December 2012 Featured League: Helsinki Roller Derby

December 7, 2012

Located on the southeastern tip of Finland, Helsinki is the home of Helsinki Roller Derby. HRD graduated to full WFTDA membership in July 2012, and the league has worked hard to not only distinguish itself in the highly competitive East Region, but also to promote the sport of roller derby in Finland. Not least among their plans is looking forward to the Suomi Cup, the first Finnish championships in 2013. Read on to learn more about December's featured league, Helsinki Roller Derby.

WFTDA December 2012 Featured League: Helsinki Roller Derby

Helsinki Roller Derby
Photo by Marko Niemelä

What city are you based in?
Helsinki, Finland

How does your season run?
Our season never really ends. We usually have bouts from January to June and from August to December. In July we don’t have official practices but that doesn’t mean we would be totally lazy. For instance, last summer we had voluntary running practices organized by our wonderful Heli Runteli.

Next year there will be a Suomi Cup (Finnish championships) for the first time ever, which is going to be really interesting!

What are the closest WFTDA leagues to you?
Crime City Rollers from Malmö, Sweden, and the leagues in the UK and Germany.

How many skaters/teams do you have?
We have around 70 skaters that have been divided into three home teams: Saturday Fight Fever, Hurtta Lottas, and our newest team, Angry Nerds. We also have A and B travel teams: All-Star Ninja Turtles and Queen B’s.

How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Helsinki Roller Derby is a skater owned and operated roller derby league. The league board consists of nine league members and is elected by the members of the league once a year. Each member of the league belongs to at least one department taking care of one of the league functions such as organizing bouts, fundraising, training, or safety. The board makes the decisions concerning the whole league whereas smaller decisions related to a certain area, such as training or fundraising, are made by the departments.

Each skater in our league belongs to one of the three home teams. In addition to that, there are A and B travel teams.

What is the story behind your all-star team’s name, the Ninja Turtles?
Ninja Turtles was formed in a tournament in Malmö, Sweden. The players had green outfits and ninja masks done with make-up, so when someone happened to be in a turtle-like position on the floor, the name was born.

Who is Helsinki Roller Derby’s biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
In Finland our biggest rival is the other Helsinki league, Kallio Rolling Rainbow, against whom we bout every summer to determine the best league in town.

And because Finland and Sweden have this constant competition going on between them in every possible aspect, we must pick Stockholm Roller Derby – a member of the WFTDA Apprentice Program – as our favourite foreign rival. Memories related to playing them can be found here, written by HRD's own Tigre Force.

Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
We really love the Auld Reekie Roller Girls and London Rollergirls! They are awesomely friendly people and have always been there to support us.

Congratulations on graduating to become a WFTDA member league this summer! How did your league decide to join the WFTDA?
WFTDA has always been our goal, since the day we started HRD. We as a team like to be part of the development of the sport and want to able to play top-level derby.

What advice would you offer to leagues currently in the WFTDA Apprentice Program, especially leagues outside of North America?
Be patient and be specific with what you do. Specifically, be patient as the approval process follows certain deadlines. You should also be thorough with what you do, such as filling out the papers required for the process.

In Helsinki Roller Derby's experience, what are the challenges of playing a predominantly English-speaking sport in a non-English speaking country? How do you manage language-related issues (e.g., rules, organizing international bouts)?
It hasn’t been a problem. In Finland everybody knows English and we’ve also pretty much always had English speaking people in our league, so we use English quite a lot in the practices and for general communication. The “official” language of the league is Finnish, though.

How does your league keep up with what is happening in roller derby around the world?
We travel a lot and have also been granted the opportunity to have some awesome foreign guests to coach us. Our connections to other leagues are pretty good.

We also have a really active WFTDA secondary contact person [WFTDA league representative] who follows the WFTDA forum and other channels actively.

What are the individual challenges of your city?
We have two leagues in the same city, which can be seen as a challenge but also as an opportunity. Finding training facilities and getting enough practice time is always a challenge.

What are your biggest training challenges?
The skaters are responsible for the training, which means that someone always needs to be the coach and cannot participate in the drills as a skater. Also, it would probably be easier for a trainer “from outside” to give feedback, and they could have a wider perspective for coaching.
 Our practices are on Friday nights and Sunday mornings, which basically means that the whole weekend is reserved for derby.

What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We train and bout in one of Helsinki’s best and biggest sports halls in Pasila. They even painted the first derby track in Finland on their floor this summer!

How many days a week do you practice? How are your practices divided/organized among the league teams?
We have one off-skates practice (two hours, either strategy and bout watching or workout) and two on-skates practices (two and a half hours on Friday and four hours on Sunday) in a week. The Sunday practice time is usually divided between travel teams and all league or between the three home teams. On Friday night we always have a scrimmage. Before bouts the rosters usually concentrate on their stuff for the bout.

Who are the "behind the scenes" skaters who make your league run?
The league board, with Nykänen #5060 as its current chairwoman, and the WFTDA contact persons: Ice-S StoneArm and Tigre Force. Everybody in the league also does important stuff behind the scenes.

Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
We consider all our skaters important – we win and lose as a team. Lately, we’ve been really proud of Heli Runteli who got the best jammer award in Track Queens Battle Royal, and of course there are also many Team Finland skaters in our league.

Did many of Helsinki Roller Derby's skaters participate in the recent Team Finland versus Team USA bout? Please tell us how this event has influenced the profile of roller derby as a sport in your home town? And in Finland as a whole?
Team Finland has probably brought the leagues in Finland closer together and started up the idea of Roller Derby Finland, an umbrella organization for roller derby in Finland. We also got some media publicity due to organizing the Team USA bout.

We are really happy to have the following Team Finland skaters skaters and benches among us: Nina Erwes #28, Tiina Kimari #94, Linda Vidjeskog #96, Tigre Force #142 (Co-Captain), Iiris Suominen #404, Heli Runteli #8000 (alternate), Suvi Hokkari (bench coach), Claire Leah Threat (bench manager).

Helsinki Roller Derby is a member of the WFTDA’s East region. What do you think are the benefits and challenges of being in the East region?
It’s of course nice to have the teams that are probably the most familiar to us in the same region. We know and recognize skaters from, for example, London Rollergirls, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, Philly Roller Girls, and Montreal Roller Derby and are aware of the way they play. The challenge is that they’re probably also the toughest opponents.

Helsinki Roller Derby is one of the leagues to have participated in the first European WFTDA tournament, Track Queens Battle Royal. Congratulations! Please tell us how you prepared for this tournament.
The roster for Berlin trained really intensively during the autumn. They had extra practice time and concentrated also on off-skates training. We were also happy to have some coaches from abroad leading boot camps.

Please tell us about your experience at Track Queens Battle Royal. How did Helsinki Roller Derby feel about your first chance to compete on the European WFTDA stage?
The experience was totally awesome both off and on track. Our team kicked ass and we also had a great bunch of eager fans in the audience. Everybody in HRD was just soooooo excited about the opportunity!

Do you have a special message to your fans?
We love our fans! It’s wonderful to have them shout for us in the bouts both at our home venue and abroad, and the messages they post on our Facebook site are awesome, too.

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.