The sixth annual ECDX has ended and now resides as a wonderful memory that participants and spectators will fondly recall while they await next year’s event. I will say it was everything that it was hyped up to be and then some. I am glad that I decided to attend this year and will mark it down as a new tradition to be repeated. I met some fabulous new people and saw tons of familiar faces. I never felt alone while there.
Now that I have gotten my first ECDX under my belt, I feel I am well prepared for future years. I ended up staying at the Crowne Plaza instead of the Red Roof Inn as originally planned and that turned out to be a huge plus. I would highly recommend staying at one of the three ECDX hotels on the bus shuttle route. They may cost a few dollars more but the amenities and convenience is priceless. The Crowne Plaza boasts an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna along with two full service dining options. They offer a breakfast buffet each day where for 10.99 you can have unlimited orange juice, coffee and a nice selection of hot items such as French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. There are also healthy options available as part of the buffet like fresh melon and yogurt. In the evening Brady’s Pub and sports bar serves up pub fare and even live entertainment. If you prefer to step outside and enjoy a pleasant evening, there are tables and chairs available along with wait service.
In my opinion being on the bus route is key and it is well worth the extra money to stay in one of these three hotels compared to other lodging options. The Philly Roller Girls have an arrangement in place for shuttle busses between the three afore mentioned hotels and the SportsPlex venue.
The SportsPlex is located within a small industrial park and parking is at a premium. Over one thousand roller girls, their friends, families and partners, plus fans in attendance make for many hassles if you insist on bringing your vehicle to the site. Several parking spots are reserved for Volunteer staff and Emergency Medical personnel throughout the duration of the event which further limits available parking. Unless you plan on getting to the complex at the crack of dawn expect to battle it out for a place to park. The busses run between the three hotels and deposit riders right at the end of the street where the SportsPlex is a very short walk away.
I had to run back to the hotel on Saturday because I ran out of space on my memory card mid-way through and needed to dump photos on to my computer’s hard drive. It was as simple as picking up the bus and running back to the Crowne Plaza and then hopping on another bus when I was ready to return. The bus service is fairly efficient but if you are looking to go to a “must see” bout plan on grabbing a bus early enough because there can be huge lags in pickup time. The bus pass for the weekend costs an additional $20 ($30 if you want the after party bus on Sunday night). It is well worth this additional charge to save gas and the aggravation of driving to the arena and parking. The only driving I ended up doing was to the hotel and then leaving to return home.
The bus is also great if you want to let loose and enjoy a few cold beers at the SportsPlex. Unlike LVRG home bouts, at ECDX you are not allowed to bring outside beer into the arena. Many people attending had coolers at their cars and that is acceptable. Inside the arena and at poolside they had Cricket Hill Lager and Summer Ale available for $5. Be sure to spend an initial $3 on an ECDX plastic souvenir mug, you will get 22 ounces of beer as opposed to 16 in the paper cups, plus it is eco-friendly. Beer was vended at two places, in between rinks two and three along the concourse and in the pool area. I found going out to the pool was the best to avoid long lines. The bathrooms in the pool house are also a better option to get in and out quickly vs. the arena restrooms.
ECDX is very well run, the Philly Roller Girls plan an entire year to bring a top notch event to fans and skaters. The SportsPlex is a beautiful complex featuring three air-conditioned arenas as well as an outdoor pool and pool house. Bring a lock and you will have access to a locker all day. I was lucky my roommate had a Master lock with two keys. We were able to keep bathing suits and my camera gear locked up when wanting to walk around unburdened.
Once inside it can be difficult to decide which bouts to see. I had some in mind that I wanted to catch and many times I would bounce around from rink to rink to see a little of one and then some of another if there were two I wanted to see at the same time. You will never be able to see it all so decide what you want to watch and stick to that or jump from track to track catching a sampling of each.
If you are really unsure which bouts to see, ask a more expereinced friend what they suggest. More often than not, they will steer you in the right direction. I owe it to a friend that I saw Gotham v. Rose City rather than another bout going on at the same time. If you don’t know anyone there don’t be afraid to approach other fans and ask for their opinion, they will likely give it to you.
I was glad that I requested a photographer’s pass early on; the bouts between highly ranked teams could get quite crowded and being able to slip into a designated photographer’s spot on the floor was a big help. If you plan on taking photos using anything beyond a point and shoot camera, PRG requests you register as a photographer.
