Rockin' Rollers

Published: 01 March, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 169, February, 2009

There are very few sports, which can claim such a rapid rise in popularity as flat-track roller derby. Slowly, as the number of teams across the UK grows, the mainstream media are starting to pay attention. Maybe it’s the novelty, the fact that it’s a female-only sport, it’s strong ‘alternative’ image, or maybe simply because it’s such damn good fun! Recently Skin Deep attended a practise of the London Rockin’ Rollers to talk to some of the girls about tattoos and skates...

Belfast-born Sandi Hell Santo is a pivot for the Rockin’ Rollers and when she isn’t on the track she works as a paediatric nurse. Under the skate pads she sports a variety of tattoos from respected artists including a dragonfly from Amanda Toy, some Mexican skulls from Ian Flower, a fish from Bugs and a Seahorse from Craig Jackman (in LA). The story about how she got into tattoos is slightly different to the norm, “My dad was a sailor in the Merchant Navy and he hated tattoos that much that he was the only man onboard without one, and got a lot of stick for that from the whole crew. So, in true teenage rebellious style, I came to London and had my first tattoo done by Bugs. My dad threw me out. Day to day everything is pretty much hidden under my nurse’s uniform.” Sandi has found that her tattoos can be quite useful in her line of work. “When we have to do some invasive procedure or cannulation on a child and they’re freaking out, I flash one of my tattoos at them and it usually distracts them enough! And I say…now that’s what REALLY hurts!”

Jackie (whose skate name is JackAttack #101) has also found having good tattoos can have unexpected benefits. “I did get upgraded to a fancy room in a hotel once because the receptionist liked my tattoos. That was kinda cool”. When Jackie isn’t on the Derby track she owns and runs a tattoo/piercing studio in Hertfordshire called Nutz Tattoos (with her partner Nutz), which is now almost four years old. Her interest in drawing became an interest in tattoos when her auntie got one of her drawings inked onto her skin. “I then really got into the idea of having my own, got some not-so-good tattoos done then, thank god, I met Nutz and managed to avoid being covered in rubbish tattoos!” she chuckles.

Working where she does means Jackie has had plenty of time to amass a collection of impressive ink… “I have a flower fairy sleeve on right arm, a pin up girl on a motorbike on right leg, 2 rubber Dominatrix on my left leg, a large floral design on my left ribs and a skull Baroque-style chest piece all done by Nutz. I plan to get loads more.... I plan to have full coverage eventually”.

I’ve spent a lot of time shooting roller derby and have noticed a growing number of derby-related tattoos appearing on girls in different teams, so it’s no surprise to hear that Jackie’s next tattoo is to be of a “nice big rollergirl, maybe on my other thigh”. However, before she gets that done she has bigger plans, “Later this year I’m going to [Las] Vegas to play roller derby. Not only will I be representing the London Rockin’ Rollers but also the UK! I’m really excited, it’s pretty much all I’m thinking about at the moment. But once that’s history, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about tattoos again.” The one piece of advice she has for people who want to be tattooed is (apart from take you time and research your artist) is “Never get a name tattooed on your’s a silly thing to do!”

Dollie is one of the Rockin’ Rollers founders and describes it as “the best thing I have ever done. It’s fun, aggressive and you make a lot of fantastic friends”. The more time I spend around roller derby the clearer it becomes that it is so much more than just a sport. It’s a place to meet people and keep healthy while getting rid of some of that modern-living aggression! Somehow, in between running her own business (the Black Rose in Camden) and skating, Dollie still finds the time to travel, citing Vegas as a favourite, “whenever myself and my heavily-tattooed husband go out there, people think we are big rock-stars or celebrities and we get free drinks, upgrades and VIP treatment. I don’t have it in my heart to say no!” With work from Adam Collins (her Betty Boop and the bees), skulls from Bugs and a full back piece from the late Jason Saga, it’s hardly surprising that she no immediate plans to add to her collection.

This is a sport where no-one cares about your age or body-type, just so long as you have some skates and don’t mind falling over a lot! Maybe because this is such an open sport it has attracted such a diverse group of people from the wacky and openly alternative, to the non-tattooed and more conventional.

As a first-time spectator the basic rules are easy to understand, but you’ll be having such a good time I doubt you’ll care. One skater from each team, called a jammer, tries to pass the pack; each team tries to block the opposing jammer and protect their own. Hitting is encouraged, but elbows, grabbing and tripping are illegal.

The London Rockin’ Rollers are the third league to have started in the UK so have been involved since roller derby’s humble UK beginnings. They played Europe’s first ever interleague bout against the Stuttgart Valley Rollergirlz in Germany last October and also the UK’s first interleague bout against Birmingham shortly after. Just recently they returned to Germany for a Revenge Match and returned home victorious. January 2009 will see the Rockin’ Rollers launch their first home bout so stay tuned via their website for details!

In the meantime, if you’re interested in strapping on your skates and getting low down and dirty with the Rockin’ Rollers, get in touch with them via Tattoos are optional!


Words and Photos: Al Overdrive


Skin Deep 169 1 February 2009 169