October 2012 Featured Skater: Fifi Nomenon

October 10, 2012

Since she started skating in 2010, Angel City Derby Girls' Fifi Nomenon has been living up to her Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs'-inspired name (borrowed from their song “Phenomenon”). Roller derby has taken Fifi to many places she never expected: from competing in WFTDA tournament play, to being featured in an Aerosmith music video, and coaching in Brazil. The derby world is starting to recognize the phenomenon that is Fifi Nomenon; most recently she was voted the Jammer MVP of the 2012 West Region Playoffs. Read on to learn more about Fifi Nomenon – her passions, inspiration, and where you can see her next!

What is your derby name?
Fifi Nomenon

What is your number?
My current number is 108. However I only changed it to that when I transferred to the Angel City Derby Girls and started skating flat track. My previous number – when I skated with the L.A. Derby Dolls – was 1¢Z, after my real life nickname: Penny Zee. It was super confusing and I got called all sorts of numbers, like 1, 1CZ, 12, 17, and who knows what else. That's why my advice to anyone is: don't get too clever with your number. It's just a headache for everyone involved.

Do you have a tagline?
You know, I have been mystified by this tagline business. I don't think I've ever met a skater with a tagline. Or if I have I haven't noticed. Is this common? I could never have one. That just sounds like too much pressure. Coming up with a name and number gave me enough sleepless nights.

What is your home league?
I just finished an amazing season with the Angel City Derby Girls (ACDG), so I would have to say that they are still my home league and where my heart lives despite the fact that I just played my last game with them at West Region Playoffs. I am also currently a member of Team Bionic. I started skating with the L.A. Derby Dolls in 2010 so while flat track is my love, banked track still has a place in my heart.

What is your position of choice?
I really equally enjoy jamming and defensive blocking. In fact, before West Region Playoffs, I had talked to my coaches about playing me purely as a blocker for the weekend. Don't get me wrong, jamming is thrilling and fun and a wonderful kind of painful, but I was pretty much exclusively a blocker at LADD. In some ways I find holding back a good jammer more fulfilling than beating one out of the pack. It's just satisfying. When you're jamming and you get lead you might have done something clever, but mostly it's because your blockers did their job so well. When you're blocking, it's all you and your skill and your strategy and teammates. I guess I'm fifty fifty.

What is your skate gear of choice?
I have gone through several pairs of skates and a dozen types of wheels and whatever else. The setup that has worked best for me is my beat to hell pair of Reidell 1065s with Reactor plates and, surface depending, Radar Bullets or Villains. I love the support of the 1065s. They're tough. Plus I need that toe box 'cause I'm on my toestops so much I kept stubbing the hell out of my toes in my old 595s. Wheel-wise, I just really like the low profile of a 59mm. I was still sporting my dirty pink preproduction Bullet 88As at our slippery concrete-floored warehouse until I scored a pair of 84A Villains.

What is your pre-bout ritual?
You know, it's been evolving. In the early days I just used to go to this little diner in Venice called George's and eat steak and eggs with coffee and orange juice. I went there so often before tryouts or games or whatever that the cook would see me and hold up a raw t-bone and smile/nod at me. While I miss that familiarity, I've been trying to counteract this phenomena of getting super sleepy before bouts. I swear, the closer it is to that first whistle, the more I want to take a nap. So I've been leaning towards a more standard pasta the night before, a melatonin pill before bed to get a good night sleep, eat some oatmeal and fruit in the morning, snack on proteiny stuff up until the bout and then sip a 5-Hour Energy drink or Red Bull or something. I will also listen to some songs that get me pumped up and read a visualization I wrote earlier this summer.

What do you think about when you're lacing up your skates?
Is that a thing? Do people think about stuff when they're lacing up their skates? I'm usually thinking/muttering “get on my feet!” I'm very impatient to get all my gear on and skate around. My moment of zen is generally when I'm waiting to take the track and on the jammer line. Then I'm just thinking “This is it. Easy does it. Patience. Patience.” And occasionally, “Don't screw up.”

