We’ve already got together the Tiger Bay Brawlers who are skating for Team Wales. This week, we’re running a Q&A with the Brawlers who are skating for Team England. Go Brawlers!
Tiger Bay Brawlers Team England representatives: Pip Gray (Pip), Lyndsey Boulton (Kid Block), Sophia Dos Santos (Dos Santos) and Lauren Robbins (Bloxie Blackout) – photographed by Simon Ayre
Q. How and when did you all first get into roller derby?
Pip. I’ve been skating since the beginning of 2011 (I think?! Bloxie can confirm as she came along to try out at the same time as me!), I came along to a rec league session to learn how to rollerskate, and couldn’t even stand up on the first day! But I’m not one to let something get the better of me and so kept on coming along until we had a try out to become fresh meat (a session for beginner skaters who get to learn all the roller derby specific sides to skating such as blocking, stopping techniques and rules), and the rest is hard work and history! I can’t really remember the reason why I started, I’d just moved to Cardiff to go to university and was probably looking for a hobby and to meet new people, I’d never done sports before though so it was an odd decision now I think about how much I train! But the best one, ever!
Bloxie Blackout. It was 2011 – I had to Facebook stalk myself to figure that out! So, I started Rec league on sundays from jan 2011. Tryouts were in March to get into Tuesday beginner sessions, which we all (from rec league) did and got through.
I got into it because my sister was already in the brawlers and skated for the team, and she got me into it – she bought me derby stuff for Christmas 2010 and was basically just like ‘JOIN’! Before that I was a big fan and supporter of Tiger Bay, I went to all the games.
Dos Santos. Baaaasically In 2009 I went on holiday to California with Ava Assasin and a few other friends. Back then Ava just went be the name Naomi though (Pretty little mixed race girl with big boobs) We were in LA for a week and found out that there was a premier for the film Whip It happening. So we went along to the premier and hung out with some celebs. By that I mean we stood outside the Chinese Theatre, behind the barriers screaming at Juliet Lewis and commentating the red carpet. I don’t think any of us even knew what the film was about but It was out in the Uk a few months later so we went to watch it and thought it was pretty good. A girl I worked with at the time knew some people who were starting a team so Ava and I got ourselves a pair of shitty skates and went along to the recruitment day thingy. I can remember thinking this could possibly be the coolest thing ever. So I kept on going.
I had skated on inlines a bit when I was younger. Up and down the street and around the block. Ya know!?….nothing too wild. I definitely owned a pair of those Fisher Price skates that you attached to your shoes. If you can skate in them, you can skate in anything.
Kid Block. I’d never skated before the recruitment day, other than up and down the garden path as a kid, which I’m not sure counts. I joined at the first ever Intake in April 2010, I have no idea what compelled me to go other than I’d never heard anything like it before!
Being picked for our first game to be honest didn’t seem like a huge deal at the time, to me at least. On the day it did, but beforehand there was none of the competition to make the roster like there is now/ we had less skaters, less ‘pressure’ I guess. It was awesome and exciting but it feels a lot more exciting to make the team nowadays and especially for our newer skaters who get picked for a team for the very first time.
Now I know it was a big deal but at the time I was all ‘ah cool.’
Bloxie Blackout. The first game I was picked for was B team, I can’t entirely remember but I was very happy and excited to play my first public game.
I remember everything about the time I found out I made the A team, I was so so happy and excited and it felt like a huuuuge achievement, it’s what you work up to and what I’d been dreaming of doing – playing on the A team. I was in happy shock, and I phoned my mum pretty soon after finding out. I remember feeling a lot of pressure too because I would be replacing an already-established skater of the team and I felt they were taking a risk to put in a newer skater. I wanted to prove to them that they made the right choice to put me into the team and also felt pressure from myself to skate well enough that I got picked again! It was like the best challenge to be faced with, like I could do well but I had to really try for it, but if I did well then it would mean great things!
Pip. My first game was with the b team, I think I’d only just scraped in by the skin of my teeth and don’t recall a lot of it, I remember just falling over a lot in front of the other teams bench area and being mortified haha, but we won and it definitely fueled my fire to get as much bouting experience as possible so I started to take part in mixed team games and scrimmages in the area.
