Unless they’re showing Razor Girls colours, Ryder Wrong loves punishing jammers and blockers on the derby track. But what’s she doing when not skating? Her name comes up so often that it seems everyone already knows: she runs her independent shop (Heartbreak Boutique) in Saint John, adores the rockabilly community, and proudly fields questions from friends and new faces about (of course) roller derby.
Although Ryder & I went to the same high school and university, I never had the pleasure of connecting with her until now. So, saddle up for Ryder Wrong!
Pepe LePunch: You’ve been with Fog City Rollers since its beginning in 2010. How did you get into the grand world of derby?
Ryder Wrong: I wish I had some awesome, epic story for you but, honestly, I just happened to meet Sarah [Darla Derringer] and Bry [Susie Skinner], the founders, at a bar one night shortly before it all got started and they told me they were going to start derby here and I was all, “Frig yes! I’m in!!” And then I worked up the courage to show up for that fateful first “practice” at the skate park and that was it – I was all in!
PLP: What athletics had you done before derby?
RW: For all intents and purposes, none. I mean, I played sports in gym class and joined the rugby team for about five minutes in high school (really, I think I played one game). Other than that I just did stuff on my own at the gym, so this whole “sports team” thing was totally foreign to me. And, honestly, now that I’ve experienced it I regret not getting involved when I was younger. The sense of comradery is such a confidence booster – that feeling of belonging, that feeling of being part of something. I think it’s really important and could be so helpful at a younger age. But better late than never, right?
PLP: Yes, some people never get the fortune of experiencing it. However, many people have experienced being bruised badly by you. What do you feel is most satisfying about being a blocker?
RW: Getting a really solid, clean hit. When the timing and the angle and the power you get behind it all aligns, and you shake your opponent’s soul, that feels fantastic! Also, when, as a team, a play works out perfectly, when you keep the jammer back lap after lap, that’s pretty darn satisfying, too!
PLP: How far have you travelled for a game?
RW: Newfoundland is the farthest I’ve traveled for derby so far, which was one of my top favourite derby moments. I grew up in St. John’s, NF, so it was awesome to get to go back to visit AND play derby. It was like my past and my present colliding, and it was fantastic! And the 709 Girls [Newfoundland & Labrador’s first league] are awesome! Aside from that, I’ve only travelled within the Maritimes.
PLP: Because of your business, Heartbreak Boutique?
RW: With the shop, I have been pretty limited to how much and often I can travel. I am my only employee so I’m here six days a week. Next season, though, I am hoping to be able to travel more. Possibly check out some training camps. There are a lot of our girls, like Hammer Slammer & Alien She, who have travelled all over Canada and the US for training camps and have brought back oodles of awesome plays and training info for us!
PLP: R.I.P. Razor Girls and Scarlet Swam: Fog City has a new format for its teams next year. What’s your place in it?
RW: I will be starting the season on our newly formed (and yet to be named) ‘B’ Team and will be chartered on the ‘A’ Team, so if they need an extra player I could be “called up” for a game. I am also hoping to become a new member of our board of directors. [She was elected the week after this Q&A.] I am excited for this new evolution in our league and want to help move us forward in this new structure.
PLP: When I asked Voodoo Mc Q who helped Pictou County start its league, she included you in her list. She said you advised on meetings, practices, gear and safety, and added that you’re “smart and supportive and caring.” Why do you invest so much time in the derby community?
RW: Because the people in the community are amazing and they have been so awesome and supportive right back, which I am incredibly thankful for! I have gotten SO much from derby and I want to see it continue to grow so that other women (and men) can have that same experience.
By the way, Voodoo Mc Q is one of my very favourite people I have met through derby and I am so excited about what they’ve accomplished. When we started here in Saint John, it was hard to imagine derby being played in places so much smaller because of the hurdles we had to deal with in a city our size. They’ve done an awesome job with training and running Highland Derby Dolls. I hope they are super proud.
PLP: You own and operate Heartbreak Boutique in uptown Saint John. How do you describe it to people who haven’t been in? Would “pinup fashion” be accurate?
RW: Pinup fashion would absolutely be accurate. My tagline is “Where Classic Meets Quirky” because on the boutique side (the shop is about 50/50 pinup clothing and derby gear) I have very classic vintage-inspired pieces, but then right next to that I have a dress with wiener dogs all over it! It’s funny because sometimes people get confused and think the entire shop is for roller derby and they ask, “Do you wear this to play?” and hold up a pencil skirt. Or they think they aren’t “allowed” to wear the clothes because they don’t play.
PLP: How do you politely help a customer who isn’t so knowledgeable about her style? Like, say I’m a woman and just walked into your store: I’m wearing leggings as pants and a loose fitting top – TUCKED IN. And I don’t have a belt. (Obviously.) How do you save me? Go!
RW: HAHAHA!! This might be the best question ever! If someone a little “fashion challenged” comes into the shop, I usually let them look around and try a few things on for themselves, and if I feel like they need (and are open to) a little guidance, I’ll ask if they’d like some suggestions. It’s usually a matter of women not knowing how to dress their particular shape. It’s one of my very favourite things about my job when a woman comes out of the change room KNOWING she looks fantastic. You can see it all over her face. And it’s usually accompanied with a little twirl.
