Banked track, flat track

Maybe people are choosing up sides unnecessarily.

I am amazed at how inflammatory the subject is.  So I will try to discuss it in a rational manner.

Obviously Roller Derby evolved as a banked track game and was enjoyed by millions, albeit many times as an exhibition.  We, the management and the skaters, never even thought of it as possible to be skated on a flat surface.  So we were proved wrong, as almost 700 leagues around the world are doing it successfully today.  And if the game is skated by skilled players before two evenly matched teams, it is very exciting.

Image by Mary LaVenture

However, that doesn’t mean that banked track skating should be dismissed, because it isn’t going to be.  As many leagues as can afford it and can figure out the logistics of storing, setting up, training, more will keep appearing.  I am very interested in what the response will be to the banked track skating game in Chicago on December 11 and I am certain to hear from the players and spectators.

My belief is that the game on the bank is a better game for the spectators and maybe for the players; they can go faster and use the physics of the track to their advantage.  It definitely creates a more focused arena; remember, I was a promoter and always judged what the audience would appreciate to make the game much more of an event.  There is little doubt in my mind that when professional women’s Roller Derby is presented to the public it will be on a banked track.

Does that mean that flat track derby is doomed?  Of course not.  Many leagues will never be able to play in an arena large enough or cost efficient enough to play the other game.  And the more that Roller Derby is seen by the public (witness what happened when “Whip It” which was filmed on a banked track came out), then all leagues should be even more successful.  I personally never want to see what brought my family’s game back in such a great way disappear.

Many of the current skaters who have other professions want to keep things the way they are; they would not consider joining professional skating teams.  Others will want to.  And unlike when we promoted Roller Derby, there are thousands of skaters out there who not only know how to skate, but even more importantly know the strategy of playing this very complex contest.
From my point of view I think it will be so important for everyone to see how empowering this game is to women, who are playing a rough contact sport where the rules have not been altered for them.  But it is also a necessity, as far as I am concerned, that some kind of acknowledgment or even compensation be set up for the existing leagues, much as the minor league systems now work for baseball.

The majority of cities will never see the new development, but they can certainly benefit from it.  Obviously – and here is another sore point – the rules will probably have to be altered, but the game will remain the same legitimate sport all of women have created, at a great cost of time, money and effort.

Think of the excitement of major league teams of what will eventually be an international league.

The above is what I think will happen;  I of course (as a promoter) have guessed wrong more times than not, but this fastest growing sport cannot be ignored any longer.  If it ends up flat track, that is fine by me.  Ultimately whoever creates the professional game will decide.  If it does occur, I will do my best and whatever influence I have to make certain that those of you who have worked so hard not be forgot.

So let me know how you think it will roll.

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36 comments on “Banked track, flat track

  1. Jerry thank you for your insight. You are right there is room and a future for both banked and flat. I wish more people could see that and see the benefit of all of us working together. I am sad that that may take many years though…

    Our team in Oxnard is building our banked track and are going to try and go fully professional. Yes we are also working on an improved rule set as well. There are 3 flat track leagues in this county and if we all work together I can see a wonderful future for all of us…

    You have said you will visit us when our track is done, it’s almost time for you to plan a date! We are looking forward to a bright future and we thank you for your support!
    Corinna Owens

  2. Guilty. I have been to flat track. I’ve been to banked track. I’ve skated (badly) on both. Without question, Jerry is correct about the physics of the game. As a spectator, to me, painted or taped ovals to a floor don’t have the same me…aning as basketball boundries. I can’t imagine Hockey without boards. I don’t care for Derby without rails. I, too, wish the flat trackers well. But, I want the SOUND of wheels on the banked track. The sound is an important component of the game to the spectator, and I believe that is lacking on the flats.

  3. I can see how the “stage” aspect of the banked track makes for a more audience attracting game. As a player, the surface doesn’t matter to me, I can have an aneurysm watching some awesome flat track play just as easily as watching the same play a high-production value banked bout.