What is your motivational quote?
I've never been one to nail down one quote or one favorite movie or song or anything. Don't ever ask me for a top ten. It's all constantly changing. Besides quotes aren't really mine, right? Things people say, and there are so many, are inspiring, but I can't imagine living with just one. If it was “Skate fast, skate hard” or something, I would then think, wait, sometimes you have to skate slow and don't skate too hard. That being said, thanks to Ghetto Fabu-Lez, a lot of us Scarlets are huge fans of Friday Night Lights. Since the Dust Devil tournament our jammers have been writing “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose!” on the inside of our left forearm. The beauty of it to me is it's positivity and the message that the game is not about the win, it's that it will come if you play with love and integrity.

What is your theme song?
Well, while my name's origin is in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' “Phenomena,” I think it's pretty safe to say that my teammates and friends have taken to singing the Muppets' "Mahna Mahna" whenever I'm around. If anyone ever does a mashup of those two, that'll be my song.

What was your best derby moment?
This may seem like a hokey thing to say or a cop-out or I don't know what, but my favorite derby moment was definitely a time when I wasn't even on skates. When I was still with the LADD my Varsity Brawler teammate Guard N. Skate and I co-managed a team of fresh meat for a Baby Doll Brawl. We had maybe three weeks to turn our randomly selected half of FM into a team. The first scrimmages were rough. We kind of got slaughtered, although we were careful not to tell our girls that. We all worked very hard on and off the track, put in all the time, and slowly but surely, we progressed. Our girls worked through their penalties, injuries, and constant defeat in practice. However, every single scrimmage we closed the gap. We even squeaked out a win in the official scrimmage before the game. And while it was a great experience overall, my favorite moment in derby was during that game. When this team, aptly named The Misfits, with almost half the team on the cusp of ejection, pulled off an incredible win. I have never been so proud as when that last jam ended and we realized that we won against all odds. I wouldn't exchange that moment for anything.

How did you get involved with roller derby?
My best friend went to college with Titty Titty Bang Bang of the LADD Tough Cookies and always used to try to get me to go to a bout. I really didn't get it at the time. I just thought of the '70s style derby and wasn't terribly interested. Then I went and saw Whip It in the theater. I was like, wait, you mean it's not the wrestling on skates I pictured? It's a bunch of tattooed girls like me actually competing and doing amazing things on roller skates? I immediately went out with a friend and bought a pair of R3s and attempted to not skin my knees or break my ass on the street. In that last part I was mostly unsuccessful. In the spring of that next year I started taking LADD's Derby Por Vida classes, eventually learned how to stay upright, and the rest is history.

Can you talk a bit about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby?
I don't think I ever really had any ambitions to actually play in any competitive way but I was so intrigued by derby. A team sport that didn't have a ball! I was never very good at team sports with a ball. So, before I'd even seen my first real bout, I found these derby classes that the LA Derby Dolls offered called Derby Por Vida. They were kind of just marketed on their website as a sort of one-hour exercise class where they'd teach you how to skate and other basics of the sport. I had been taking pole dancing classes but wasn't very good at it, so I thought this might be a good replacement. I had repeated the 8-week session two and a half times when fresh meat tryouts came around in August of 2010. By then I had learned how to stay on my feet, mostly, a fair amount of the basic skills, and I'd met some really great people. I had no intention of trying out, but all my new friends were doing it and the instructors thought I definitely should give it a go. As it happened almost all of us made it. That was very exciting. From there things seemed to accelerate. I made subpool two months later, skated in my first Baby Doll Brawl a month later, and, while I was passed up on the first draft I was eligible for, the Varsity Brawlers picked me up in March, almost exactly a year after first lacing up my skates. But honestly, at every turn I didn't expect anything. Getting drafted to a home team was so surreal. I never actually believed I would make it past subpool.

Photo by Jennifer House

You started your roller derby career playing on the banked track, and now you're an all star jammer on the flat track. What adjustments did you make to your game play for flat track?
Even though I started on banked track, the interesting thing to me is that I didn't have to really adjust that much for flat. I'm a very different player on both. I really only turned into a blocker on banked. I used to get so many penalties when I jammed. It just didn't come very naturally to me. But any chance I got to play flat I found I could flex a whole different set of derby muscles. I was so much more stable. It felt like Christmas. Maybe I liked the chance to be more ambidextrous? Going left was the same as going right. There was no uphill. I did, however, notice that I have become a better banked player for having played flat. Maybe I was just still too new to derby to have found my comfort zone, but by the time I got to flat I found it.

