Q&A With Roller Derby Queen, Suzy Hotrod

What skates, wears red hot lipstick, and is covered in ink? Jean Schwarzwalder, aka Suzy Hotrod, is the roller derby matriarch of the up and coming sport. As a major player in her league, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, she embodies the epitome of hard core. She’s an internationally recognized derby girl, ravaged in ink, and oh yeah, she was in a couple punk rock bands.

INKED:Where did your name, Suzy Hotrod, come from?

SUZY: Suzy Hotrod was actually my band name before I played roller derby, so that was like my stage name, so cheesy. I’m a guitar player. It was actually an all girl band so I’m pretty well versed in the “all female” business.

What drew you to Roller Derby?

Well when I joined Roller Derby in 2004, it was really unestablished at the time, not a lot of attention or anything. There were probably only 4 or 5 leagues in the country. A girl I was playing in a band with, CC Bullets told me she had been doing it with one of our coworkers. So I just went, I don’t know why, I just did. I hadn’t exercised in like 4 years because I’d gone to art school, so I was definitely not thinking about being athletic in any way shape or form. I was just out of college and had a lot of free time, I wasn’t in the dark room or anything for like, incredible amounts of time. So I just blindly joined out of… Boredom maybe? (laughs)

Maybe it was fate.

Yeah, it was weird, because I didn’t even really enjoy it at first, I thought it was kinda stupid. There was nobody there, about four girls in all this protective gear at disco night in the South Bronx. And I’m like “Why do I keep going to this, its stupid?”. But it turned out to be a really good thing that I stuck with it.

When did you realize it was your passion?

It’s funny, it just kind of became that way. It just became my life, I don’t think there was a moment when I stepped back and realized it, it was definitely like an organic figment, it just kind of happened over a long period of time.

Often when people hear about roller derby they think fights break out every five seconds, or that it’s a violent sport. Is there any truth to this or is it just a myth?

It’s definitely a myth, we actually work really hard to keep it with athletic integrity. It should be treated with the same eyes that view hockey or any contact sport. When roller derby first started we didn’t really know what we were doing, so it was pretty normal to have choreographed moments, just cause we hadn’t really decided what we wanted to do with this thing. At half time if you were the skater with the most penalties you would have like, a pillow fight with someone else. In order to play roller derby, you have to put so much time into just being on skates. It’s not like “hey! lets try this kooky thing”, because it’s actually really dangerous if you don’t understand how to skate. So it just naturally became really really serious, really fast because of all the time people were putting into even making it happen. Like having a small, informal event, everyone had to work together to plan things and actually be able to play the game, so the cheesy fights and elbows just went away fast. We get hurt really bad, just playing by the rules, just like you would see a football player get injured. So it’s not like you’re missing out on any of the theatric moments because there’s nothing more satisfying than a genuine hit that knocks someone bluntly to the ground. It’s way better than something choreographed when its genuinely someone’s physical impact on another person, it’s got a lot more power to it and it’s incredible to watch.

What’s the roller derby community like?

It’s like a really positive gang. It’s definitely like a secret society in a way because you don’t need to know somebody at all, but if you know that they play roller derby you know that they’ve made certain sacrifices in their life. So theres a lot of natural trust there between people who play the sport because of the amount of effort we have to put into it. It is its own micro world, you could move to any city, and the girls there are going to help you find an apartment, they’re going to help you find a job, if your A/C broke–somebody has one. It’s pretty cool, it’s a good network, everyone gets jobs through each other or a sofa. It’s like being in a band, only there’s a lot more band members and nobody steals your stuff.

There seems to be a lot on ink on derby girls, what do you think the relationship is between roller derby and tattoos?

Well I don’t think I represent the majority of roller derby girls, I represent kind of the cartoon version of a roller derby girl. People want to see girls with lots of tattoos and two toned hair, and that’s what they expect. But my other team mates are by all standards, average ladies, they’re like school teachers with no tattoos and dress conservatively. What we’re seeing as roller derby continues to mature, is a shift away from that traditional punk rock aesthetic. Sort of keeping the less traditional vibe, but because it’s so athletic it’s not so much about the aesthetics anymore. We’ve created our own thing now, and this is how it is. The thing that’s great about it is, there are no rules. I can have tattoos and colored hair, and my team mate doesn’t have to, and there’s no pressure for her to look any certain way. Some girls will wear really short, shiny shorts with fishnets or whatever, and some wear Nike athletic pants. It’s great because everybody’s encouraged to do whatever they want. We’re all wearing the same jersey, but we’re all allowed to be individuals, no one is forced to conform to any kind of aesthetic standard. I think it’s a really comfortable place to be where you get to choose whatever you want.

There’s so much identity in roller derby, you all get to represent yourselves while simultaneously representing the team.