    But on the other hand, I recently was told that some of our flat track fans like being able to sit close to the flat track, running the chance of having a skater fly into them.

    Flat track won’t disappear because the empowering aspect of derby is more valuable than ANY big-ticket production game. I love the fact that a group of women in Randomville, KY can lay down a track and work together to become the strong women that have always lived inside them.

    Banked/arena derby is going to bring derby to the masses. But derby culture, in my humble opinion, will permeate and find a permanent home in our society via the small flat track leagues.

    My bigger question, since I know Olympic participation is a goal for many derby folks, is what kind of track do you all think is the best venue for sheer competition sake?

    • Your comment gave me chills =)

      We just had our very first home bout, and I during all my stresses of “did we order too many chairs” etc I kept reminding myself that this sport is about getting an opponent, laying down a track, and kicking but. As long as I had an opposing team, some rope, some tape, and maybe some fans, it would be a success. Maybe that sounds silly, but those thoughts kept me from gray hairs and ulcers. =)

    • I’m deeply disappointed that the Chicago game Saturday night will have standing room only on the floor of the arena instead of chairs set up around the track. Whenever I went to the Hammond Civic Center or the International Amphitheater we sat down near the track and it was absolutely an interactive experience with the skaters. Banked Track Derby does not mean the fans cannot be close.

      • Actually, most city fire marshals insist on a buffer between track and audience. In Los Angeles, that buffer is ten feet. Prior to the marshal requiring that, stands could go up against the track. There were problems with that, like fans spilling their drinks on the track or trying to touch the skaters during games.

        The modern tracks like that being used in Chicago, have a top track surface height of 52 inches, and it’s very difficult to see much of the action from a sitting floor height.

        It’s hard even if you’re standing. The LA Derby Dolls “Doll Factory”, where they both practice and hold their games currently, have elevated, tiered standing “stands”, so the spectators have a view of the game unimpeded by the people in front of them (and a rail to put their beers on).

    • Kelly flat track has become a “big ticket-Production GAME”. Um Rat City sold out Key Arena. Over 7,000 people last year.

      I agree with you as a skater, any surface will do. Wait till you feel a bank track under your 8-wheels.

  4. Wonderful to read as always Jerry!
    As far as I am concerned, we are all sisters who share our love for the same CORE game, whether it be on banked a track or on a flat track, and when speaking to passionate members of both sides, they will attest to their style reigning supreme, but what it comes down to is the sport.
    I run one of the local leagues Miss. Corinna Owens speaks of, and we have great respect for the ladies who build, using everything they have, a behemoth of a track to skate on. As she stated above, it is all about the mutual respect for each other that will make this sport grow. There is something to be said for a group of *Bi-Traxual* girls who have the skill set to knock a girl to the inside of the banked track with one fell swoop, or hit a jammer off the outside of the track without rolling a wheel over that flat track boundary. Training for the core of the sport, whether its flat or banked, creates a well rounded, ready for anything derby girl. I have had conversations with well seasoned banked trackers, and what I always get, is the importance of cross training. Every flat tracker wants to fly down the bank, but not every banked tracker wants to try the flat, and its personal preference. I haven’t been in this sport long enough to judge, but I Kobe doesn’t just shoot free throws all day; it takes practice outside the box to really create a well rounded skater.
    So with that being said, the skill sets are different, the tracks are different, but the heart, it beats the same. And whether you are lining up, toe on the jammer line, heart racing, on the flat track or the banked track, the electricity running thru your veins, it doesn’t know the difference. I love derby. No matter what it is on. =)

  5. Jerry i just want you to know that flat track is growing bigger then ever here in Rochester NY I am a referee / nso for ROC CITY ROLLER Derby and we just recently had a bout in November that drew 2500 people our first bout 2 years ago was a few hundred we continue to grow bigger and stronger every year with next season having 3 home teams and 2 travel teams i guess what im trying to say is flat track bank track there is still a huge fan base for each cause people have different taste and styles no matter what it is there is still room for growth by both and it is getting stronger every day and from all of us skaters and players we say thank you for what you have done for the sport

  6. Some of the banked track leagues also skate flat track, some taking it more seriously than others. The San Diego Derby Dolls not only took first place in the third annual Battle on the Bank, but reached #14 in Derby News Network’s Power Rankings, which only considers performance in flat track games.

    The LA Derby Dolls also play some flat track, but their efforts aren’t quite as dedicated, or as frequent as San Diego’s. Both leagues have WFTDA regulation flat tracks in their practice spaces in addition to their banked tracks, and both play flat track by WFTDA regulations when they are guests of flat track leagues.

    Banked track has an asymmetrical surface. It resists movement in one direction, and assists it in the other between infield and rail.

    Flat track is symmetrical, isotropic. Skating laterally to the inside is much the same as skating to the outside as far as the track is concerned.

    The neutral playing surface of flat track encourages jammer juking to a greater extent than banked.

    Banked track, because of the higher possible speeds, forces skaters to think faster to maintain their tactical strategies.

    As a cross training method, banked track leagues that also have flat track practice tracks can practice techniques and tactics that they can try to master and take onto the bank. In the other direction, flat track skaters might bring quicker thinking back from the bank. But overall, I think bank track skaters get more from flat track co-training than the other way around.

    I haven’t found too many other people who agree with me, but what I’d like to see in professional derby is a bi-athalon of sorts. The teams would have to win both flat track and banked track games.

    In the modern derby world, banked and flat are breeds of the same game concept, not separate species. In the early days, flat track had to be promoted as a separate species within its ranks, to prevent the best leagues from “going banked” as soon as they had the money to do so. It worked.

    This gave flat track its own identity and recognition. Thanks to the relatively low logistical challenges of the track itself, its widespread nature tunes the skaters and teams in the crucible of competition. At this time, banked track uses the lessons learned from this crucible in its game (for good or bad).

    Roller derby is maybe 5 years from organically becoming a professional game. As crowd sizes increase for leagues with the top local draws, it will attract the attention from the media that is needed to garner big corporate funds. In that time, you may see more one-off events like Windy City/LADD, high profile corporate “partnerships” that push the visibility of the game to new heights without damaging the semi-pro evolution of the sport that is taking place.

  7. Hello Jerry, I just stumbled upon your blog today. I just want to say thank you for your continued involvement and enthusiasm for roller derby.

    The spread of flat track derby alone has been like wildfire. I’m originally from Chicago and a founding member of New Zealand’s newest flat track league (Dunedin Derby). It’s been fascinating watching derby take off all over the world. I’m looking forward to several meet & greets and skating sessions with the other league here, as well as competing in international bouts like the Great Southern Slam (AUS & NZ). I wish I could be home to watch the L.A. vs. Chicago banked track game on the 11th! I told my dad to go, he remembers derby from back in the day.

    Regarding banked track vs. flat track: There is certainly room for both. It does seem like a logical and natural progression (albeit historical backward!) for the very well-established flat track leagues to eventually make the switch or branch off to banked track derby. It would serve to keep both the skaters and the spectators interested in roller derby.

  8. Roller derby can only go in one direction now. Forward! Together! As banked & flat track leagues. I love to see roller derby in all it forms getting the recognition it deserves as a sport. I would have been hard pressed to even consider joining a banked team. Now that I am moving towards goals in my skill set on the flat track, I would donate an organ to get a chance to skate banked! Flat track isn’t for everyone. Banked track is for the even more rare. Flat track derby today fits the venue we exist in which is the local roller rink. As derby grows in fan base & sponsor support, we will see more & more banked tracked derby.

  9. Banked, Flat, all women, all men, co-ed or Old School, everything that Roller Derby currently embodies is good for the sport.

    I acknowledge that the all women flat track movement has the majority of the participants and momentum. This is a direct result of their incredible determination to proceed and move forward. They have earned every accolade and done so on their own terms. Kudos to them.

    There is also credit due to the skaters outside of the “sisterhood”, the other siblings that this revival of the Roller Derby has spawned.

    These step-children may be younger, smaller, less popular and even include MEN. Does anyone think they are less passionate about their Roller Derby vision? That they don’t work as hard or care as much as the more successful and established womens flat track style? That they don’t deserve to be encouraged and supported because they are not the same?

    Is there some reason that skaters who skate outside the majority do not deserve to have Olympic hopes?

    I have always said there is plenty of room to feed the tastes of as many Roller Derby fans as there are styles of play.

    Everyone should be able to get along, everyone should be able to voice their opinion without animosity, everyone should recognize that we are all equally in love with Roller Derby.

    Really, it’s a simple matter of RESPECT.

    My humble opinion…I’m gonna go light a candle and listen to Let It Be now…

    Rose Colombo

    • Mary, Blasfemi, Rose – you all add so much to this discussion…..we know all of these things will evolve, hopefully side by side and not in competition with each other…..We are all on the same side!

  10. For modern banked track derby to get where you hypothesize it’s going or even reach competitive parity with flat track derby, more of the leagues that play it need to make interleague play the meat of their season rather than something they do once or twice a season as a lark.

    San Diego has been doing smart things as far as that goes, and L.A. Derby Dolls are beginning to. Others probably need the financial wherewithal to make it happen.

    Some leagues seem to prefer to wall themselves off from rest of the world. Playing familiar opponents and facing known strategies is their comfort zone. Nothing wrong with that, but it it’s not how the bar gets raised.

    WORD’s approach is a wise one, I think. They’ve made a common rule set that incorporated things from the leagues that participate(d). Even more importantly they make it easier for leagues on either side of the surface divide to hop over for a game or two.

    As for me personally, I tend to prefer watching flat track derby. The pace is easier for me to follow, and I can see the strategies, blocks and jukes unfold. It’s also possible for someone to effectively comment on a flat track game in a text-only format. For situations like tomorrow where video isn’t available.

    I won’t rule out that I could someday come to love the banked track game as much as I currently do the flat track one.

    • I have always tried to have an overview…..for many who just want to play the game there is no need to worry about the changes, cross training, etc. But there are those who want to go beyond what they are doing now and that is why I am certain there will be a professional game.

      • I think a lot of people throw the word “pro” and “professional” without carefully considering what it means to them, and what it may mean to others.

        Will it defined like it is in baseball or like it is in wrestling? Will the skaters be getting the token $25 a game that one promoter was known for paying, or something more substantial?

        I don’t really foresee anyone but people in the gear business ever making a living off of the sport again anytime soon.

  11. This is what I wonder when I hear that some Roller Derby events are drawing 5,000+ in attendance: why aren’t the skaters getting part of the income?

    • Hi Rose,

      The collective “we” does get part of the income!
      In short: Each league operates as its own business. Any revenues generally go back to the league. Hosting events have considerable overhead costs depending on the venue and amenities for fans. Don’t forget things like insurance, taxes, gear, supplies, fees for practice facilities, travel for away bouts, etc. It adds up very fast!

  12. Poobah, the game will be similar to the WFTDA game, I am sure……fully legitimate…..not wrestling……and obviously the skaters will get paid real compensation….Rose, I cannot give you the answer…you should ask the leagues that are doing well.

  13. Having strong feelings against one or the other is certainly silly at this point, but I do think there is value in recognizing Banked and Flat as unique entities, though. The skating surface and rule differences warrant their consideration as distinct sports, just as Canadian vs. American football or Australian Rule vs. Rugby are. It’s like comparing tangerines and oranges, similar but not the same.

  14. I apologize for coming late to this discussion. Everyone who knows me knows my opinions on the matter and I don’t wish to get into it here, but I will say this: increasingly, when I do watch banked track roller derby, I am seeing flat track strategies employed (traps, slow packs, jammer jukes and dekes, etc…) and it looks absurd on the banked track.

