The WFTDA roller derby scene continues to grow around the world every year, and this week we get a peek at another European team who has gotten a Playoff invite for the very first time. We previously took a look at Rainy City, Nidaros, and Calgary, so next up is a dive into a team that is traveling nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic to Montréal: Kallio Rolling Rainbow.
From Helsinki, Finland, Kallio has been just a little behind other locals Helsinki Roller Derby (HRD), who qualified for Playoffs last year. Having spent the last few years in their shadow competitively, Kallio exceeded their own goals by forging their own path and learning as they went. From their subversive logo to their quick rise through the WFTDA rankings, the team brings a mix of punk rock and athleticism to post-season play.
Kallio Rolling Rainbow took the idea of roller derby welcoming anyone and everyone, and made it the core value of their league. It’s indicated in their colorful name and stated on their website: “Ultimately, our goal is to celebrate the existence of every color of the rainbow.”
As the second league in Helsinki to form, their beginning let them be exactly who they wanted to be after a few skaters splintered off to start the new league. Located in the Kallio district of Helsinki, their young, urban surroundings are also indicative to the attitude of the team.
Sara Gilbert skates for the A team, called the Kallio All Colours, and she explained how the ethos of their league has changed. “For a long time we were held as the ‘fun team’ that was pretty much always partying. Our idea was then, and still is, ‘Come as you are’ so we welcomed everyone to join and do whatever they wanted to do in our league.”
In the past, that meant beer and cigarettes were an important part of their outdoor practice at a former power plant, but Kallio has evolved much like the sport has for everyone. “But we have still kept some of the anarchy (like in our logo) even though we, as most of the high level derby leagues, describe us as athletes rather than an UG group of rebels.”
Since they formed after HRD, Kallio has always been just a half step behind them. Helsinki picked up all of the firsts: joining WFTDA, climbing the rankings, making a trip to the United States for play opportunities, and qualifying for WFTDA Playoffs.
Sara says that that relationship has forced Kallio to prove themselves and since the two teams are on good terms today, it has provided a bit of a rivalry in their home town. “Now that we have finally reached the level of game play and are also ranked high enough, we will probably be able to do much more of co-operation between the teams.” Although they haven’t played each other since 2014, after Kallio’s first playoff tournament experience Sara thinks they should be able to do that again soon.
Roller derby in Finland has seen lots of growth – besides the two Division 1 Helsinki teams, Tampere Roller Derby and Dirty River Roller Grrrls have become WFTDA member leagues as well. Along with 17 other leagues, they are all part of Roller Derby Finland, the national governing body which provides support for leagues and has established a relationship with the National Skating Federation. It also manages the Suomi Cup, a national Championship that consists of two divisions and multiple tournaments throughout the year, culminating with finals in November.
On the international scene, the first big WFTDA tournament Kallio attended was 2014: A Skate Odyssey, but that occurred just prior to their graduation from WFTDA Apprenticeship.
After a couple sanctioned games later that year, they got an invite to the Bont Invitational in Australia the following January, which they managed to find a way to attend. “That was crazy and totally unplanned and from there on our slogan for the A team has been ‘Let’s always be stupid. Forever!’ because we kind of do really stupid and impulsive things.”
Although a last minute trip out the country for a whole team could have resulted in disaster, Sara said that this one turned out great and the team bonded like they never had before. At the time, WFTDA was testing the Strength Factor Challenge (SFC) program so they again threw caution to the wind and took on Victoria in a SFC match, though it yielded no benefit for them.
As WFTDA newcomers, they took a trip to the United States, like others had before them, in order to up their ranking. The team went to the Beach Brawl tournament in the spring of 2015 and although they won each of their three games by an average of 267 points, with the highest team ranked at #94 that weekend only got them to #101 in the June WFTDA rankings.
“We didn’t realize back then the importance of the rankings math really. But again, the trip was great and we learned a lot of course, and doing big trips with the team always brings them together so that was huge.” Last season they played 21 total games, 9 of which were sanctioned, and by the end of the year they got as far as #86.
This year they had a much more calculated plan for play, with the goal of making it to Division 2 Playoffs. They had originally planned another trip to the States to attend Mayday Mayhem, but then had to make a financial decision not to, if they wanted to achieve their ultimate goal. “During the first months we did some heavy calculations regarding both our rankings and our money situation and realized that it would be impossible for us to do the trip to the states and then travel to playoffs if we’d get in.”
Sara said they had to then scramble to put together a sanctioned schedule, and at the time they weren’t ranked high enough to get into things like The European Smackdown or Mayday in HEL. As the rest of Europe was trying to work on their ranking too, Kallio had a hard time even getting individual match ups, and it was already March by that point.
The SFC program had time to work out the kinks in their approach, in the time between when Kallio had first utilized it, and it has since become a successful tool for many teams in Europe. Kallio first benefitted from it in March by playing Dock City from Gothenburg, Sweden, who had a boosted strength from playing a SFC game against Stockholm.
In order to figure out the best way for Kallio to meet their goal this season, Sara said a few of them went and studied Dock City’s game and others in Stockholm. Then they worked with WFTDA to fit in an SFC game against Stockholm, and with great success they became immediately a more appealing opponent for other European teams looking to improve their rankings.
After a frustrating start to 2016, Sara said their final game in June against Rainy City was the highlight of the season. “It was such a relief to get these games in, and after the Rainy game, even though we lost by a bit, it was just so much joy over European roller derby and for both teams knowing that we’d play in playoffs and most possibly even in D1.” After starting the year ranked #81, Kallio made their way up, and after a final +24 boost in June, they were sitting well above their goal at #27.
Despite staying in Europe this season for play, and not making the typical trip to the U.S. that most in the region have used to work on their ranking, it was still a struggle, mentally and financially, to get where they wanted to be. With the higher ranked level of teams continuing to expand in Europe, Sara hopes that things will get easier financially and travel-wise for those looking for upward movement in their rankings. She is also committed to trying to help teams from making the same mistakes as Kallio has in their play time, by spreading as much information about play strategy and SFC games as possible regionally.
Make sure you like Derby Central on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you can catch Ann Arbor’s story next week. Also stay tuned for Kallio’s full Montréal bracket preview, before this coming weekend of play.