View a slideshow of the Dynamite Panties roller derby team here.
It’s hard to find a sports team as unique as the Dynamite Panties.
If their name doesn’t serve up enough intrigue, their image and attire certainly do. About half the members of the “Panties Dinamitas” (Dynamite Panties) have long strands of pink hair or fluffed pink bangs. They have colorful tattoos that line their shoulders and legs, wear excessive amounts of black and glitter eyeliner, and collectively, this group of gnarly girls that look as tough as nineties rockers Four Non Blondes are Costa Rica’s first-ever Roller Derby team.
“We started up around five months ago,” said team organizer Stefanie Cerdas, whose shoulder-length ocher hair falls from her black helmet. “I’d watched Roller Derby for a long time and knew I wanted to play. When I found out that Costa Rica didn’t have a Roller Derby team, I decided to try to start one.”
Cerdas started a “Roller Derby Costa Rica” Facebook page and sent messages to friends hoping to generate interest. She posted Roller Derby rules and wrote that the league was “looking for girls with or without skating experience and a lot of attitude.”
Responses trickled in, though when some watched videos, they quickly retracted interest.
Roller Derby can be a brutal sport. Falls onto the hard track are constant. Players are thrust into walls at high speeds. Fingers are mashed under opponents’ spinning wheels. Blood, scrapes and burns are expected outcomes. Toughness is requisite.
“You have to like the physical part of it. You have to like to get rough and crash into people and not mind falling on the ground,” said Dynamite Panties teammate Valeria Sotela. “It does scare away some of the girls, but the ones that come back for a second and third practice, we know they are committed.”
To play, two teams of five line up on an oval skating track and zip around the course for 60 to 90 minutes. Four members of each team, known as blockers, form a pack. The other two skaters, known as jammers, skate behind the pack and try to weave through it to score points. As a jammer tries to squeeze through the pack, she is pushed, checked, shouldered and bullied as much as possible by the opposition to impede her progress. The more opponents the jammer is able to evade and pass, the more points her team scores.
“The jammer is usually the team’s fastest skater and the only one that can score points,” Cerdas said. “Everyone on the team is important, but the game revolves around the jammer.”
Gabriela Sotela is the Panties’ jammer. She has dyed black hair with one long blond wisp that falls to her back. She wears a pink bandana and has a nose-ring, two nose studs, and large visible tattoos on her chest, shoulder and thigh. The tattoo on her chest says “True Love” above the image of a diamond. Her pantyhose are ripped and her red skates are covered with silver duct tape. Her nickname is “Bloody Doll.”
“People watch us and look at us and think we are bums, or punks or misfits,” said Sotela, who is Valeria’s sister. “We find it funny because we are all employed, or students, or married, or mothers.”
Sotela is a mother of two and Josselin Chávez, her sister-in-law and teammate, also has a young son. Chávez’s nickname is “Iron Butterfly” and she wears a helmet with a sticker on it that says “Roller Girls Kick Ass.”
With the sport still in its fledgling stage, the Dynamite Panties are limited to practice sessions only. There are no games scheduled because there are no other Costa Rican teams. Cerdas said that some of the girls originally training with the Dynamite Panties are trying to form a new team in Heredia so that they compete in games.
There are other obstacles as well. Roller skates, knee and elbow pads, an endless supply of pantyhose, jerseys and helmets are not cheap. In addition to recruiting players and a coach to the niche sport, equipment can run up a large bill.
“It has been difficult at times to recruit players. Even when there is someone interested, sometimes they can’t afford the equipment,” Cerdas said. “Roller skates can cost over $300 a pair.”
But the challenges aren’t slowing the team’s efforts at promoting the sport. They hand out flyers at each of their practices three days a week, give out brochures with the rules and pose for pictures when gawkers with cameras stop and watch.
“We have to continue to get the word out because we know there a lot of girls that don’t know even know we exist yet,” Cerdas said.