Derby Passion Runs High in Argentina

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MensRollerDerby-Sqr-Argentina“Find passion and develop a lust for life with others who celebrate every day.”

No, this is not a personal ad; this sentence sums up my feelings on the Argentine roller derby scene. Argentina, a new hotbed for derby, is forging the movement in South America—the number of leagues is growing almost too quickly to track.

Traveling to South America excited me, but I also felt nervous. I am never nervous. I have spent weeks roving in countries where I don’t speak the official language. I have stood in front of 5,000 people with a microphone in my hand. But Argentina, land of tango and passion? This brash announcer dude would surely be out of his element.

Brown Paper Tickets sponsored the New York Shock Exchange, an American team playing in Buenos Aries and Córdoba tournaments. I traveled there to support, possibly announce and take photos. I took a derby leap of faith and found a room in Buenos Aires (population 14 million) believing my contacts, Optimuz Quad and NYSE would just find me.

Warm Welcome 

My Spanish was a bit rusty. Did I say rusty? I mean non-existent. I could count to eight and ask for a beer. Granted, “I’d like eight beers” has its uses, but requires seven buddies.

As I settled into the hotel, my phone buzzed with a Facebook alert: Optimuz was already checking in. I was unaware his team was hosting the tournament and did not know he was to be the tournament director. Our conversation went something like this:

“Still want to attend practice tonight?”
“I’m pretty beat, but I’m here so let’s do it.”

Three hours later, this staple in the Argentine derby movement was at my hotel. Optimuz is one of eight 2013 Team Argentina skaters who played in the Birmingham Men’s Roller Derby World Cup. A team that will resonate with men’s derby fans forever.

He greeted me with a hug (cool, I am a hugger), kissed me on the cheek (as is custom), and sincerely thanked me for making the trip. He had taken two hours of mass transit straight from work to familiarize me with the walk and subway ride. It didn’t matter how much was on his plate or how far he had to ride, as long as he took care of his guest. That epitomizes the Argentina experience.

It was the height of summer when I visited and hot. Not nice-vacation-let’s-tan hot, but my-clothes-are-stuck-to-me-and-I-stink hot. Thus, the city comes to life at night.

The ThunderQuads practice beneath an overpass, beginning at dusk. 2X4, one the numerous women’s leagues in Buenos Aries, practices from 10PM to midnight. The moon, stars and area walkways offered the only light sources. In the corners, teens with boomboxes practiced new breakdancing moves. A block north, boxers sparred. Runners filled a track about thirty feet west. Sidewalks clicked with the occasional skateboarder, while the overpass above hummed with cars and trucks. This was one of the most amazing, vibrant scenes I have ever witnessed in all of my derby travels.

Before ThunderQuads’ practice, everyone from both men’s and women’s teams introduced themselves and thanked me. As much as it meant to have NYSE attend their tournament and spread MRDA sanctioning into South America, they made it a point to also express gratitude to myself, refs and NSOs who traveled from other continents to assist.

HARD2016 Tournament

The HARD2016 tournament was crazy fun, even though economic limitations sadly prevented three Colombian teams from competing. Participating teams:

• New York Shock Exchange (USA)
• Hosting team Thunderquads (Argentina)
• Buenos Aires Conspiracy (Argentina)
• Congragolpe Roller Derby (Argentina)
• Terror S-quad (Chile)

Though a formal sport’s facility, the venue was another open-air location under an overpass. Teams began playing on two tracks, until a torrent of rain overcame the overpass drainage and flooded the facility (is anything easy in derby?). Teams played the second and final day on the other track, which was still dry.

The first day proven that the derby was quite good, but NYSE and the ThunderQuads were the cream of the crop. They would meet in the championship game and everyone was hyped for the match-up.

Seasoned announcers are used to varied environments. I called the 3v4 game and championship of the HARD Tournament with my new friend Yisus, an interpreter seated between us. That was awesome. It made for great (albeit delayed) banter. I worked the crowd’s excitement with the flow of the game and then looked to make Yisus and the crowd laugh. I was so out of my element, it was a blast and everyone seemed to be having fun.

Most Memorable Game

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The championship game was the most emotional and memorable in my 11 years as an announcer. The extraordinarily good home team competed against NYSE, who also had an outstanding record. The ThunderQuads played NYSE within a 30-point differential until the final ten minutes of the game.

Around 250 people sat virtually on top of the track and the outside ref lane needed to be cleared at times. The space was tight, making the audience part of the game. And it was loud. The crowd stood and shouted with each passing run. The adrenaline ran so high I had goosebumps and the call was pure excitement. When the game ended, I walked and paced for an hour afterward to come down. The scene was unbelievable. Players hugging in tears, exchanging uniforms (they even gave me one), photos went on for an hour, the crowd stayed until we moved to the after-party two hours later.

In general, derby is a passionate sport, but this was a whole new level. The players and crowd were so grateful for the Shock Exchange and support staff; they thanked us again and treated us like family the whole rest of the trip.

The after party gave us more time to talk, bond, and appreciate the people and experience that was the HARD2016 tournament.

Look out for another post on the growing Argentine derby community.

Photo credits: fb/johnnyderby21 and Len Rizzo