Fledgling roller derby group wheeling and dealing in Saigon

HCMC - “Easy Break Oven lands a hard hit on a jammer.”

Some members of the Saigon Roller Derby group – PHOTO: COURTESY OF SAIGON ROLLER DERBY GROUP

“Oh, a vicious back block! That’ll be a penalty.”

“Well, she had no choice but to fall small there.”

Soooooooooo if terms like this have you scratching your head, you may be puzzling over what the rest of this article is about. If they sound familiar, it means you have become acquainted with roller derby.

A brief explanation consists of a bout of short scrimmages, or jams, in which both teams designate a jammer, wearing a telltale star on their helmet, and four blockers to skate counter-clockwise around a track. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team, while trying to get by the opposing blockers.

The sport has its origins in the banked-track roller-skating marathons of the 1930s, but Americans Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with evolving the sport to its competitive form. Professional roller derby quickly became popular, although in later decades it developed into something more akin to professional wrestling, with garish outfits and trash-talking teams on shows like Roller Games in the U.S.

During those eras, contact sports for women were uncommon. The sport has attracted athletes from a variety of backgrounds every since, with interests ranging from general fitness to something new and interesting, involving everything from cardio fitness to the ability to take a solid hit from time to time.

Claire Stableford, coach and founder of the fledgling Saigon Roller Derby group, competed at a high level in her native United Kingdom for several years before relocating to Vietnam, only to discover no fixtures existed here. She likes the direction things have taken and sees this market as wide open for introducing a fast-paced style of competition like roller derby.

“I think many Vietnamese people like it because it's something completely new,” she said. “It's especially different for many Vietnamese women who join us because there aren't too many full contact sports which are primarily played by women.”

While being in close contact may be an issue in other newer markets for the sport, Stableford said this has been less of an issue than, in fact, equipment for Vietnamese skaters.

“Many of the skaters who have joined us have skated on inline skates before as they're quite popular here,” she said. “But they have never used quad skates which is the standard skate style for roller derby, this takes some adjustment too.”

Stableford called the reception to the club “overwhelmingly positive,” with the Saigon Roller Derby page shared by several local businesses and good response from recruitment drives.

Stableford said there’s no date for an upcoming game just yet, but May has been discussed. Other teams in Asia have also reached out requesting a coaching boot camp once border restrictions loosen up. Every Sunday is a chance for new members to skate with the group in Binh Thanh District.