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June 5, 2024

The biggest roller derby tournament slams into Adelaide

Adelaide Roller Derby is gearing up for its biggest event of the season, and there's more riding on this year’s tournament than ever before.

  • Words: Jade Woollacott
  • Main picture: Adelaide Roller Derby's 2021 home season by Pete Hayward
  • Pictures: supplied

Adelaide Roller Derby will this weekend host its biennial flat track Roller Derby tournament The Great Southern Slam  — the largest in the world.


The Great Southern Slam
Adelaide Showgrounds, Wayville
June 8 – 10


Skaters and spectators from across Australia and New Zealand will roll into Adelaide to catch 45 teams competing in 65 games over the action-packed long weekend.

Adelaide Roller Derby is the city’s oldest and biggest Roller Derby league and is not-for-profit. In an effort to unite the Roller Derby community, they hosted the first Great Southern Slam in 2010 and, completely volunteer-run, it has continued to grow ever since.

Alex Knopoff – known as Rage Ruthless on the track – has been skating with Adelaide Roller Derby for six years and says the sense of community and genuine effort that goes into the tournament is what makes it so successful.

“[The Great Southern Slam is] kind of like the event of the Australian Roller Derby calendar,” she says.

“People look forward to it for the two years up until it happens again, so we love being able to give that to the community.

“Adelaide Roller Derby really loves a good event and we want it to be as fun and as inclusive and celebrate the sport as much as possible so we kind of go all out for the tournament.”

When Alex was a teenager she saw the movie Whip It and instantly fell in love with it. When she found out Roller Derby is a real sport that is played here in Adelaide, she fell in love with that too.

Whip It (2009) was written by former Roller Derby skater Shauna Cross and directed by Drew Barrymore.

When it came to choosing a skater name, Alex took inspiration from Whip It protagonist Bliss Cavendar’s skater name ‘Babe Ruthless’. She says the ‘Rage’ in Rage Ruthless was a play on the last name of the actor behind Babe Ruthless; Elliot Page.

“I really wanted to pay homage to the film,” she says.

“I love a little bit of alliteration as well.”

Roller derby is a fast-paced full-contact sport. It is played on an oval track by two teams of five and each team has one ‘jammer’ and four ‘blockers’. It is the jammer’s job to score points for their team by overlapping the pack and blockers either try to help or hinder the jammers depending on which team they are on.

“The first game I ever saw I spent like the whole time on my phone trying to understand what was happening,” Alex says.

Alex says because Roller Derby is still a young sport it is constantly evolving.

“When I started… the gameplay was a lot faster and it’s kind of evolved since then,” she says.

“Blockers and jammers [are] one-upping each other as time goes on and trying to find new ways to get around the latest techniques.”

Alex has been playing Roller Derby for nine years and skating with Adelaide Roller Derby for six. She spent four seasons skating for local team Wild Hearses before moving to The Good Ship Salty, or the Salties, who she currently skates with.

For two seasons, she has been skating with Adelaide Roller Derby’s A-team who compete in national and international tournaments.

In 2022 Alex tore a ligament in her foot and was forced to sit on the sidelines at the last Southern Slam, but still managed to make the most of it.

The Great Southern Slam is held at the Adelaide Showgrounds which felt a little daunting to Alex and her moonboot. Instead of hobbling around the massive venue, she hired a knee scooter to get around and, even though she didn’t play, managed to get in some track time.

“We have a great tradition at the end of a game — the skaters go around [the track] and high five the audience… and so I was trying to do that on my scooter,” she says.

Alex still got to roll around the last Great Southern Slam, though not as originally planned. This picture: Stephen Muller

But this year’s Great Southern Slam is not just a big deal because of Alex’s long-awaited return to the tournament tracks. This year the Southern Slam’s Division 1 will act as the inaugural Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Regional Championships for the Oceania Region.

The top two teams from this year’s Great Southern Slam will earn themselves a ticket to the World Championships in Portland, Oregon USA in November.

The tournament features marketplace stalls with international skate brand Riedell Skates and local vendors, such as Calamity Tash‘s crafts with others still to be announced.

To keep the energy going, Adelaide Roller Derby is hosting an after-party at Lion Arts Factory and this year’s theme is ‘Slamchella’ — a Southern Slam take on Coachella.

All in all, the Great Southern Slam seems to offer something for everyone and, in their seventh year, they are continuing to grow their community.

“I think Roller Derby across Australia is — it’s like really a culture of inclusivity and it’s like a sport for people who maybe don’t feel as accepted in other sports,” Alex says.

“I think there’s a real sense of it being a place of belonging and it’s not just the sport you play, it’s like your community, and that’s really true for Adelaide Roller Derby I think.”

The Great Southern Slam kicks off at the Adelaide Showgrounds this Saturday, June 8 and rolls across the long weekend until Monday, June 10 when it will come to an epic close at Lion Arts Factory.

Single-day and weekend tickets are available online or at the door and after-party entry is free with a weekend pass.

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