Angel City Roller Derby Heads To International Playoffs, And The Skaters Are Paying Their Own Way

Angel City Derby skaters in action. (Photo courtesy Matthew Becker Photography)

Step one: Los Angeles. Step two: THE WORLD.

Local roller derby team the Hollywood Scarlets this weekend heads to Spain for the international playoffs. They're repping L.A.'s Angel City Derby league.

It isn't a sport with players pulling down huge salaries — in fact, the competitors are self-funded. Team captain Tui Lyon talked with us about what that's like, and why she does it anyway.

"For me, being a part of the roller derby community is where the real value is. Well, definitely makes it doable for me to spend thousands of dollars of my hard-earned cash on traveling, and competing, and training," Lyon said.

Hollywood Scarlets team captain Tui Lyon. (Courtesy Angel City Derby)

One of Angel City's priorities: acceptance and inclusivity, which can be rare in sports. Lyon said that's helped make it such a popular sport among women.

"I think a lot of people that play roller derby often haven't played sports before when they first start," Lyon said. "I think it definitely has the branding that is women owning their space, regardless of your background, and showing that there is a place in sports for you, regardless of your competitive goals."

Their league is open to non-binary and trans competitors — anyone who doesn't identify as a man. They also emphasize racial diversity, along with body-type diversity, Lyon said.

"I think that it's a safe space for a lot of people," Lyon said. "It's a space that is dominated by women, and I think that, for a lot of people, even if it's a women's sport, it's often coached by men, organizations run by men, sponsored by male-led brands. Roller derby is very much run by the skaters, for the skaters, and primarily, they are women."

Angel City Derby players, geared up for competition. (Photo courtesy Matthew Becker Photography)

People who are vaguely aware of roller derby may be picturing banked-track courses, but Angel City is a flat-track league (unlike their crosstown compatriots, the L.A. Derby Dolls). It can be hard to find places to compete on banked tracks, which means that flat-track roller derby allows for a higher level of competition thanks to the accessibility, Lyon said.

"There are thousands of roller derby leagues playing flat-track roller derby worldwide, whereas banked track, because you have to physically build one of those banked tracks, they're expensive," Lyon said.

Roller derby was historically based more on entertainment rather than athletic competition, at one point being more akin to pro wrestling. While banked-track has moved on to be a legitimate competition, they still focus more on some of those traditional entertainment factors, she said.

Flat-track skaters are trying to get derby accepted as a mainstream sport. They've had ESPN2 stream their games in recent years.

"The Scarlets is an incredibly competitive chain with world domination on their mind," Lyon said, "but then we have several teams in the league that are focused on more recreational play and local play."

Angel City Derby skaters going head-to-head. (Courtesy Matthew Becker Photography)

Lyon serves as the team's coach, offering guidance, mentorship and strategic direction.

"My job is absolutely to ensure that each player has the best mental and physical preparation to perform at their best," Lyon said. "So a lot of that is emotional management as well — knowing each of the players on my team very, very well, knowing what conditions they perform the best under, knowing what types of things provide them mental roadblocks, physical challenges."

Mental toughness is key for roller derby, Lyon said.

"Especially in the point-scoring position as a jammer, you have bodies flying at you trying to hit you and take you down physically, over and over and over again," Lyon said. "That is what a jammer will be facing every time they step onto the track. So you have to be really mentally strong to face that kind of physical adversity for the entire length of the game."

A team photo of Angel City Derby's international traveling team, the Hollywood Scarlets. (Courtesy Angel City Derby)

The Scarlets are currently ranked eighth in the world, and they're hoping to move up those rankings as they keep competing — they were ranked fourth at the beginning of the year. To help offset the costs of their Spain trip, they're fundraising right now. They have a goal of $10,000 and have raised around $2,000 so far.

If you want to see them in action locally, Angel City's Shore Shots and Road Racers are facing visitors in a double header on Oct. 13.


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