Moving Past Bad Blood, Ladies of the Long Beach Derby Scene Unite in the Name of Skates


Shayna “Pigeon” Meikle of Moxi. Photos by Danielle Carson.

Shayna “Pigeon” Meikle glided out from behind the counter of Fourth Street’s Moxi Skate Shop on roller skates. To stop at the cross walk, she makes a sharp 180-degree turn by whipping her body around, then proceeds to talk about roller derby.

“You’re on these wheels and every day you’re getting better and better… It makes you feel very empowered,” said Pigeon, the president and founder of Beach Cities Roller Derby. “Derby crushes the inequality found in the extreme sport lifestyle.”

The Santa Cruz native established roots in Long Beach as coach of the Long Beach Roller Derby Belmont Hot Broads in 2011, when the team still put on flashy shows on the bank track inside the Queen Mary Dome. She founded Beach Cities Roller Derby (BCRD) in the South Bay area in 2012, filling the geographic gap between Long Beach derby teams and the Derby Dolls in Los Angeles.

After establishing home teams Hermosa Hit Girls and the Redondo Riots as well as competitive traveling all-star teams Sea Vixens and Riptide Rollers within the league, she felt that the league needed to spread along the coast to live up to its name. The debut of Long Beach Banshees—what Pigeon calls a “stacked team”—will take place June 7 in a bout against the Hermosa Hit Girls.

“Long Beach and derby were made for each other,” said co-founder of BadFish Roller Derby, Jennifer “Block Lobster” Howard. Along with former Derby Gals Buster Chassis and Vegas Vixen, Howard plays for both BCRD and BadFish Roller Derby.

While the foundation of the Long Beach Derby Gals (LBDG) was slowly crumbling, many girls joined Pigeon to the leagues in South Bay and LA to continue playing. Others stayed to pick up the pieces. Like torn muscles, they tried to remain strong. They reunited into two grassroots-based teams that, as a whole, form the new derby league in Long Beach.

BlockLobster01However, the past is still a pertinent question as for local roller derby enthusiasts, the cause of the old leagues’ deterioration has been unclear—Block Lobster notes that the Long Beach-based BadFish, created in January, grew out of the demise of the Derby Gals—but theories remain.

The original Long Beach Roller Derby became LBDG, a league that fell apart in September of 2012, a couple months after moving to San Pedro and nine months after their revival in March 2013. Pigeon alleges that the league wasn’t sustainable because of the pricey productions at the Queen Mary Dome and a one-way flow of funds. At the time, roller derby in Long Beach was focused on theatre, not sport.

“I think that the idea behind the people that [managed] the league is that they [didn’t just want it to be] in a rink with tutus,” Pigeon said. “They wanted it to be at a higher level where it [was] like real entertainment. It sucks because when a roller derby league dissolves, its really traumatic for a lot of people. That’s their community, that’s their friends, that’s their family.”

The league wore from over-polishing the vivacious, unique roller skate culture into a spectacle with a rotten core, rather than nursing it from the inside out. Block Lobster notes that she feels the league fell apart over the course of one short weekend and through a text messages, resulting in confusion between the girls on the team who were just getting to know and love derby and were excluded from the core group of people controlling LBDG.

While it’s still in progress, roller derby in Long Beach has made a definitive shift away from the archetypal, feared roller derby girls that emerge from the darkness only to amaze and entertain. The two emerging leagues aim to be transparent, family-oriented and active in the community—a model that stands united and only falls when divided.

“The history sucks so bad, but I’m stoked that I formed this league,” said Pigeon, who is confident that she has created a resilient, sustainable league from five teams’ worth of experience in roller derby.

The 2-year old league has recently gone non-profit and stands strong with over 100 members, including skaters, referees and other participating members of the derby community—something Pigeon feels will continue to go strong as well as grow. Rather than paying staff members and putting power in the hands of few—”Why pay someone to do marketing if you have someone that does marketing for a living?” Pigeon rhetorically asked—11 different committees that are overseen by volunteering team members run BCRD. This engages the team, fostering cohesiveness by bonding through community events and giving back to local charities.

Of the 50 league members, many are former Derby Gals who realized that they still needed derby in their lives after the fall of the monarchical league. While the spotlight is remembered fondly, Lobster speaks for all the girls when she says that they just want to skate.

“They have really grown fast but with as few growing pains as you can have,” Lobster said. “If I have to play derby in some fugly black bottoms and a T-shirt, I will, I don’t care what I look like… I’m alright with that [as long as] I’ll get to play derby.”

Jennifer “Block Lobster” Howard.

Lobster said that BadFish is modeled after the community-based model that has served BCRD so well, and is currently working on mobilizing and motivating the other girls on the team to help with recruitment, sponsorship and planning. All this despite Lobster admitting that if there is a single growing pain amidst all the positive growth, it is the fact that all the ladies must let go and accept help to move forward.

While the league sprung from the rubble while passions were high, Block Lobster said the league plans to take some steps back after the summer to develop their skaters and structure—especially considering that BadFish is less developed than BCRD. “There are a lot of leagues in this area that are just thrown together. Basically: we want to do it right,” says Lobster.

Informal bouts in June give the girls something to look forward to, but every derby gal supports the fact that development is more important. “Roller derby is supposed to be grass roots, community based, by the skater for the skater,” Pigeon said, “not for someone that has invested monetarily and has different interests than the skaters.”

After seeing the fall of past leagues, both teams have one thing in common: they’re cheap to keep. BadFish practices for free at El Dorado and Cypress parks, spends less on merchandise, and bouts are more like community sporting events than flashy entertainment. On the other hand, BCRD has a well-established network of sponsors and fundraising that supplements the skaters’ monthly dues—funds that Pigeon said now go to pricey rink fees and back into the league, rather than to paying people.

“It’s not my business; it’s my baby,” Pigeon said.

This doesn’t mean that playing in Long Beach is the same old story, a point made emphatically by Pigeon. In her words, there isn’t a smooth, covered rink in Long Beach that doesn’t cost $10,000 for each use.

“We would get some top level skaters and great matches in the dome if [the Queen Mary] could just be reasonable with the price,” Pigeon said. “That being said, it would take people to understand that we cant play in Long Beach. I’ve gotten quotes for the [Walter Pyramid and the LA Velodrome], but prices are the same… It’s just too much money to be sustainable.”

Long Beach needs entertainment, and Pigeon said that the Bayshore Roller Hockey Rink just won’t cut it. Block Lobster and Pigeon are working closely to close Pine Street for The Running of the Dames on May 31, from noon to 8:00PM.

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