Derby without Borders: One year catchup

Last year, we brought you an interview with Mae Dae, to talk about their fantastic project, Derby Without Borders. Since then, less than a year later, the project has gone from strength to strength, helping more leagues in more countries across the world, in more ways. With so much happening, it is past time to write an update on events.

Derby Without Borders was founded in 2017, as a project initially intended to help leagues in places where it was cost-prohibitive to get kit and other basic resources (sometimes because roller skating just wasn’t a thing in that country, often also because the cost of items was just much higher than the average wage allowed). The idea was, and still is, that donor leagues or individuals could donate “lightly used” or even new, kit to DwB, and the project would distribute items to leagues in need worldwide.

All the places Derby without Borders has provided help to teams, so far. (Black: kit donations achieved, Blue: “start up” support, Green: advice and translation, Yellow: coaching bootcamps (and other additional support), Red: pending kit donation.)

All the places Derby without Borders has provided help to teams, so far. (Black: kit donations achieved, Blue: “start up” support, Green: advice and translation, Yellow: coaching bootcamps (and other additional support), Red: pending kit donation.)

When we talked to Mae back in 2018, DwB had already successfully helped Sailor City Rollers (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Golden City Roller Derby (Johannesburg, South Africa) and the Cairollers (Cairo, Egypt) with donation packs. They’ve also collected for Roller Derby Beirut (Beirut, Lebanon) (in collaboration with Quad Skate Shop), but have had difficulties getting the kit into Lebanon. Since then, they’ve also been able to support Bangkok Roller Derby (Bangkok, Thailand), Toxic Lima Roller Derby (Lima, Peru), Kyoto Roller Derby (Kyoto, Japan), and Roller Derby Beijing (Beijing, China)…

…but Derby without Borders have also been extending their goals in order to help Roller Derby in other ways.

Firstly, DwB is no longer just Mae Dae: since the last time we spoke, DwB has recruited a second body in the UK, in the form of Rosie Peacock (who has also set up a third donation collection point in the UK). They’ve been providing much needed support, Mae admitting “Rosie has been absolutely pivotal and an amazing addition to the team - I don’t think DwB would have gotten this far without their commitment to the project”. The project has also grown an Advisory Board, positioned to steer the project in the right directions. In recruiting for the board, Mae tells us that they “reached out specifically to have Skaters of Colour on the board: they’re on the board to help steer the project in the direction it wants to be heading, which means engaging with intersectional, inclusionary and anti-oppressive practices.”

Rosie and Mae were both representing the cause at this year’s European Rollerderby Organisational Conference (EROC 2019) in Berlin with a stall, and a session on “Removing barriers to accessibility in roller derby”.

“It was great to be able to talk with the theme of diversity and inclusivity, and how it relates to DwB, because it really is at the foundation of all of the work that we’re doing - this idea that we need to take down barriers to access in order to make this a more inclusive sport,”

said Mae. In addition, every time DwB has a stall somewhere, more people learn about the project, and offer to support it. At EROC, one of the attending leagues offered to host a collection at their next bout, and to raise funds for the project. That said, DwB and EROC in some senses were looking in different directions whilst supporting the same ethos. EROC is, intentionally, focused on improving Roller Derby within Europe; whilst Derby without Borders is inherently about looking outside, and working on how to support Roller Derby in other places, building in inclusivity and adapting culture to support other regions from the start.

Mae Dae on the Derby without Borders stall at EROC 2019 (Image copyright: Michael Wittig / Bear City Roller Derby)

Mae Dae on the Derby without Borders stall at EROC 2019 (Image copyright: Michael Wittig / Bear City Roller Derby)

In that spirit, then, EROC was also the last event that Mae attended before leaving Europe themself. With Rosie positioned in the UK, Mae has courageously moved to Bangkok, Thailand, allowing them to be physically closer to one big region that would benefit significantly from DwB’s support – South East Asia.

“Moving to Bangkok to help develop SE Asian roller derby has definitely been huge, and really pivotal.” Mae told us, “I’m really understanding the needs of the region a lot better than I did before - and just how different the scale of roller derby is in all of Asia!”

Since being closer to the action, they’ve launched an initiative to provide “consultation” services to newer leagues, giving them support and advice from the ground up (not just on how to start up a league, but also on developing local cultural competency). The first beneficiary of this is the first ever Roller Derby team in Bali: Hot Lava Rollers!

As with many of DwB’s new initiatives, this started with a conversation, as Mae relates.