Speaking of photography, shooting at ECDX is fun! They have a small box marked off for one photographer to stand in the center of the rink with the referees and NSOs. It is approximately 2’x 2′ and you cannot leave the marked off zone unless you want to get yelled at or run over by a ref. The box is available for any registered photographer to use on a first come first serve basis. Basically if you are in the box you stay for a little while then hop out and allow someone else an opportunity. It’s about sharing and not getting too greedy. I liked being in the box because it was such a unique perspective and I felt like I was part of the bout in a way.
I talked to a few of my fellow photographers at ECDX and some liked the box and others preferred to stay along the perimeter. To be honest after my first time in the box, I thought it was limiting on the photos I could take since you have refs in your shots a lot and only a partial angle you can shoot from with no obstruction, but after reviewing some of my photos I think the best ones that I got ended up being from inside the box.
The lighting seemed better inside the box too. I spent a lot of time hopping into the box during bouts simply because it was so much fun. It is interesting to be in the center of the action and to see the bout unfold around you. I have even more respect for the Referees and NSOs than I already had before because the game play seems faster looking at it from inside. I don’t know how they keep track of it all. Also to their credit, not a single ref or NSO bumped in to me while I was standing there.
Derby photographers just like most derby folk are very friendly. They are willing to share tips and tricks with you and will make room in an already tight floor area so you can have a seat. One photographer even lent me his lens to shoot pictures when I was in the box because my zoom was too much and I felt my prime (fixed focal length) offered too wide of a view. Another offered me lenses too, but his were Canon and mine were Nikon and they unfortunately don’t interchange.
As for the derby, there is plenty of it on all levels. From challenge bouts made up of a mixed bag of players having fun to sanctioned WFTDA events there really is something for everyone. Teams playing in bouts are often tested to their limits by being paired up with higher ranked teams. Sometimes this can end up in a huge points disparity as seen in bouts like Lehigh Valley v. Dominion and Harrisburg v. Toronto, but regardless win or lose all the teams played with incredible heart and I’m sure they took lessons away from their bouts that will make them even stronger. I know Lehigh Valley turned around and gave Hudson Valley a beating the following day. ECDX is an opportunity to play against opponents that might otherwise not be on a team’s regular schedule.
ECDX is also a chance to see the highest ranked teams face off against one another. One of the most thrilling bouts I saw that weekend was the last bout I watched before heading home, Rose City v. Gotham. The level of skating and play was unlike anything I have ever been exposed to. It was women’s flat track roller derby of the highest caliber. The blockers made the jammers seriously fight to get through and once they broke through the pack you could feel the breeze from their incredible speed.
The fans at ECDX are hard core derby fans; they cheer loudly, wear crazy costumes and further electrify the energy inside the rink. I have never seen such intense and enthusiastic crowds at any other sporting event. I suppose it could be compared to the intensity of European Soccer fans. Another amazing thing about ECDX is that people are allowed to bring dogs there. I saw everything from pink dyed Paris Hilton dogs in tote bags to large loveable mutts outside and also trackside. I’ve always said that roller derby is all inclusive; well this just further proves my point.
Another exciting aspect of ECDX is the chance to meet and mingle with some of the sport’s biggest celebrities. Seeing so many experienced and well regarded derby photographers that I admire, well known announcers like Dumptruck and Axl Rolls and local and national superstars like V-Diva and Suzy Hot Rod all under the same roof is awe inspiring. The only real complaint I have and it is a minor one, was the sound on the announcers was inconsistent the first day and a half. I enjoy derby announcing, but it was really difficult to hear some of the commentary at times. It did improve markedly as the event wore on.
To summarize, ECDX is an incredible experience whether you are a seasoned derby fan or new to the sport. To skate in such an environment must be thrilling as well. I’ve learned so much this past weekend, both in how to manage my photography as well as my overall trip. I’ve seen derby moves that astounded me and hits that scared me out of my knee socks. The level of play ranged from fun to fierce. As cliché as it may sound, I will never forget this first ECDX weekend am already dreaming of ECDX 2013.
If you missed any of the ECDX action be sure to check out the archives on WFTDA TV.
We will be posting more photos shortly on Flickr!