The first time I made the a team charter was much more memorable, I hadn’t been picked to play, I was a sub, but it was against the London Rollergirls intraleague team the Ultra Violent Femmes in February 2012(?), who were the biggest opponent we’d ever faced then. It was my first experience of training for the a team, and though I didn’t get to play, being part of that team that day made me feel so proud and excited for the future and a time when I would be skating on track with the people I looked up to so much.
Q. The Brawlers are considered one of the most formidable teams in the country. How does it feel to be part of that?
Bloxie Blackout. I’ve always felt that if I wasn’t a Brawler, I’d wish I was a Brawler, and that makes me feel really happy that I’m where I’d always want to be. I think it was easier for us being unknown underdogs almost, we thrived on being underdogs and proving ourselves, so getting ourselves out there and high up in the (unofficial) European rankings was a big change. However I really like that our credits as a league seem to be recognised. There’s so so much time and effort going in to each person’s respective role, league-wide, and that is why it works. So I’m proud to be part of that. And we’re all somehow really nice people and just polite and decent humans (if I do say so myself..!), which for me is a big deal too. I’m very glad to be on a sportswomanly and kind, professional team.
So yeah, I’m super proud to be a Brawler to the point that it almost frustrates me when “real-life” people don’t know who the team is (or roller derby in general) because I want everyone to know! It’s such a big deal to me.
Pip. It’s the kind of thing that hits me when we do things outside of the league liked mixed games and scrimmages, and recently more notably in the Team England pick, where we were the second highest represented team out of the hundreds of leagues and thousands of skaters in the UK. It’s a testament to how much everyone puts into the league, in a volunteer run sport such as roller derby, you really do get out what you put in, and without the drive to really strive for the best in every part of how the league runs, from coaching and skaters training outside of training hours to our committees for everything from merch to finances, I definitely don’t think we’d be where we are today. It’s a league wide effort. I’ve totally gone off track there! But yes, I’m very proud to be part of a league who is competitive and strives to be the best, in all aspects. Winning is fun! And I’ve had so many great opportunities through it to meet so many amazing people around the country and Europe, and soon America!
Q. You definitely all put a lot into the team which is totally evident from the team’s success – would you say that roller derby becomes your life?
Kid Block. I think everybody’s personal relationship with derby is very different and it is totally true that you get out of it what you put in. If you want it to be a casual love affair that helps brighten your life but in no way hinders upon your other interests etc, I believe you can do that. However, those people appear to be few and far between as it really is such an incredible sport and lifestyle that it’s hard to not let it willingly consume your life!
Personally – derby is my life – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pip. Definitely! (She says whilst responding to brawler emails) My whole life is basically roller derby, especially since moving, all my friends are part of the league and everything I do outside of work is derby related. I’m a bit of a sad case haha. League involvement is very important to me, I’m a coach (So I help run drills, make decisions about our training and a range of other things), help out with our merch team and I try my best to help share and promote TBB stuff through social media. Outside of stuff for the league, I study other teams footage and what they’re up to, workout and eat as best as I can as well as trying to get involved with as much stuff as I can, watching other teams play, taking part in mixed games and going to bootcamps. Since my life has been more focused on derby, my priorities have changed a lot, and I think I’ve changed a lot too, for the better. I’m stronger in all senses of the word, and I have derby to thank for that. *emosh*
Q. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a sport that has such a strong community around it. Would you agree?
Bloxie Blackout. We often say it’s like another family or network and it totally is. Everything I’ve been through since derby has been supplemented by support from the brawler network.. Sometimes even people you’re not/weren’t necessarily close to can offer support because they recognise or have been through similar things.
It does take over quite a lot, I welcome off-season because it can all be so derby-intense sometimes. I think it’s important to actively make time for “real life” stuff at the sacrifice of derby stuff you’d otherwise be doing.. otherwise it gets to be an unhealthy balance and you can risk alienating yourself a bit from long-time friends. I’ve put lots of people and things second to derby lots of times but you can’t do that all the time, so it’s making the right choices for different double-booked events in your calendar – of which there are too many!! And making up for your absence, most people are supportive and understanding though which helps x100! I think derby intensifies everything and makes you live fuller.