Based on your experience playing both flat track and banked track roller derby, do you prefer one over the other? Why or why not?
Selfishly, I prefer flat because I feel I'm better at it than banked. I also really enjoy the complexity of the flat track rule set. There are so many possible strategies and things change so fast. It might be five on five at the start of the jam, turn into a power jam for one team a minute in with only two blockers for the defensive team, then completely flip before the jam is up. That's some on the fly thinking and it makes it terribly exciting to skate. But I will say that I do miss the speed and power of banked track. I felt terrible at the time, but I've hit two girls clean out of the track at LADD. What makes you feel tougher than that? I certainly don't hit that hard on flat. Banked track is thrilling. As a fan, at a high level it can be very fun to watch. As a skater, flat is more interesting. I do hope that I continue to have the chance to skate both moving forward.

What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
There is just so much advice I want to pass on. So many mistakes I made along the way. I know you don't think you need gaskets, but please get them. You'll save your knees. Don't be afraid to fall. Don't be afraid to get hit. Push your limits. Have an open mind to different styles. Have an open mind to your own style. Watch other skaters. Try what they do. Listen to your derby elders, they have lots of experience, but remember that this sport is so young and changes so fast that the best way might yet be the way that you invent. Strengthen your core, loosen your stance, eyes up, etc., etc. This could take hours. Mostly this. Just put on some skates and don't be afraid to fail. If I might be a living, breathing cliche for a second, don't hold yourself to achieving your goals. Exceed your expectations.

Can you explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name?
I wish I could say there was any one specific reason or story behind my name. The bottom line is that since I started skating I kept a list of possibilities. I want to say that I came up with about 80 or so names. Some turned out to have already been taken, others were just terrible. When you run one by your friends and they all just blank stare at you it's probably best to toss that one out. Fifi came from a sub list of double sound names like Deedee Struction and Mimi Killkill. I thought it was playful. And then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' song “Phenomena,” came on and I thought, oh, there we go.

Photo by Vegas Shooter

Who are your derby heroes?
Wow. Big question. I have lots of derby heroes. If I may start close to home, ACDG jammer Ghetto Fabu-lez is maybe one of the finest skaters I've ever shared the track with. The way she moves just blows my mind. But despite a thick layer of swagger she is maybe one of the most humble people I know. Mickispeedia is another. She's been one of my longest running heroes. She is a fantastic skater and her knowledge of the sport is just incredible. Whenever I'm hanging out with her, Conan, and Cris Dobbins I can expect to learn something new about this sport. Moving outward, I have a derby skater crush on 4Closer of the Sacred City Derby Girls. She's totally understated but I've seen her do the most amazing things on the track. Joy Collision is definitely a skater I adore. She's so confident in her fancy moves. Frida Beater is another. I love her versatility on the track. I hope to be that derby solid and smart one day. Suzy Hotrod is another. One of my first RollerCon classes was her “Jamming like Keith Richards.” It absolutely changed the way I skated. Visualizing how she moves, her power, she may never cease to be a role model for me.

How would you describe your derby playing style?
I'd have to go with Zen Brute Force. Maybe that's not quite right. I'm not entirely sure I know how to describe it. I'm still learning and changing. Here's the thing, I know I'm not the smallest girl on the track. At 165lbs, I can throw some weight around. But that certainly doesn't make me the biggest, so I have to be clever about it. I will never be the kind of jammer that just whizzes through a pack at top speed. With the slower speed of derby on the west coast lately, I had to learn to muscle my way through, yet at the same time avoid the penalties that come with it. Going to West Region Playoffs with an injured shoulder I decided to try something slightly new. I decided to be as patient as I could be and save my energy and hits for when I really knew they would be effective. I'm still ironing out the kinks, but I really think that being efficient and calculated is the new black.

What is your signature move?
I would say I don't have one, but according to my friends and teammates it's the mohawk spin around a blocker. It's one of my favorite things to do if I can pull it off. And I've discovered that even if I try and get hit out it's okay 'cause that blocker has committed to the hit and I'm left facing towards the track and can often bolt behind and around them faster than they can reset. That's something I'm working on.

What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
Before derby the closest thing I'd done was roller blading with friends in the 90s. I never really played any kind of team sport. My dad was really into tennis when I was little so we played a lot of that. I even made the B team for a year but got cut the following year. I was the worst in all of my high school at soccer so that lasted about two practice

Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.