The Black Diamond Betties. I saw them once, rolling 'round and 'round in the underground parking lot at Creekside on Tuesday night. They were padded up at the knees, elbows and wrists. Their helmets had hardly any scuffmarks. A few of them were charging around on their skates as if they'd been riding all their lives, but most seemed insecure and uncertain. But they were determined . They all looked so...darn.... cute.
"No I won't accept that," says Jessica Jones. We're sitting at Burnt Stew in Function and I've just relayed my first impression of the roller derby team and Jones is, well, less than impressed.
She says, "We're not cute. We're powerful women athletes."
That's the whole point of the sport, she explains over a cup of hot chocolate - to exert their empowered femininity in an athletic arena. The Black Diamond Betties, formerly known as the Whistler Wolfpack, and officially organized as the Whistler Roller Girls Society, have become a welcome alternative to outdoor sports for people who don't care for them or are looking for something else.
The birth of the Whistler team comes at a time when new leagues are sprouting up all over the world. Underground roller derby leagues started in Texas in the early 2000s and as of September, there were over 1000 amateur leagues across Canada, the U.S., Australia, U.K., New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Singapore.
A DIY spirit defines the sport; a punk aesthetic influences many of the team names. The whole enterprise seems to be a satirical take on sport, on gender roles and on women's own position within their societies.
The rules are simple: two teams, known as leagues, play each other in a bout. There are five people to a team. One, the jammer, gets points for the team by overtaking members of the other team by passing them. The other four, blockers, must stop the opposite jammer from passing, and to help their own jammer pass the other girls. Its high action, fast-paced and looks like a hell of a lot of fun.
But the Black Diamond Betties, well, they're not there yet. They're still learning how to skate. But Kathryn Elder, the league's founder (and a Pique employee) says they've come a long way since the summer.
"Our team is developing really quickly. Their skills are developing so quickly, it's amazing." She looks downs at her lap, then back up, her bright, blue eyes beaming: "I'm still horrible. I had two injuries since I started, so I haven't spent that much time on skates. I've probably been to eight practices in total."