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Hampton goes berserk with "Rolling of the Bulls" tradition

Jordan Crawford | 7/18/2013, 10:36 a.m.

— Restaurant owner Carlyle Bland strives to make downtown Hampton the land of odd occurrences. The proof, local roller derby queens with horns on their helmets zooming through narrow streets, ready to swing oversized Wiffle Ball bats at the rear-ends of white-clad runners…yeah, exactly.

"We're serious about our whimsy down here," said Bland, who owns eateries Marker 20 and Venture along Queens Way. "We want to do something different."

Bland draws inspiration from popular Texas rallying cry “Keep Austin Weird.”

"I would have loved to use that slogan, but Austin's got ownership of it. We're the island of misfit toys down here. I'm not sure Hampton One wants that brand, but I'm building it," he said with a chuckle.

The Rolling of the Bulls, an adaption of the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, is only the latest in a series of goofy events Bland has hosted downtown. In 2008, he launched a Pocket Fisherman Tournament, a competition featuring the celebrated rod and reel manufactured by Ronco starting in the 1960s. He's also served as the commodore of something called the Freaky Kon-Tiki Raft Race.

Bland says there is a method to his madness. Previously, he worked as deputy director for the Downtown Hampton Development Partnership. Pumping flair into the district makes good marketing sense, he believes.

"In every master plan, they say you need to create a sense of vibrancy and life for a downtown to succeed. There has to be a reason for people to come down there. When you do an odd type of event, it gives you a unique character."

The Rolling of the Bulls has potential to be the sensationally silly hit that Bland has been seeking for so long. The Hampton event is based on one in New Orleans that has drawn enormous crowds.

Last year's inaugural version in Hampton was hindered by rainy weather, but still drew 200 people eager to be part of the rolling, running, and bat swinging, or at least to witness it. The action was moved into a downtown parking garage to escape the weather.

"I was one of the bulls and it was fun," said Nicole Wessell, part of the Norfolk-based Dominion Derby Girls roller derby club.

"We got to keep chasing them, hitting them with bats," she said. "They were trying to duck and dodge. We weren't trying to maim them or anything, just slapping them on the bottom. It was almost like people wanted to get hit with the bat. When it was over, they wanted to do it again if, I guess, they didn't get that privilege the first time."

For the Dominion Derby Girls, the Rolling of the Bulls is a fundraiser and a way to spread the word about their local bouts, which take place at the Haygood Roller Skating Center in Virginia Beach.

"It's one of our most exciting events for sure," said Dominion Derby Girl Kayla Good. "Last year, we had such a good time that people were eager to sign up again. We can't wait. I hope this continues to grow, and maybe in the future we could invite derby groups from Richmond and Outer Banks to come down. It could get bigger and bigger."

Adding to the fun was La Balloontina. Patterned after La Tomatina, a large tomato fight and carnival in the Spanish village of Buñol, Bland planned a water balloon fight scheduled to follow the free-wheeling frenzy. The balloons were filled with red-dyed water and the person left wearing the most white clothing after the battle was named the winner.

"I just came up with that in my head, the Balloontina thing," Bland said.

Jerry Blount, a downtown resident who participated in last year’s event came back for more and enjoyed the new component. “This definitely did it,” he said. “You get hit by a bull, you’ve got to pay the price somehow, or bear the scars,” he added laughing.