Plastic wheels honk, clatter and purr across the oblong concrete arena as a squad of figures in skates rounds the corner in pack formation, ready to pick up speed on the straight. Faces glisten with sweat beneath crash helmets and thigh muscles ripple with exertion as the skaters fly through their drills. One loses her footing, tumbling to the ground. She is helped up by teammates and carries on; in a fast, tactical, contact sport like roller derby, a little tumble is par for the course.
Among the boards, scooters and inline skates in the city’s rinks and bowls, quad skates are an increasingly common sight, largely thanks to the efforts of Hong Kong Roller Derby (HKRD), a sports group founded in 2013 that runs training sessions, organises social events and whose members operate a shop to sell and rent skates.
Originally developed in the US, roller derby is one of the more niche subcultures to have arrived in Hong Kong in recent years. Boosted by viral videos on platforms like TikTok, retro quad skating—as opposed to roller blading, which uses in-line skates—has boomed in popularity in the US and Europe due to its kitsch, visual nature, increased prominence in popular culture, such as the 2009 film Whip It, and a message of female empowerment and inclusion at its core.
The doors of Madame Quad Skate Emporium are open to all. On a weekday afternoon, the shop bustles. First, there is a father looking for the thickest protective pads he can find before he allows his son to step on a skateboard; then, a lithe yoga instructor looking for a new fitness outlet debates whether a pair of pink pearlescent rollers or some floral skates are more her style; later, a mother breezes by looking to outfit her daughter’s latest social media-inspired craze.
Madame Quad co-founder Snooky ‘Karl Luna’ Wong, whose ‘derby name’ is a play on the word ‘Kowloon’, rolls out from behind her desk, issuing advice to skating newcomers. “I basically try to have skates on from first thing in the morning to the last thing I do when I get home,” she says. She and Milanie ‘Pain Goodall’ Bekker opened the skate and accessories shop in April 2019 to cater to a rising interest in skating in Hong Kong and foster a community that they hope will one day be large enough to form a derby league—a challenge in a city where there is not only a lack of places to train, but also a culture of nonconfrontation that doesn’t exactly endorse women shoving each other to the ground in the name of sport.
“Derby is what started our passion for roller skating,” says Wong, 32. “We try to do as many types of different skating as possible because in Hong Kong, derby is a hard sell. As soon as you tell people you get together to hit each other, they’re like: ‘What is wrong with you? Bye!’”
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