Correction: An earlier version of the photo captions incorrectly identified Shabadrang Khalsa as Shabad Rang. This has been corrected.
“Always put your pads on first” is the first piece I get from Jennifer Gross as I receive an impromptu lesson on roller skating at the Pipeline skatepark on Friday morning.
It’s an instruction I’m happy to comply with. The last time I put on roller skates had to be more than 20 years ago. The memories have faded, but the fear remains abundantly clear.
Gross and her colleague, Shabadrang Khalsa, are both members of the Juneau Rollergirls, Juneau’s local roller derby team. Going through a restructuring phase, the JRG are looking to get more people interested in roller derby and in skating in general.
“To me it’s about building skating community,” said Khalsa, who’s helping to organize the JRG.
To that end, members of the JRG are partnering with Juneau’s community schools to offer skating lessons for anyone interested, middle school-age and up. Sign ups are on the website.
With my legs shaking like a baby deer, I was gently coaxed out onto the floor of the skatepark after getting armored up in a helmet and knee-, elbow- and wristpads. Khalsa and Gross taught me how to go, how to stop, and most importantly for me, how to fall without doing myself an injury.
A history of good sport
The JRG are not a new team, Khalsa said, but rebuilding after a slack year or two. People come and go with Juneau’s mobile population, and some people fall away for periods of time due to other commitments.
“It takes a couple years to build the team,” Khalsa said. “It takes a lot of volunteer hours. Roller derby is 100 percent woman led.”
The team has been to Sitka, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Seattle and Canada for competitions in the past, Khalsa said. The team hit peak size in 2010, with more than 40 members. Since then, it’s shrunk down in numbers some, but not in determination.
“You have to be 18 to play, and we recommend that you have your own health insurance,” Khalsa said. “This sport takes a community because it’s led by the women of the team.”
While only women play for the team, men are allowed to practice with them so long as everyone is comfortable with it, and two are currently practicing with the team in order to become referees.
“Our season is basically the school year,” Khalsa said. “We’re looking for volunteers. We’re looking for skaters. We’re looking for anyone with the gusto to be referee.”
I manage not to disgrace the Juneau Empire, falling less than a dozen times in 10 minutes of tottering gingerly across the skate park, eyeing the ramps with distinct foreboding. They teach me how to safely fall, and even more safely recover: plant one knee, brace and stand. No hands on the deck, fingers least of all — an unprotected finger on the floor of the roller derby rink is not a good idea, they make abundantly clear to me.
Just go for it
Khalsa recommends taking the class for anyone interested in playing the sport or just skating more. Everyone has to start somewhere and doing it with the players from the JRG can teach new skaters good habits to build a solid foundation on it, no matter what they want to skate for.
“When I see beginners skating, I reminisce to the time I was a beginner,” Khalsa said. “No one is judging you.”
Gross has been skating since last October and part of the team since last November.
“I had no idea what roller derby was,” Gross said. “I’d been skating and I learned roller derby as I go.”
Both skaters are currently taking part in the 365 Skate challenge, a challenge to skate every day for a full year. Khalsa is on day 120; Gross is almost done, at day 281.
“I’m really into street skating and artistic skating,” Gross said. “Anything you’d see in a roller rink.”
And they ably demonstrate this. After I make my way to a seat and trade my loaner skates for tennis shoes that don’t threaten me with a sudden acquaintance between my tailbone and the floor, Gross and Khalsa are able to cut loose, zipping up and down ramps, jumping over steps, and doing synchronized sets in the halfpipe. Their footwork is purely astounding — I’m sure if I tried to do anything like what they’re doing instinctually, I’d pull a muscle.
Looks like skating every day, and doing so with good people, is a pretty good use of one’s time.
Know & Go
The JRG will be hosting a six-week course on Skating 101 at Marie Drake starting this Sunday at 2:30. The cost is $45, and they have equipment you can borrow IF you contact them at their email or their Facebook group.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.