“Someone who used to skate with Crime [City Rollers] - Glitter Punch - reached out to me; she’d heard about the project, from Hanna P, and she said ‘I live in Bali now, and I’m so sad that there’s no Roller Derby. I really kinda want to make a team, and I was wondering if you could help me’”.

At present, Hot Lava Rollers are just two people, and one set of kit (Glitter’s), and the team is just starting to recruit and look for spaces and other resources. Meanwhile, Mae is actively providing mentorship, on a regular basis.

“I’m trying to get them all the other resources that they would need, so helping them develop everything from bylaws, policies, through to making a logo, getting them social media, just… everything.” “We’re trying to focus on consistent communication - we talk once a week, even if it’s just a 20 minute check-in. I think also it will be a learning experience in how to help support someone in starting a league without being there - I’m in Bangkok and it’s not far, only an hour’s time difference - but still, not being physically there to put in the work in the same way that I would / am with Bangkok [is a challenge].”

Whilst advice and support is very important, when it comes to developing Derby-specific skills, there’s nothing better than a good coach. So, DwB has also been using its connections to organise specific Coaching Bootcamps in those regions involved.

On the 27th April, DwB and Bangkok Roller Derby are co-hosting a bootcamp run by Canberra Roller Derby League (and Team Korea)’s ShortStop; on the 12 October, Atlanta Rollergirls (and Team USA)’s Baller Shot Caller will be running a DwB organised bootcamp in Bali! A future Bootcamp is also planned for Cairo (to be hosted by the Cairollers, with Zipblock and Freight Train), but dates and funding are still in progress on this.

Hot Lava Rollers founders, Rustamia Primanisa and Glitter Punch, after their first meeting with Mae [Thanks to Hot Lava Rollers & DwB]

Hot Lava Rollers founders, Rustamia Primanisa and Glitter Punch, after their first meeting with Mae [Thanks to Hot Lava Rollers & DwB]

Being able to run a bootcamp in Bali, in particular, came as a pleasant surprise even to Mae themself.

“When Baller [Shot Caller] had reached out to me to ask what she could help the project with, I said, ‘well, here’s all the places I could use help with coaching’, and I let her pick.
And she said, ‘If I have to choose one, I would say Bali. It seems more secluded, and they probably have less resources’!
“I said, ‘it’s just two people - there’s the potential you could be teaching 5 people minimum skills’. Baller was completely okay with that, as the gain in awareness, and value in increased representation was worth it. We did choose a date later in the year to give time for recruitment, though.”

Having already organised their first DwB bootcamp with Hong Kong Roller Derby (coached by Rosie Peacock and Optimus Grime of Glasgow Men’s Roller Derby), Mae is confident, however, that both bootcamps will have significant regional attendance.

“The fact that we had 3 girls from the UAE travel all the way to HK just so they could attend a bootcamp and play a game , just goes to show you how isolated people are - but also how hungry they are for it. What I’m discovering about SE Asian roller derby, and Middle Eastern roller derby. is that when these things happen people will come from across the region to attend and come together.”

Before Bali, though, the bootcamp in Bangkok will also be significant for another reason, being the first time that Bangkok Roller Derby will field a full team to compete. The bootcamp will see two games - the usual Pan-Asian Spring Rollers v Pan-Asian Spring Rollers setup, followed by the history-making Bangkok versus Hong Kong bout!

Bout flyer for the next DwB bootcamp, hosted by Bangkok Roller Derby. [Image: Bangkok Roller Derby, photo by Teddy Tse]

Bout flyer for the next DwB bootcamp, hosted by Bangkok Roller Derby. [Image: Bangkok Roller Derby, photo by Teddy Tse]

Mae has also been active in providing resources and accessibility in other ways: at present, Roller Derby resources are overwhelmingly available in English (with Spanish probably the next largest). Whilst the WFTDA rules have a translation to the second most widely read language in the world (Chinese), there’s almost no availability in Hindi (the 3rd) and Arabic (the 6th – and 3rd most read as a second language) – and the most spoken Slavic language in the world, Russian, has a similar lack of support.

DwB has projects underway to translate resources into under-represented languages to increase accessibility – in the case of Arabic, with the support of UAE Roller Derby All-Stars and the Cairollers. (We’ll be catching up with the Cairollers shortly in another article, as they also have exciting news.) Russian translations of the Short Track Roller Derby ruleset have already been produced, thanks to efforts from the White Night Furies, and Abu Dhabi Roller Derby’s Spinky, as well!

In the future, Mae dreams of having a “database of different resources for leagues, in all the languages; so if a league needs a framework for a code of conduct in Spanish, they can just go to the database and find something to base it on”. That’s for the future, however: the current effort is focused on getting basic rules and coaching resources translated.