    I agree with Caesar that flat track has evolved into its own sport, and I’m not sure of the value of comparing the two any longer. I think banked track has actually lost a lot of its identity due to the prevalence and quick growth of flat track derby and the influence this has had on the banked track has changed the nature of it. I’m not sure we can go back now.

  15. Pingback: Nerd Meat Part 10: Playing the Game « The Derby Nerd

  16. if you are or will be skating banked track, it is essential you learn the five stride….there are a number of great professionals who can teach you: John Hall in LA/San Diego; Cliff Butler in Santa Barbara; Bert Wall in Arizona; Buddy Atkinson Jr, Sean Atkinson in Orlando/Tampa Bay; Denise Loden Orlando/Tampa Bay, Blade Gallagher in Southern California, Lydia Clay, SF Bay Area and the entire staff at OSDA in Philly…..I am sure there are more….

  17. Jerry,

    I grown up watching the banked track game, both No Cali and So Cal, so I am a bit partial. But I have seen flat track games/bouts that have been posted on YouTube and I would just like to see the continued growth.

  18. I truly don’t get why people feel that there must be one over the other. (I feel similarly about “professional” vs “amateur” derby, too… yes, I have my preference for what I’d like to do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s room for others to do things differently. And that I’m not interested in seeing how it’s done and that I don’t respect the players involved… I do.)

    Frankly, the idea of skating banked scares the hell out of me… but there’s a part of me that thinks, “I would TOTALLY give it a go if I had the option to do so.” I probably won’t given that I’m in Australia… but still, it would be awesome.

    And I feel it would be kind of stupid– and incredibly insulting– to not acknowledge where derby “came from” so to speak.

    The fact that there seems to be a divide about this strikes me as really silly and stupid. Just… WHY?

    • ‘“I would TOTALLY give it a go if I had the option to do so.” I probably won’t given that I’m in Australia… but still, it would be awesome.’

      There is a banked track roller derby tour hitting three cities. It features the top banked track league today, the LA Derby Dolls, and the top flat track league today, Gotham Girls Roller Derby. They’re also having a banked track boot camp. Some flat track skaters will get to attend and train on the banked track. I think the word is being spread through leagues local to the cities where the tour is.

      Not much said there about the boot camp, but if you post asking about it someone will probably give you the scoop.

      Also, they’ve built a banked track in Australia for the event. It will most likely stay in Australia. So there may be future opportunities involving Australian leagues if this tour is successful financially.

      There’s no real divide between banked and flat except the business competition aspect in cities with banked and flat. The two groups who ARE divided on this are fans/skaters of old school roller derby, and flat track skaters who took sides in the split between the two Austin leagues in 2003 and wanted to see banked track extinguished (and some later skaters who bought the dogma).

      Team Bionic is a high level pickup team made up entirely of flat track skaters, that owns a banked track. The two Derby Dolls leagues also play flat track, as well as the Arizona Derby Dames, OC Rollergirls and Tilted Thunder Rail Birds. On the REAL banked track side, people that actually skate it today, there is a lot of cross activity with the flat track community. That is represented by the RDX event, which has the top flat track league as a headliner.

  19. Banked tracks bring another thing — spectator angles. Spectator angles are important. Watching roller derby from the track level is absolutely mindnumbingly boring for noobs, I know, I’ve been watching it for 2+ years now. It’s almost always better to get a view from above, and I mean more than 3 rows of bleachers above. More like 10-12 rows minimum.

    Hockey arenas are built like they are for a reason.

    Any place that really really wants spectators needs to a- figure out how to get spectators in the door, and b- get raised seating. Ya gotta be at least a few feet above track level, so people can see what’s going on everywhere, rather than having the entire pack blocking their view of everything. That’s what’s gonna keep the spectators coming in the door.

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