Dos Santos. Aww guys. What beautiful responses! And Pip you’re deffo stronger. So far I don’t think I have seen you cry once this year!
I was also going to say about it being like another family…I see it as, you’re all like my sisters who occasionally annoy and frustrate the hell out of me but I love you all and would never not want to be around or skate with you.
Roller Derby is such a huge part of my life But I agree with Blox that making time to see non skating friends and doing non derby stuff is important. Roller derby is by far the most physically and emotionally demanding sport I have ever played so its good to have a balance. Its definitely hard though.
Dos Santos. That’s not the only reason to have a balance. I also really enjoy hanging out with my non derby friends!!
Q. During derby season can you talk me through an average week? How much training do you do? And is any of it off skates?
Pip. So we have two training sessions as a league, one is focused on drills and the other is a scrimmage session where we practice the strategies and skills we’ve learnt. On the run up to a game we usually have an extra a team session so we have some extra preparation, and a chance to focus on the a team line ups. Hall space is expensive so we make the most of what we have available to us, so we meet up after training too to discuss the upcoming games, and do a lot of our strategy talk online. Off skates we have a fab session with Aspire Fitness in Canton who run a session focusing on strength and form, they’ve been so helpful in pushing our fitness up and also preventing injury which is really important for us being a full contact sport. Most of us also have our own off skate fitness routine outside of that too, and everyone has their own thing that works best for them.
Bloxie Blackout. Lately I think most of our Saturdays have been open games or closed scrimmage, but that’s way more than normal. usually its about one Saturday a month. Sundays are always drills + scrimmage regardless of Saturdays. In fact, the coaches try and have it so that we have an intraleague game the day after a ‘real’ game. Intraleague is where we split all the skaters in the league into teams and play in a real game format against each other.. this is so we can practice 100 per cent two days in a row for tournament preparation. And now we have one Team England practice per month for the year on a weekend day And hopefully will get to watch some other UK games on some free Saturdays.
This week is just training today (two hours), Aspire gym tomorrow (one hour, optional), Closed door scrimmage against Croydon on Saturday (two hours) and training on Sunday (three hours). Oh and footage viewing and bonding afterwards for the A team.
I usually coach the juniors on a weds too for 1 hour before our session. I do my own gym training too – it all varies depending on .. mostly my personal motivation, what personal derby goals I’m working towards and what games are lined up..! I really feel the benefit of off-skate training and I can really feel it in my skating if I haven’t been training in the gym for a while, especially my endurance – rubbish breathing is my first tell-tale sign if I’m not doing my off-skates homework.
Pip. Yeah I totally forgot about Saturdays, I have just essentially blanked off all weekends leading up to June now haha, just a whirlwind of derby!
Kid Block. An average week consists of Wednesday (two hours) and Sunday (three hours) on-skate TBB practice (we used to have a Tuesday session as well but unfortunately we had to shut it down as we couldn’t afford to keep it running.) We would love a lot more on-skate training but unfortunately with lack of available hall space, and the price of it when it is available we are limited to what we can do. This means that I’ll look to practice on top of this as much as possible – bootcamps/mixed scrimmages/free skate/practice with other teams (the local men’s team ‘SWS’ are very welcoming and I try to attend as many sessions with them as I can – it’s always an invaluable learning experience.) I currently coach roller derby part time as my job, so I am always out and about coaching leagues across Europe (which I absolutely love), so I also have extra on skate time then. However, this is a lot more of a mental work out than physical of course.
Off skate we have one session a week with Aspire Fitness as a team where we focus on strength and conditioning – those who attend regularly have seen a massive improvement in their on skate performance. I attend every Thursday and also try and fit in one extra session a week. My bike is my favourite off skate work out tool, and I try and cycle as much as I can during the week also – cycling is great for derby as it works so many of the leg muscles that we need to keep fit and strong.
