earn that cool name and cute skirt,” Cheeba said.

Despite the cute skirts, roller derby is a tough sport.

“There’s no crying in roller derby. There’s no ‘I can’t’ in roller derby,” Cheeba said. “(Derby girls) get knocked down with a smile on their face.”

Injuries are common, especially in the knees, and a serious skater won’t escape a season without layers of bruises despite a heavy artillery of knee and elbow pads, wrist guards and a helmet.

CCRD president Berta the Hurta still deals with a knee injury she received from derby. “It doesn’t get better,” she said. But that injury hasn’t distracted her from skating with the team. “You have to make a decision – ‘Do I want to skate or don’t I?’” she said. “I can’t imagine not playing any more.”

Despite obstacles such as not knowing how to skate, Cheeba said it’s the attitude and the drive of the women involved to skate and to be successful that’s important.

Even though SubMiss hadn’t strapped on a pair of skates in about 13 years before enrolling in Derby 101, it only took her one month to feel completely comfortable on wheels.

She credited Stray Cat, the Derby 101 coach, and other team members for encouraging her and for making her feel at home. When someone falls down in practice, the rest of the skaters clap and cheer, helping skaters to try their hardest and to not be embarrassed if they stumble.

Rookies vary in age, although women have to be over 21 to skate since many CCRD functions happen in bars. The current fall rookie class consists of both college students and mothers; basically any Central Coast woman who wants to skate is welcomed.

SubMiss, who recently shook off her rookie status by skating in her first game earlier this September, was attracted to roller derby because of its uniqueness. After her first practice she was hooked. Not only was the sport the kind of exercise she had been looking for, it was something truly different.

But SubMiss stuck with roller derby because of the team’s camaraderie. “It’s nice to be around a lot of women,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, and everybody has a place no matter what size.”

It also provided a way to get out some aggression.

Berta believes most people are aggressive, and described roller derby as a healthy way to deal with that belligerence.

“(Derby is) an opportunity to hit people and not be in trouble for it,” she said. “There are rules – but there aren’t rules.”

Berta also described roller derby as a means of empowerment for women. “If a woman’s dominant in the real world, she’s a bitch,” she said. “If you’re dominant in derby, you rule the crowd.”

CCRD’s next big bout will take place Nov. 17 at the Paso Robles Event Center. The team will face arch-rivals the Angel City Derby Girls, with whom CCRD has a history.

The first time the CCRD team played ACDG, it lost horribly. “They spanked us big,” Berta said. “They taught us we weren’t derby at all, we were just playing.”

But CCRD has since stepped up its game, and the last time it skated against Angel City, the team only lost by three points. This time they’re out for victory.

Brooke Robertson, who was appointed the roller derby name “Scoop Dog” by CCRD skaters, is a Mustang Daily arts editor and a new derby addict, even though her skating legs are a little shaky.

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