It’s been a long road, but at this point most of the fun things that we lost during COVID have returned. We’ve had live music again for a while, theater, fairs. But something that Humboldt hasn’t had since COVID is some good ol’ roller derby! Well, now the Humboldt Roller Derby is finally returning for its first home game in more than three years.
“We cannot wait to see our fans again,” Natalie Arroyo, who plays under her derby name, Brawn Luc Picard, told the Outpost in a recent phone interview. “Roller Derby has a huge community of supporters here and we’re excited to see them.”
Arroyo, who you likely know as Fourth District Supervisor for Humboldt County, has been a part of Humboldt Roller Derby (HRB) since 2016, after both levels of HRB’s training camp. It’s a pretty big commitment to join the league, requiring two sessions of training camp – the first level focuses mostly on skating skills and the second level focuses on game play and learning how to smash into each other without causing or sustaining injuries. Skaters must then pass an assessment before becoming a part of the team roster. Because roller derby is a very contact-heavy sport, it is really important to be sure players are properly trained before they join games.
In case you, like this reporter, don’t know that much about roller derby, we will attempt to explain. HRB is governed by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which represents more than 400 flat track roller derby leagues across the world. The game, called a bout, is played on an oval track with two teams of five players each. Each game consists of a series of short plays called “jams.” During the jam, the “jammer”— a player who wheres a star on their helmet — attempts to score points by passing other players. The other four players on the team, called “blockers,” play defense and offense, trying to block the other team’s jammer from scoring, while also aiding their own jammer. Here’s a short video explaining a little about the game from the WFTDA.
There’s a lot of hitting and bashing into one another, for sure, but Arroyo wanted to clarify that there are strict rules on the ways in which the players are allowed to hit and bash. Many people seem to think that roller derby is a sport where anything goes, like tripping, punching or clotheslining the other players, and that is not the case, Arroyo said. In the earlier days of the sport, roller derby was much more rough and tumble, but women’s flat track roller derby was completely redesigned in the early 2000s and the rules today are very different.
Because the sport is so contact-heavy, it wasn’t really possible for the league to hold practices during the pandemic. Arroyo said that she and some of her team members would get together to skate outdoors, which was a great way to stay connected and active, but without holding practices it was hard to maintain the level of physical intensity that the sport requires.
“Roller derby is a huge part of my and my teammates’ mental and physical health,” Arroyo said. “For me, it’s one of the main ways I stay active. So it was very sad and it was also hard, but it was necessary for us to put a long pause in place.”
HRD started meeting again in 2022, holding practices three nights a week. After the long hiatus, it took a while to get back to where the skaters felt fully comfortable holding games again, but now they are finally ready to kick some butt.
“It took us almost a year to get back to the point where we’re having home games, because we wanted to make sure that everyone was safe to skate,” Arroyo said. “You know, it’s a really hard- hitting sport and we don’t want people to get injured unnecessarily.”
Many HRD veterans, like Arroyo, will be returning for the first home game this weekend, but the league is also welcoming a lot of new players. Cassandra Curatolo, aka “Slam Chowder,” will be competing with HRD for her very first time on Saturday, though it’s far from her first time doing roller derby.
Curatolo joined HRD’s training camp in 2018 and was ready to join the team by late 2019, but moved to the Bay Area before she had a chance to join HRD’s roster and was never actually able to compete. During her time away from Humboldt, Curatolo joined and competed with Bay Area Derby (BAD). She moved back to our area in 2022, just in time to join the resurrection of HRD.
“I’m super happy to be back,” Curatolo told the Outpost. “You know, all roller derby is wonderful, but there’s something very special about Humboldt Roller Derby. It was a huge factor in why I returned.”
What makes HRD so special, Curatolo said, is that the league is very supportive and also accepting of skaters of all levels and backgrounds, something that was very encouraging to her, since she had absolutely no previous skating experience before training with HRD. HRD is also a really good league skill-wise, and before COVID, Humboldt ranked 84th out of 480 leagues.
What seems to be the biggest local appeal is that HRD also puts on a good show! Though roller derby has abandoned the WWE-style theatrics that the sport became known for in the 1980s, Curatolo said that many of the skaters do have a theatrical flair and the teams are really fun to watch. A lot of work is also put into the game production, with announcers, stagelights, raffles and prizes, beer and concessions available and live music performed by the stadium band the Dirty Derby Blowhards.
And, like with so many other live events in Humboldt, the crowd gets really into it.
“The community support is a huge aspect of what makes Humboldt Roller Derby unique,” Curatolo said. “We are this small, rural league and we have just this huge outpouring of support from the local community.”
Humboldt Roller Derby’s first game will be a double header on Saturday, Sept. 30. At 6 p.m. at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, Franceschi Hall. You can get your tickets at
this link. [UPDATE: After publication, we were informed that online tickets are no longer available. But don’t worry. There will be plenty of tickets at the door!]