Yeah, I mean, naturally, there are going to be personalities that people are drawn to, but whats cool is that the players that are attention grabbing players are all totally different. They’re all built different, look different, and have different skills. There’s a lot of diversity and shapes and style, it’s really cool. It’s definitely a cast of characters of familiar faces of popular roller derby players. I’m glad to be considered a part of that.

How do your tattoos represent you?

My tattoos are just really fun (laughs) They’re not serious, they don’t really mean anything, they’re just things I like. Things that make me happy, things that make me smile, they’re playful. There’s nothing below the surface there, they just are what they are. “It’s a picture of something and I really like that” . I have a lot of tattoos and now I have the freedom to just get what ever I want. Once you reach a certain number you can have a little more fun with sillyness.

What was your first tattoo, and are there any that are more significant than others?

Well my first tattoo, is a matching tattoo with two other people, which is such a classic first tattoo, one of them I don’t even speak to, like I have no idea where they are. Most of them are just things I like ; I have a black rose for the Queens, my roller derby home team. So that one has some personal significance, it’s not just because I lived in Queens or anything.

So where do you draw your inspiration for these “fun things”?

They’re things I want to enjoy when I’m not working. I have a lot of carnival, board walk themed tattoos cause I just really like that stuff. I have a cotton candy tattoo, a Ramones tattoo, I have like a Simpsons-themed tattoo, a Peewee Herman bicycle, they’re just playful things I’m interested in. I have the same kind of pictures hanging on the wall in my apartment. It’s really a collection of my personal interest and aesthetic, nothing grandiose mellow. I don’t want to think too much about it, I want to keep it light. People like them, they’re colorful, and when you go to the doctor all the nurses want to touch them.

Have tattoos always been a part of your life?

I didn’t start to get tattoos till I was 21, which I guess is actually slightly later since I guess people usually start when they’re 18 on the dot or cheat and start early. I also think that it’s really important that my tattoos aren’t perfect. I like that they’re not perfect, when I see someone and it’s like every inch of skin is covered, and every inch is perfect, I feel like it almost lacks a certain personality. I’m one of those people that takes pride in some of their first “bad” tattoos. Is it weird to say I’m proud that they aren’t so great? I feel like if they’re too perfect, it lacks a certain history there. When I look sometimes at magazines at these young models, I’m like “how are they so young and covered in like, perfect tattoos?”. I’ve paid for my tattoos, they cost money, that’s why I’ve added them one little piece at a time. I have relationships with the people I go to over and over again, but I pay them money, I don’t get freebees. So that’s why I’m not so sure how people are so beautifully covered and they’re really young. I’m 32, and I only started to heavily add on tattoos until after I got a significant promotion at my day job. Everyone knows that little saying “good tattoos ain’t cheap, cheap tattoos ain’t good.”. At least tattoos are a cool way to collect without clogging up your apartment.

Has roller derby influenced a lot of your ink?

I used to collect ugly dolls, and I have my favorite ugly doll riding in a hotrod roller skate. But other than that and my Queens tattoo, most of my ink is non-derby related.

Do you have any plans for future tattoos or do you just wait for inspiration?

Things just kind of come to me, they’re not really, super well planned out. I’m in the middle of an NYC subway token tattoo, I have the outline right now I just have to get it shaded. Eventually I would like to fill in all the holes of my individual tattoos so you can’t see the boring, white flesh anymore. But I always want more. I would like to have a certain aesthetic, a lot of colorful tattoos as a personal accessory. It’s like having the greatest hair cut every day. It’s just being aware of one’s image, I like to look a certain way and that’s what I choose. If I want to have tattoos I want to have A LOT of tattoos, every inch. To me it’s not necessarily a sentimental thing, it’s a style thing. I’m not that into trite, overplayed things. I have some flowers, but those are flowers that grew in my yard, and it’s not just like “oh that’s pretty, look at that.”. I don’t generally follow trends, I have a couple “sailor jerry tattoos” but really my tattoos reflect what I’m interested in. I just want mine to have a little personality and not have it be cookie cutter flesh.

So what are you doing when you’re not tearing up the rink or in the shop getting ink?

I’m a food photographer by day, and I love my job. I also love that I’m a working photographer and not someone that lies about it and just has an instagram. Otherwise, I really love flee market shopping and listening to music a lot. I never lost my love of music. I’ll play again when my knees give out, cause I can’t skate forever. All day long I listen to music, at work, come home and listen to music, watch tv about music, look at pictures about music. My heroes are musicians not athletes usually. Also I just started a pinball team, I’m not good at it but I love it.

That sounds familiar, well hey, maybe you’ll turn pinball into an international sport just like roller derby.

Yeah! Maybe!

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