Blocking and Jamming in Costa Rica

Frances Ufkes is a student at Texas A & M University Corpus Christi and was an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA Service-Learning in San Jose, Costa Rica.

What sport comes to mind when you hear the words, jammer, blocker and pivot? Imagine a sport characterized by injuries like fishnet burns and rink rash. The players are known as roller girls and when teams are recruiting new members, it is called “a hunt for fresh meat”. Yes, it’s the rough and tumble contact sport of women’s roller derby.

Although it is hard to equate the laid-back spirit of pura vida with blocking and jamming, Costa Rica is the only country in Central America with a national roller derby team. The Costa Rican team is now at the Roller Derby World Cup in Manchester, England.

By sheer luck, I was at the multisport complex in Aranjuez, a section of San José, when the tryouts for the national team were taking place. I was on my way to a weekly organic market, la Feria Verde, when I heard whistles and the screeching of skates coming from a nearby open-air, concrete rink. Intrigued, I stopped to watch this unanticipated event. Costa Rica is a place where the most interesting things can happen when you least expect them. So, I sat down on the bleachers to savor the moment.

About forty women were showing their skating prowess as they followed a series of drills led by the coaches and referees. They wore helmets, knee and elbow pads, tank tops, ripped fishnet stockings, and tight shorts as well as lots of make-up and tattoos. Make no doubt about it, these were premier athletes with the ability to compete on an international scale.

There was up to 14 women on the rink at any one time, and they were divided into two teams of equal size. Each team had a ‘jammer’ whose role was to score points by passing members of the opposing team. The other skaters were blockers, and their role was to stop the jammers from scoring. Their efforts to block and jam resulted in crashes and falls as they attempted to start and stop quickly and skate at high speeds.

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The crowd watching the tryouts was also memorable. It included shoppers and tourists as well as die-hard fans from local clubs, including the Explosive Skulls, the Cherry Girls and my favorite team, the Dark Side Roller Club.

Most of the skaters from the Dark Side made the national squad. Here I am with several of them and I could not be more proud! As their tryouts ended that day, as sounds of crashing bodies gave way to the chit chat of the skaters as they began to cool down and stretch, I heard the soulful tune of a nearby barefoot horn player from the market. There was no doubt, this day had pura vida written all over it.

The world awaits…discover it.

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