Q. So let’s talk about Team England – what were the trials like?
Bloxie Blackout. Very tough, very fun. I liked that I had Brawlers there both times, it was nice The scrimmages were fun and the girls there are always really nice and friendly. You get to know lots of them over time, various games and things. The last tryouts were brutal in that they did a cull halfway through and those people had to take their skates off and were released from trying out, that was quite tense hearing the list being read off.. *shudder*. And then not hearing your name was just like being lifted off the floor for a second.
It was nice to really want to prove yourself but also like, scary because you just can’t screw up or take your foot off the gas.
Ha fun story, I felt sick in the first tryouts because I drank this stupid canned coffee drink that I just so happened to forget makes me feel pretty queasy.. and I couldn’t tell if I was actually going to be sick or if I should go get it out my system to continue, and then the drills were SO intense and never-ending but I didn’t want them to think I was bailing out or flustered from the drills. But yeah I was fine anyway, I think the feeling went after the first hour.
All the emails and stuff always came through really promptly too which made it feel really well dealt with and organised. It was cool to be part of it all!
Pip. The try outs were brutal, I really enjoy skating in an environment where you can push and test yourself to your maximum capabilities, but despite the competitive element, I still felt that due to our training with the brawlers, working with other skaters with different playing styles and strategies was fun and a great learning experience, and a testament to how adaptable we can be. The endurance drills were so intense, they have inspired me to really amp up my training, I was totally knackered after minutes in some drills, as they were written by the coaches who are also London Rollergirls coaches, who are the number 7 league in the world, we’re about 100 places below them in the world wide rankings! So having access to that level of training was a real privilege and set the benchmark
We found out who had got through in a public Facebook post, I was so nervous, I knew I’d done the best I could on the day, and that I had the experience of the try outs to take back with me, so was happy I’d got that far considering my personal derby journey. But the excitement when I saw our names on the list when they posted was amazing, I’ve never been so proud of anything in my life! To be able to say I’m training to represent my country is such an awesome thing, and to be picked alongside such talented skaters was a real honour. I’m looking forward to the next year and what it brings!
Q. What’s the Team England training been like?
Kid Block. Incredible! Getting to train regularly against such high level skaters that you admire, and have sessions run by such smart coaches is an amazing experience. Every single practice I have attended and game that I have played with England thus far has been a huge learning experience. Roller derby is an ever changing game and you need to adapt and grow with the game to avoid becoming stagnant… so getting to play at this level really keeps you on your toes and keeps you hungry to improve and continue to expand your knowledge base.
Q. What’s your favorite song to listen to pre bout? To get you ready and hyped up?
Bloxie Blackout. I feel like I could tell you a song each of us listen to (esp. Soph, her pre-bout music habits are all our habits, its pretty much enforced :p). I listen to whatever, something happy or sassy does the trick the best I need a positive and/ or (happy-)sassy mindset. I play better when I’m peppy than when I’m too calm or aggro!
Dos Santos. Cher – Believe!
Kid Block. Before games and practices, I like to listen to all manner of things really – movie quotes and songs that make me happy, make me feel confident and ready to work hard! (‘Work Bitch’ by Britney was my song for last quarter – that gives you a great insight into my personal taste – you’re welcome.)
Q. Lastly … do you have any advice for any girls looking to get into derby?
Kid Block. Do it! Connect with your local team and ask if they have recreational sessions or if you are able to go and watch a couple of scrimmages. I find that those people even slightly remoted in derby are drawn to it for certain reasons (not always just for the skating) and if you have that nagging twinge of ‘hmmm I like the sound of that’, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Thanks Brawlers! Just in case you missed our Q&A with the Team Wales Brawlers, make sure you go read it here: We Are Team Wales. Big thanks to Simon Ayre for the great photographs, and visit the following links to keep up to date with all your Brawlers news:
Tiger Bay Brawlers website
Tiger Bay Brawlers Facebook
NB: Since this interview, Kid Block is now skating for London Rollergirls. Best of luck Kid!
Do you play for a local Cardiff team? Want to be featured on this blog? Get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org