Can’t make it to Pamplona, Spain for the Running of the Bulls? Then stick around Pensacola for the next best thing. Seville Quarter hosts the sixth annual Fiesta De San Fermin in Downtown Pensacola from July 21 to 23. This event is Pensacola’s modified version of the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. Local roller derby girls, including the Pensacola Roller Gurlz, will be participating, making this event truly one of a kind for our area. As runners (walkers are welcome, too) get through the two-mile track on designated downtown streets, they must do so while being chased by “bulls” on roller skates. But, don’t worry. There are no large, hairy, creatures roaming our local streets—just the whiffle-bat carrying, bull-horned, derby girls.
The celebration begins on Thursday with a Spanish wine dinner. The cost of this dinner is $70. Then there is an opening celebration, or chupinazo, on Friday evening that features a procession honoring San Fermin. The main event is the encierro on Saturday and will begin at 10 am as the first cannon is fired, releasing the runners onto the course. The second cannon is then fired, releasing the “bulls” who will chase down the runners. After the run, the festival will continue in front of Seville Quarter with entertainment, food for purchase, and complimentary beverages for registered participants.
The event is sure to be a blast and the local derby girls are anticipating a great turn out this year. We caught up with Audrey “Hip-Burn” Preston to ask about the Pensacola Roller Gurlz and their involvement in local fundraiser.
PM: How long have you been part of the Pensacola Roller Gurlz?
AP: I’ve been skating with them for two and a half years. I trained as “fresh meat” for six months and I’ve been skating as a full-fledged skater for two years now. This is my first team and my first experience with roller derby. I watched a few games here locally and got so excited about it. One of the girls actually came into my place of employment and she was talking to me about it and said, “Why don’t you play?” I said, “Well, I don’t know how to roller skate and I’m pretty sure that’s kind of a requirement.” She said, “Nope, we’ll teach you everything you need to know. Come on out.”
PM: So have you participated in the running of the bulls in previous years?
AP: I did. Last year was my first year as a skater, as a bull, and I plan to do it again this year and I plan to go to the New Orleans one, as well. There is one in New Orleans that people from all over the country come to. I think that Pensacola has the potential to grow to that level in just a couple years also.
PM: What’s your favorite aspect of the Running of the Bulls event?
AP: I love that it’s a chance for us roller girls to interact with the general public in a really fun, light-hearted way. Of course, chasing people with bats and getting to spank them is super fun, too.
PM: Is there a lot of preparation and practices for the running of the bulls, beyond your usual practices for competitions?
AP: It really doesn’t take any practice as far as the skating aspect because skating is something that most of us do anyway to help with our endurance and skills. But, I think what we put a lot of preparation into as individuals is our costumes and our horns. When you see the girls out there wearing whatever they are wearing that day, they personally put that together. Most of it is handmade, homemade. They are not store bought, so that takes a lot of preparation.
PM: I understand the Emerald Coast Derby is also participating, correct?
AP: We have derby girls from all over the Gulf Coast. A lot of people don’t know, but there’s roller derby teams all the way from New Orleans over to Panama City and we play each other quite a bit. We have open scrimmages where we mix up and have girls from all different teams playing together. So, yeah. There are derby girls from all the local teams.
PM: One of the rules is that if you go down, stay down. How often do runners actually get knocked down by the hit?
AP: I would say, probably not that often. I think more likely people will trip trying to evade a bull and then they try to get up and they are still trying to evade the bull. You’re definitely sore afterwards. I have a couple friends who did it last year that said they didn’t want to sit down the next day. But, you’re not on the ground that often, if at all. There is a safe zone, so if you don’t want to be hit at all, you just want to run and be a spectator, you stay on the sidewalk.
PM: Do you aim for the easy targets or go for the challenge and try to hit the ones that are trying to get away?
AP: I want to get them all. Every single one. That’s my goal. If someone is particularly trying to run away from you, it is very satisfying to catch them.
PM: How many annual fundraiser type events are the Pensacola Roller Gurlz involved in?
AP: A lot. We do a lot of runs and they all benefit different charities. If it’s the weekend and we don’t have a bout and there is an opportunity for us to get the word out about roller derby and help for a good cause, we are all in.
PM: The Running of the Bulls event benefits the Northwest Florida USO this year. Are you hoping the event will be bigger so it will raise some money for this organization?
AP: No doubt. It will for sure. Seville Quarter has been putting on this event for the past few years and it’s been growing, but it hasn’t made a profit. This year we believe it’s going to. People are registering early and they have been signing people up at all the Gallery Nights. We, as Roller Gurlz, have volunteered to be down there signing people up on Gallery Night. You can look for us in front of Seville on any Gallery Night leading up to the run. I think they have almost as many people that participated last year already pre-registered this year, so it’s going to be much bigger. It is going to be great.