COVID-19 shut down roller derby in Kitsap County, but now it’s back and more raucous than ever.
West Sound Roller Derby originally formed in 2012 as Northwest Derby Company, said team co-captain Kendra Schaff, who goes by the derby name Cypher when she plays. The team was founded by three skaters who were also part of Slaughter County Roller Derby.
The team practiced at Skateland in Bremerton until it closed in 2019. They started practicing at Chico Alliance Church until COVID forced them to go on hiatus for two years. When they came back, they moved from the church facility to the sheep barn at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
“We finally feel like we found a pretty stable location for us to be able to skate and continue to grow the program,” Schaff said.
Roller Derby players wear quad roller skates, Schaff said, and the game is played on an oval flat track. There are five players on each team; one is designated the “jammer,” indicated by a star on their helmet, and they’re tasked with scoring points. The four other skaters are “blockers” — they prevent the other team’s jammer from getting through and play offense to help their own jammer get through the opposing team’s defense and score points.
“It’s a full contact sport. It’s very similar to rugby or hockey, just played on roller skates,” Schaff said.
Amber Humphries (derby name: Lazer) had seen roller derby depicted in popular media and often found herself thinking it would be cool to participate in the sport someday. A Facebook post for one of West Sound Roller Derby’s new skater trainings made her think her errant daydream could become a reality.
“I was like, you know, I think I’d like to give that a try,” she recalled. “And it started out pretty difficult and it took me a full year, but I stuck with it and here I am.”
The beauty of roller derby is it’s meant for everybody
Her first three months consisted of simply learning how to stand on skates, fall safely, and scooch forward instead of falling, she said. She was in the program for about a year, and it took her that long to get skilled enough that it was safe for her to compete, safety being one of the sport’s core tenants.
“It can be discouraging if you start like I did and you start the program and you can’t even move forward … but you stick with it and you push through and everybody’s really supportive and encouraging and you just keep going,” she said.
Getting better is a gradual process that slowly pays off, but the realization of that payoff can come on suddenly.
“You miss a moment and then you turn around and you look back and you think, I couldn’t do this two months ago,” she said. “And it’s like when you’re a kid and you’re growing taller and you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess I have grown.’ And so you get people encouraging you along the way and you don’t believe them and then you realize, ‘Oh, they weren’t just stringing me along or just giving me platitudes. I really have grown.'”
Katrina Dunn (derby name: Kategory 5) started skating during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I got laid off … I needed an outdoor hobby that I was excited about,” she said. “There’s just something about moving fast on wheels. It creates a rush, and I just got really into it.”
While out skating one day she was approached by a member of West Sound Roller Derby who encouraged her to try the sport on for size. She participated in the team’s new skater program in 2021.
Dunn has nothing but good things to say about roller derby.
“It’s an adrenaline rush; it’s exciting,” she said. “For me, it’s also a new way to make friends, so good camaraderie. … I feel empowered when I play. It’s awesome. It’s an awesome game.”
There was a steep learning curve when she started. Other than playing soccer as a child, she’d never gotten much into contact sports.
“This was a good way for me to exercise again, get some aggression out and just have fun at the same time,” she said. “It’s difficult going from being on skates on your own, just kind of playing around, and then moving on wheels while duking it out with other people. It is hard, but you get really good core strength … [and] get more comfortable with it.”
There’s an inclusive sense of community surrounding roller derby, and anyone who wants to play the sport is welcome, Schaff said.
“The space of roller derby has traditionally been for women identifying folks or gender expansive identifying folks and also a lot of folks in the LGBTQ community,” Schaff said. “A lot of the time it’s the first team sport that most of us have played. And so it provides us opportunity to find community and to also find strength and learn how to build confidence and take up space in our own right in ways that we never really felt comfortable doing.
“A lot of the people that are on here are folks that are a little bit more weird, a little bit more on the fringe. And so being able to find like-minded people I think in itself is always really helpful. And I think also the beauty of roller derby is it’s meant for everybody. And we truly mean that: No matter how you identify, no matter what size your body is or any kind of other issues you might have, we’re all in this together and this sport truly has a spot for everybody.”
West Sound Roller Derby
West Sound Roller Derby’s next bout is 4 p.m., Dec. 2, at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds Pavilion, 1200 Fairgrounds Rd NW. Tickets are $12 – $15; buy them here.