It’s Saturday morning, and a couple dozen girls age 7-18 are skating around a Gardena warehouse on old-fashioned four-wheel skates. As their coach, Shilow “RegulateHer” Castro, shouts instructions, they pair up and practice nudging each other out of the oval track striped on the cement floor.
The girls wear helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist guards, which are standard for their sport: roller derby. Their team, Angel City Junior Derby – part of the Angel City Derby Girls flat-track league – is seeking new members.
The girls’ shirts have their derby names across the back: Zoe D. Stroyer, Mount Crushmore, Rose Dred, Minor Threat. The league’s A-Listers placed second at the Junior Roller Derby Association championships this summer, and these girls can really skate. Their practices on Saturday start at 8 a.m. with a half-hour of Cross Fit training and don’t finish until noon. By that time, they’ve also done two hours of drills, plus an hour of scrimmage. They also practice on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
They train hard to be in shape for tournament play, where they might skate three games in the same day. “When you get tired, you start getting sloppy,” says Michael “Quadfather” Castro, who coaches the team along with his wife Shilow. Their daughter, Shelby “Lil RegulateHer” Castro, started skating at age 6 and is now one of the A-Listers.
Tough as they are, these girls all skate together like sisters. “The little girls aren’t scared of our big girls, because our big girls use our little girls to practice footwork,” says Shilow. Roller derby is basically a race where each team’s “jammer” works to get ahead of the other skaters to score points, while the rest of the team tries to block the path of the opposing team’s jammer. While physically knocking opponents off the track is allowed (and common), finesse, footwork, safety and sportsmanship are a bigger focus at Angel City.
The team includes players from all walks of life, and the Castros work with players at all levels, including absolute beginners who don’t yet know how to skate. The more advanced players help bring the newer players along. “There is no ‘in crowd’ here,” Shilow says. “This sport is for everybody.”