Apex jumps – one of the biggest crowd pleasers in roller derby. Requiring speed, power and balance to execute, to some they’re the holy grail of jamming (and even blocking!). They’re also one of the holy grails of derby photography, so huge thank you once again to Paul Jones Photography Cardiff for letting me use a couple of his shots of mid-air skaters!
And yet they can result in penalties. Sometimes they may be spectacular but won’t result in points scored – cue a collective groan from the crowd. Sometimes the landing goes a little awry, but the skater still gets the points.
Here’s what you need to know about apex jumps during gameplay, enabling you to identify the potential pitfalls and need-to-know information should you want to query/confirm something with officials or an action gets taken to official review. If you want to learn how to apex jump, I’ve linked to some videos at the end of the post from those more knowledgeable than I.
What does the WFTDA ruleset have to say about apex jumps?
The WFTDA glossary defines an apex jump as:
An attempt to legally shorten the distance travelled around the curve of the track by leaping over the track boundary and landing back in bounds.
The term itself is mysteriously absent from the main body of the rest of the rules. To get insight, we have to combine several related rules concepts and check in with the casebook, which luckily has some juicy scenarios to get your teeth into.
Most apex jumps are performed by jammers and taken in the derby direction. Blockers can apex jump, too, and some even do so clockwise (see the link at the top of the post) but for the sake of simplicity let’s assume anything in this blog concerns jammers.
One key thing we need to know re: apex jumps is the last part of rule 2.5:
A Skater who passes someone while airborne is considered to be “in bounds” if they are in bounds when they leave the ground and the first contact they make upon landing is in bounds. A Skater who passes someone while airborne is considered to be “upright” if the Skater is upright when they leave the ground, and if the first contact they make upon landing is with their skate to the track.
This fleshes out precisely why an apex jump works – a skater who is airborne maintains the in/out of bounds status they had when they were last touching the track surface (we’re reminded of this in casebook C2.2E) and touching down in bounds with a skate is enough to ensure they’re credited for the pass…as long as they were in bounds when they took off.
Then from the casebook:
C.3.1.D examines how you land the jump to score points
C.4.1.1.B looks at an unintended aftermath of a jump, but reminds us of something key – you’re a legal target if airborne.
C4.2.1.G alerts us to the fact an attempted apex jump where you accidentally land out of bounds should not be seen as a skating out of bounds penalty
C.4.3.H also reminds us you’re a legal target if airborne, but that any contact *you* initiate is illegal, though whether it’s penalisable depends on other factors.
How to ensure you get the points
To paraphrase C.3.1.D – if you take off in bounds, and the first thing to make contact in bounds as you land is one of your skates, you get the points. Even if you then fall over in spectacular fashion. Even if you then cut the track. Those points are yours and yours to keep from that moment of landing. It relies on the rule laid out in section 2.5.
You do however need to make contact with the track before the end of the jam. Think about those many awesome last-second jumps that seem to come away with no points – it’s not about when you pass opponents in mid-air, it’s when you land the jump. Jump and land legally before the fourth whistle and you should score.
Why apex jumps attract cutting the track penalties
In the most basic sense, cutting the track penalties arise when you use the out of bounds area in order to improve your relative position on track.
With an apex jump you’ve got two “triggers” for a cutting penalty. One is your take off, and one is your landing.
If at the moment you leave the ground you are out of bounds or straddling, you’re never going to legally land that apex jump, you’re never going to get the points, and you’re going to have to land out of bounds or cede any cut before legally re-entering the track. Why? Because you weren’t in bounds when you left the ground.
The landing is more complex. You may land with your first foot in bounds and get the points. Great! But what if you stumble into a straddle? What if a trailing toestop grazes the floor out of bounds? You could still be liable for a cutting penalty. So respond as you would for any other potential cut and leave the track to re-enter legally.
If you take off in bounds, land in bounds, then go down but not out – or if you land completely in bounds right on your gluteus maximus, ouch! – you can dust yourself down and carry on – you can only cut the track if you’ve made contact with that out of bounds space. (You haven’t, however, earned the points if you land on your knees, buttocks or otherwise, rather than a skate.)
