Time for blokes to get some skates on

By Christine Allen

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SLOPE: Carl Mansell, known by his roller derby team mates as Hu55lr, is the only male roller derby player from Northland heading to the Australian tournament this year.PHOTO/JOHN STONE
SLOPE: Carl Mansell, known by his roller derby team mates as Hu55lr, is the only male roller derby player from Northland heading to the Australian tournament this year.PHOTO/JOHN STONE

WHAT would you get if you merged the smack-attack of ice-hockey with the pack strategy of rugby? Well, if you put the players on quad roller skates, you'd get men's roller derby.

The sport is quickly shaking off the shackles of perceived femininity, too, according to our Northland Team NZ representative.

Carl Mansell, 29, is the only Northlander on the Kiwi team heading to the Australian Men's Roller Derby tournament which rolls out this November in Brisbane.

The sport is young here so the 15-strong Kiwi team are heading across the ditch for some roller combat, due to a lack of national teams here.

The Morningside derby player has only been skating for three years but has already mastered the art of the apex jump, as well as some other tricky moves - skills which have earned him the reputation of "rubber boy" to his team mates.

The New Zealand squad train together once a month, with each region hosting training sessions.

With so little team time, players work on rules, fitness and skills on their own time, players training with their respective women's clubs each week.

"When we train together we work on strategy. We pull it all together and are hoping it will gel for us in Oz."

Mansell plays the position of jammer, but his versatility lends itself to the position of blocker too.

Roller derby is not yet recognised as an official sport - something clubs throughout the world are working hard to resolve. There is no avoiding the fact, however, that it is an athletic sport, based on fitness, strategy, skill and teamwork. And it's a heck of a game to watch.

The women's clubs are established in New Zealand, with a host of regional clubs already competing on a national level.

"Men still think roller derby is for women. The hardest part of growing the sport will involve convincing men to put the skates on.

"They'll quickly learn that it's a tough sport."

He challenged men who thought it was "too feminine" to try it, or at least watch a game.

Northland also has its own up-and-coming men's roller derby club - the Northland Undead Nightmares, which Mansell founded.

Mansell had never taken to traditional Kiwi sports, cricket and rugby.

"I was a real small kid so I got knocked around in sports at school."

Three years ago he laced up skates.

He started playing roller derby two years ago, having found it through the Northland Nightmares, the women's club based out of Portland Recreation Centre.

Mansell is a referee with the club and trains with the women, as well as the other local male referees.

"After a tough day, you can just get your skates on and clear your mind.

"It's more than a sport - it's a community,' he said.

"It's also a sport that does not discriminate - roller derby gives a common ground to all players."

He might train with women, but he says: "Don't underestimate the power of roller derby women. Those girls are tough."

The full-contact sport is also one that gives some injuries - which Mansell has managed to avoid so far.

Safety equipment is worn at all times - players' mouth and wrist guards, knee and elbow pads and helmets are checked before each game.

Mansell played against the Wizards of Aus team as a member of New Zealand's Black Skates in Sydney in 2013 but they missed out on the Men's Roller Derby World Cup in Birmingham this March, which was won by the US.

"We will definitely have a team ready for the next World Cup," he said.

Northland's male team needs more players. Anyone can join - you don't need to know how to skate. All training is provided. The Northland Nightmares are also looking for more referees, male or female. If you fancy getting involved in roller derby, contact the Northland Nightmares roller derby club on rollergirls@clear.net.nz or 021 025 09090.

- Northern Advocate

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