As well as translation, another issue, especially for countries with more filtered access to the Internet, can simply be access to resources at all. In China, for example, common hosts for Roller Derby resources like YouTube, Google Drive, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Medium and WordPress are all either permanently or irregularly blocked. Derby Without Borders is actively working with the Chinese Roller Derby community to provide access to the resources that the community needs, using hosts which are acceptable to the Chinese government.

And Derby without Borders continues to pursue its original goal of providing kit for skaters, as well. One of the first things that Mae noticed at Bangkok was that many of the skaters had inflexible, heavy mouthguards designed for Muay Thai. As theytold us, this isn’t really ideal:

“you can’t really speak when you’re wearing them, and can barely breathe in them. So I just emailed SISU and said ‘hey, can you like just give us 20 mouthguards’ and they were like ‘yeah, sure, and just shipped them over’.”

As well as SISU, other derby-related businesses - Steaks, Riedell, and Bont - have shown interest in supporting the project, especially as it has gained more visibility in the community. (Bont-sponsored skater Shortshop has managed to provide a set of wheels as a “prize” at her bootcamp in Bangkok, for example.)

Bangkok Roller Derby with SISU donated mouthguards, thanks to DwB [Image: Derby without Borders]

Bangkok Roller Derby with SISU donated mouthguards, thanks to DwB [Image: Derby without Borders]

All of this additional activity, however, is only sustainable if Derby without Borders continues to grow itself. Mae is currently working towards a new model for the organisation: regional “chapters” which can help to organise and manage the effort which DwB brings. (The Asia chapter will almost certainly be the first to be established, with recruitment happening now.) The project is already growing fast enough to need this right now.

“One thing that I’m learning is understanding my own bandwidth and capability - how much I can do as one person.” Mae told us “Particularly, at this point, I’m doing all of this work because I want to do it - there’s no funding. Understanding my own bandwidth has been important because I’ve had two people reach out to me who were interested in doing the same thing in India, and whilst I absolutely want to help someone start a league in India, I think I might need to focus on one at a time, for now. I think with them I’m going to have to take a step back.”

Team India Roller Derby have since agreed to help support these potential seeds of Roller Derby, in collaboration with DwB, but the project still needs more people - and leagues - to join in.

One Derby without Borders initiative which has been active for the start is the idea of “Sibling Leagues”: an opportunity for established leagues to pair up with specific leagues elsewhere in the world to offer them support. This support could be in terms of equipment donations, as the scheme was originally formulated with Texas collecting kit to donate directly to the Cairollers. However, as DwB evolves, it could equally be provided as knowledge exchange, guidance, and political and social support.

“I would love to see that kind of Sibling league relationship develop with more leagues.” Mae told us, “instead of needing to come through DwB [to give support], it could be more like a mentorship: one league can mentor another league, and develop all their resources between the two of them. That’s what’s going to make it more sustainable in the long run [and] that’s the point of the project, creating these things for the sake of sustainability.”
Quito, Ecuador’s Forajidas Roller Derby, post-recruitment in January. (Photo: Forajidas Roller Derby)

Quito, Ecuador’s Forajidas Roller Derby, post-recruitment in January. (Photo: Forajidas Roller Derby)

Whilst we’ve mostly focused on activities in Asia in this update, that should not imply that DwB is not working for other regions as well. Mae told us that they have been in contact with Forajidas Roller Derby, who are currently trying to (re)establish the only league in Ecuador (in Quito, the capital).

Whilst the Forajidas have a GoFundMe ( ), they also need guidance and support in forming their league. Mae is actively looking for either a Sibling League, or a coach, or both, who can help to support the new team.

And, as well as helping to nurture and advise new and developing leagues, DwB is also working to support Roller Derby in other ways. Derby Without Borders can host crowdfunders for such leagues to allow them to raise funds more easily: at present, they’re hosting a GoFundMe to support Buenos Aires’ 2×4 Roller Derby on their current international travel requirements. (You can donate here: )

Derby without Borders is open to assisting any league or team who need their support: regardless of if that’s in SE Asia where Mae is currently focused, or in Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe or Africa.

Similarly, if you, or your league, or your company, want to support Derby without Borders in any way mentioned in this article (or another way you can think of), we encourage you to join in. Derby without Borders can only get better as it gets bigger - and it can only get bigger with more of the community pitching in to support it.

You can support DwB via their Donation page [ ] and by buying their merch (which also lets you raise awareness of the project by wearing it everywhere) [ ]. Mae Dae and DwB central can be contacted by email at: