Whistle blows and shouts muffle through the front door of the Bushwick warehouse before walking in to the Crash Pad. The volume turns up right past the door, as does the intensity — the sound of hard plastic wheels hustling on particle board as bodies crash into each other.
Roller derby has never been a sport for the faint of heart. For more than a decade since it resurfaced, the sport has featured women from all backgrounds and skill levels who are willing to take a few bumps and bruises as they streak on their eight wheels.
While locals might more commonly associate the sport with rough and tumble women of New York’s Gotham Girls, some of their biggest fans are making their own impression as the city’s premiere men’s roller derby team.
The New York Shock Exchange men’s league practices every Sunday at the Crash Pad, circling along the flat track with the intensity of a normal bout. Created in 2006, its numbers have steadily grown over the years to its current 35-member roster.
Many of the New York Shock Exchange first members might have been husbands, boyfriends or friends of derby women. Today, it is a league of its own as it works to achieve the success and notoriety of its female compatriots.
“They’re the benchmark,” architect Tom Rudary, 33, said of Gotham Girls. “No doubt. They’re an inspiration.”
The Shock Exchange came about only three years after Gotham Girls debuted in 2003. One of the women’s team’s referees organized the league’s first bout against another nascent men’s team in 2007.
A founding member of the Men’s Roller Derby Association, its A-Team the Shock Exchange All-Stars, took home the national championship in 2010 and 2011, placing within the top three in 2012 and 2013.
Rudary, otherwise known as Tank Lloyd Wright rolls as a blocker with the All-Stars and helps coach the league’s B-Team, the Dow Jones Average. Towering over most of the team at 6 feet 4 inches, Rudary donned his helmet and pair of quad skates almost two years ago. His brief stint with street hockey and inline skates weren’t quite enough preparation for derby, he said.
“There were several weeks where I was just skating around the outside before I was really ready to engage with the guys,” Rudary said.
New members — also known as futures —tend to spend a few months outside the track, improving their form and learning the rules of the game before given a skills test that would move them to into different teams within the league.
“Everybody who sticks with it can eventually play,” said Roland Ballester, alias Roly Ramone. “There are no bad players if you’re determined.”
Ballester said the group hopes to grow to at least 50 members soon, with tryout scheduled for Tuesday, June 24.
In addition to the traveling squads, skaters also play in one of three home teams — the Coney Island Freakshow, Greenwich Villains and the Union Squares. Some members play with a Team USA group that competes in an international Men’s Roller Derby World Cup.
Tim Durbin, a current future, heard about the men’s league from coworkers at his copywriting job before showing up for tryouts in January. Since then, he circles the track every Sunday and Tuesday taking notes.
“A lot people who are skating now started off just like me,” Durbin, 32, said, adding he hadn’t been on skates since sixth grade. “I stood up and was just ready to fall over.”
Besides a few bruises, Durbin said he’s relatively unscathed. The former rugby player is used to taking a few knocks.
“Falling just means that you’re trying,” he added.
After practice, Connor Ross, a.k.a. Otter Manic, showed off his own still-fresh blue and purple bruise on his thigh with pride.
While most of the injuries in the sport tend to be bruising, twisted ankles or the occasional concussion, 26-year-old software engineer admitted having to shake off the impulse from his rugby days to just ram into people.
Ross said the league also offered him a camaraderie the hadn’t felt since his rugby days, so much so he was considering leaving New York before joining the league.
“I’ve never walked into any organization where every person tried to make you part of the family on the first day,” he said. “I was sold. Done. I don’t care if I’m good at this or not.”
On top of the sportsmanship of the game, however, the members of the Shock Exchange know what they’re out on the track for: the crowd. The aliases, bruises and athleticism all are a part of a show that’s slowly drawing out bigger audiences.
“How many sports are you this close to the action?” Ross asked. “Derby is right there in front of you.”
Want to join?
NYSE invites potential futures to try out on Tuesday, June 24 at 8 p.m. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for location and more information.
The goal of derby is to have one player — the jammer — skate laps around the other team, making it a race between the two teams’ jammers. Each scoring pass by a jammer gives his team one point.
But it’s not that easy — the jammer has to make it through a pack of the opposing team’s players who act as blockers.
The blockers not only stop the opposing team’s jammer but can help their own jammer circle the track as long as they only engage the other team within 20 feet of the pack.
Once the first whistle blows, the blockers can start skating and kick off the jam. A second pair of whistles lets the jammers start their passes.
Each jam goes for two minutes. That is, unless the jam is called off by the lead jammer, i.e. the first jammer to clear the pack. The many jams make up a bout, which can go on for an hour that is divided into two 30-minute periods.
Accidents happen, but skaters can’t intentionally trip or fall in front of another skater, nor can they grab, hold or push an opponent.
Visit the New York Shock Exchange website for more information about the team and the sport.
You can also go to the NYSE’s next scheduled bout on June 20 against Mass Maelstrom at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza in Feasterville, PA.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter@chestersoria