Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bonts, Bearings, & Bruises: Learning the Lingo of Derby

Have you ever been in an unfamiliar part of town or, perhaps even out of the country, in a place where no one spoke your language?  Here you are trying to simply get from point A to point B or maybe to place an order and the wonderful world of language is getting square in your way.

For me, roller derby has been no different.  For the past year I thought I was doing well, picking up on a lot of the basic terms.  Even before my wife’s first bout, I knew what a “jammer” was and could point out the “pivot” and define the “pack” with no issue. Yeah, I even quickly learned that we don’t have games but, rather, we have “bouts” and a "power jam" was akin to a power play in hockey, a sport I don't even like.   A few vocabulary terms in and I was feeling pretty cocky.
Then my son started reffing junior derby and I learned terms like “back block” and “track cut” and even attempted to sort of the various nuances between a “major” and a “minor.”  (The jury’s still out in my mind on that one, by the way, which makes it pretty sweet that the WFTDA rules are working on eliminating minors, from what I understand.)   And of course there were the little playful derby terms like “derby widow” and “derby wife” that had jumped into my vocabulary.

So when this opportunity/personal challenge arose to step into the world of derby, me, a man of words to some degree, felt somewhat confident stepping in.
Yeah, not so much anymore.

Because, as the old saying goes, just because you can talk the game doesn’t mean you can play it.
Turns out I couldn’t even talk it.

Turn stops, snowplows, and NSO’s.  Bonts, panties, and hip checks.  So many terms, so little understanding.
To be fair, I’m not a complete doofus, despite popular appearance and a term such as “hip check” is something I could figure out.  Do?  No.  Comprehend?  Sure.

And a “turn stop” makes pretty solid sense but a “T-stop” or a “snowplow?”  Nah, not really sure.  Turns out that these are theoretically ways to stop on the floor.  Good to know.  Granted, they didn’t work for me so well that first night out but I’m hoping when I step back onto the floor that they’ll have a slightly greater effect.
And no, “NSO” does not stand for the National Security Organization, despite the very secure look of the crew in black.  Nope, it’s non-skating officials.  Go figure.

But it’s a whole new world when discussion of gear comes into play.  And as a non-mechanical-ish guy who’s only ever had to worry maybe about tennis shoes, a ball, and maybe a racquet in the sports he’s played, this is a bit of a challenge.  Words like “ABEC rating” and “skate rated” have been tossed around, generally with me nodding knowingly, praying that my helmet is hiding my furrowed brow and knitted eyebrows.  For the uninitiated, those terms deal with the bearings that are in the skates and their speed rating, so to speak.  Yeah, I didn’t know there was more than one kind either. 
Then there are the brand names, the most popular of which I’ve heard tossed about is Bont.  Bont is apparently a pretty high-end skate maker and not the reined in tip swing of a bat.  Plus there are all the various layers of your skates, your pads, and more.  And did you know there's different degrees of wheels too?  Things you learn.

And panties.  Yes, even in men’s roller derby, men wear the panties.  Now, Mom, before you freak out, let me explain.  The panties are the little coverings that pull down over the pivot and jammer helmets.  Took me a little while to get accustomed to that one too.  And it’s still a little awkward to share with folks that I’m looking forward to wearing the panties but, oh well…
And I’m only a month into intensive derby and that a bit removed due to my unfortunate injury.  I can only wonder what terms are coming next.

Do you think they make a Rosetta Stone for derby?

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