What about skating out of bounds?
Officials will tend to give you the benefit of the doubt if it looks like you intended to jump the apex but landed out of bounds, same as when you think you may have cut the track in the process (but haven’t) and attempt to cede. If instead officials conclude you simply jumped out of bounds to avoid a block, then the skating out of bounds penalty will still apply. C4.2.1.G linked above gives an example of this.
What about contact?
You’re a legal target for opponents to block (as long as they do so legally – they must remain on the ground and in bounds and use legal blocking zones!) so we’re mainly looking at who was responsible for the contact (to determine if it was illegal – if you’re airborne and responsible, it most definitely is!) and if anyone was impacted.
In the gif above (thanks to the ace Artoo Detoonate of RDJunkies who let us use this!) shot at a training session, the white jammer and blocker that contacts them can be assumed to be on opposing teams. White jammer takes off, and the blocker initiates the contact. The jammer is a legal target as they were in bounds immediately prior to becoming airborne. Assuming the blocker is still in bounds upon making contact (which is obscured, but likely) this is all completely legal. As they jammer has been hit out of bounds and subsequently returned fully in bounds, they will need to cede to avoid a cutting penalty.
The casebook tells us the incidental brushing of a shoulder by an airborne skater is not grounds for a penalty as long as there is no impact on the recipient. The same applies for other sorts of incidental airborne contact, including forearms. For a penalty to be assessed, you’re looking at either a loss in relative position, or even established position, such as the given example of the recipient being pushed out of their wall.
The guidance we have is in C.4.3.H. suggests to penalise if the contact was deliberate, regardless of the impact on the recipient.
The tricky bit for officials can be determining who initiated the contact. If a skater is mid-air and a blocker changes trajectory or body position to intercept that skater’s path, it is the blocker who initiated. Sometimes a jammer clearly misjudged their jump and crashes into an unsuspecting skater. Sometimes it is less clear cut – make a call!
What type of penalty is it? Although the old “leaping contact” verbal cue came under misconduct, this specific cue no longer exists and the penalty is generally regarded to sitsunder the “illegal contact” hand signal and cue – officials may want to provide a little extra information under the “three star” approach by adding “leaping/airborne contact” after the cue. It’s worth noting that the casebook entry sits under “misconduct”, so for officials it’s worth checking in with your head skating official regarding how they’d expect this penalty to be called.
What about using a teammate to help my jump?
Assisted apex jumps follow the same rules as any other assist. Assuming the initiator of the assist makes sure it’s legal in line with rule 2.4, you can’t go far wrong. Skewblogs will cover assists in greater detail in a forthcoming post.
Skating official training exercises:
1) While skaters practice apex jumps, focus on your positioning and maintaining a clear view of the take off and landing (to determine points and cutting) whilst also being primed to see any contact. Inside pack referees may also have an advantageous angle to see wheel-over-the-line-on-take-off cuts and may be better positioned than jammer referees. Contact penalties during apex jumps may often be assessed by pack referees because the impact of the contact emerges after the jammer has already exited the engagement zone. e.g. a jammer’s skate collides with the lower leg of an established opposition blocker as they land the jump, and said blocker stumbles into straddling the track boundary
2) Talk about anticipating apex jumps with your crewmates and league skaters. When might a jammer be likely to try an apex jump? What does a skater setting up for a jump look like? Can you anticipate and adapt your positioning and focus?
3) When looking at skaters trying to block an airborne skater performing an apex jump, look carefully at their position when they initiate contact. If they are considered out of bounds or straddling, they’re at risk of an illegal contact penalty if there’s an impact on the airborne skater e.g. they land out of bounds. Take care to note if anyone initiates contact by putting their head in the path of the leaping skater as this is also penalisable and really dangerous.
More resources for apex jump fans
Dock City vs. Dublin at Euroclash 2018 – apex jump after apex jump! Game introduced around 3hrs 58m in.
Apex jumping vlog from Sacramento Roller Derby
How to apex jump – Jam in the box
Jump Builder – Fitness Gone Rogue (build your jump off skates!)