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Training on wheels

Prospective Tsunami Sirens learn skating and basics of roller derby at Boot Camp

The Tsunami Sirens roller derby team is hosting its 2012 Boot Camp on Saturday, June 30, from 1–4 p.m. at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds. Boot Camp serves as an entry point for women interested in joining the Sirens. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
The Tsunami Sirens roller derby team is hosting its 2012 Boot Camp on Saturday, June 30, from 1–4 p.m. at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds. Boot Camp serves as an entry point for women interested in joining the Sirens. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
In May of 2011, Shelley Palmer went to Boot Camp for the first time.

Palmer had seen an advertisement for the Tsunami Sirens and North Coast Roller Derby and was interested in giving it a shot despite not having been on roller skates “since college.” At a cost of $20, with skates and gear provided, Palmer figured she would see what Boot Camp was all about.

“Boy, did I have my eyes opened,” she said, laughing.

The name may conjure up feelings of pain and suffering, but make no mistake: Boot Camp is not about the Sirens whaling on unsuspecting novice skaters to satisfy some pent-up emotion. It’s a skill-development clinic focused on the fundamentals of skating that vets potential roller derby players who want to participate in bouts with the Sirens.

Boot Camp is also open to volunteers interested in becoming roller derby referees or non-skating officials, the individuals that help conduct the bout and allow it to run smoothly.

Where the Boot Camp moniker proves salient is in the sheer physical exhaustion brought on by three hours on roller skates.

“Women tend to romanticize (roller derby),” said Danielle “Ragin’ Reg” Arispe, the Sirens’ public relations director. “Once they see how much work it is, they drop off.”

The Sirens’ 2012 Boot Camp takes place Saturday, June 30, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds Rollercade. Cost is $20; skates and pads are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Mouthguards are also available for purchase.

Skaters of all abilities — truly, all abilities — are welcome.

“Sometimes we get people who can’t skate and want to,” Arispe said.

For women interested in joining the Sirens, a three-level skating skills test is the most important step. The first level involves non-contact lap skating; the second requires skaters to complete 25 laps around the flat track in five minutes, while being subjected to what Arispe dubbed “controlled” contact.

The third level, informally called “the gauntlet,” places the skater in the middle of four Sirens over a full-contact lap.

“You have to be in control” in that situation, said Sirens member Adrianna “Full Metal Jackie” Stefko. “Part of (roller derby) strategy is to stop you.”

North Coast Roller Derby held its first Boot Camp in April 2010, seven months before the Tsunami Sirens’ debut bout, according to Stefko, a founding member of the Sirens and one of their most formidable blockers.

Representatives from Humboldt Roller Derby in Eureka came up to Crescent City to conduct the clinic. In July 2012, members of the Rainier City Roller Dolls from Centralia, Wash., conducted a hitting and blocking clinic. From those two early instructional camps, the Sirens built a foundation upon which they could develop teamwork and execute offensive and defensive strategies.

Boot Camp represents the most direct entry point onto the Sirens’ competitive roster, and the team is actively looking for additional numbers. The Sirens will suit up 14 players for their bout against the Redding Angry Beavers today; injuries and prior obligations have reduced the number of available players.

“Our team could not grow without newbies,” Stefko said. “Things happen. Injuries happen. Life happens. Girls get pregnant.”

It took her a few tries, but Palmer passed the three-level skating skills test and began joining the Sirens for Thursday practices, called “newbie nights” by team members. Palmer continued to hone her skills, eventually reaching “team level” in October, when she formally joined the Sirens roster. She now skates under the pseudonym “Auntie Virus”; her uniform number is H1N1.

“(Improvement) is all at your own speed,” Palmer said. “You may spend two weeks working on just a couple things.”

The Sirens are a physical outfit, but beneath their rough reputation is a high skill level.

“It’s really hard to close the gap from newbie to our level,” Stefko said. “It takes a lot of practice and hard work.

“Like any other sport, you have to want it. You have to love it, you have to have fun with it.”

Reach Robert Husseman at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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