PLP: Before you get to that level of customer service, you need to get your doors open, of course. For friends with a business idea, what should they first do to move from concept to reality?
RW: I truly believe your first move should be talking to other entrepreneurs. They are typically very generous with their knowledge, tips and stories of what not to do! Also, they are fantastic people to bounce ideas off of.
I would also suggest looking into what resources your town/city has. I was super fortunate to be able to take advantage of a program called Enterprising Women through the Saint John Community Loan Fund that covered pretty much everything you need to know when you are looking to start a new business. Enterprise Saint John has been an excellent resource for me, as well.
PLP: An upside is that your sales extend to the derby world, right? Mollie Kill’her Watts [of Fredericton’s Capital City Rollers] said you’re fantastic about the orders and you keep in touch with customers.
RW: Oh, that’s so sweet of her! I am always happy to share any info that might be useful or helpful to customers, especially for derby gear. It can all be pretty overwhelming to new girls so I like to break it down for them and will help them pick what’s right for them. It’s great to have a chance to meet the new batch of girls starting up in our area. They are always so enthusiastic. It’s totally contagious. I love it!
Also, it can be difficult to keep up on the new gear, even for experienced skaters, so I do my best to keep up on new goodies so that I can help them get the most bang for their buck. I’m not about the upsell; I want to make sure my customers leave the shop feeling like they got what they needed and understood WHY it was the best option for them.
PLP: What are your best-selling derby items? Booty shorts? I’m guessing booty shorts.
RW: Nope, not booty shorts, but good guess! I’d say toe stops, wheels, bearings – the stuff that needs to be replaced and/or upgraded on a pretty regular basis.
PLP: I hear your name sometimes accompanied by “she and her husband are rockabilly!” So, I think of a swing beat and Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. But what do people mean when they say you’re “rockabilly”?
RW: Well yeah, I guess we are pretty “rockabilly.” We kind of look like your stereotypical “rockabilly couple”: he has the slicked-back “greaser” hair, black tee and jeans uniform pretty down pat, and I am usually sporting a ‘50s style dress and pinup-style hair.
We’re also really into rockabilly music (Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Jean Vincent, the Stray Cats – and J.D. McPherson, for something a little more current) and we attend a lot of rockabilly festivals, like Viva Las Vegas and the Maritime Rockabilly Shakedown (MaRS) in Amherst, so I guess that’s what they mean.
Also, my derby name is after a Wanda Jackson song (who’s the queen of rockabilly) called “Right or Wrong.”
PLP: In Japan, I’ve seen the rockabilly guys dancing in Yoyogi Park (near Harajuku). What do rockabilly hounds do for fun in Atlantic Canada?
RW: Your questions are the best! The rockabilly scene in Atlantic Canada has definitely grown over the last few years, so it seems like there are lots of opportunities to check out all kinds of great music. Like, I just mentioned MaRS is a really fantastic festival that has a ton of local rockabilly bands like the Shakedown Combo (also the organizers), Whiskey Kisses (from Halifax), Memphis Knights (also from Halifax) and the Royal Tones (from Moncton). There was also a festival in Halifax this past year called the Rockabilly Riot that we unfortunately couldn’t attend, but I heard great things about it.
It’s exciting to see the community growing; just like derby, it’s very grassroots, underground – whatever you want to call it – so everyone is working towards the same thing and wants to help each other. It’s good to see.
PLP: Along this line of rockabilly and derby: like so many in the derby world you wear tattoos, and one of yours has a rockabilly hook. Can you tell about your “Fearless Hearts” inking?
RW: I know people are always advising against matching tattoos, or putting your significant other’s name on your body, but we said to hell with both of those things! My “Fearless Hearts” tattoo is one of a matching set; the other is on my husband’s chest. It’s after “our song” by Steve Earle, “Fearless Heart.” It just kind of spoke to us when we first started our relationship.
PLP: Thanks so much for your time in this busy business season, Ryder Wrong. Here’s your 5 in 25 and then you can return to curing the world of leggings.
• 5 in 25 •
Questions? 5 Answers ≤ 25 words.
PLP: (#1) What’s something derby players don’t know about you?
RW: I used to be very shy. I hid behind my hair until I graduated high school. Hard to believe, I know!
PLP: (#2) What is a peeve of yours?
RW: Bad customer service. And when I find the Brita in the fridge empty. Infuriating!
PLP: (#3) If someone was looking for a vacation destination, where would you recommend?
RW: Newfoundland: it’s one of the most beautiful, friendly and original places you’ll ever visit.
PLP: (#4) What’s a favourite song or album?
RW: I’m listening to one right now! American Slang by Gaslight Anthem.
PLP: (#5) Do you have a favourite website or magazine?
RW: National Geographic because our world is incredible and so beautiful and mind-blowing. I’ve always said being an NG photographer would be my dream job.
– December 19, 2013
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