I decided to shake things up a bit and stroll down a path very unfamiliar to me, Quad Skating. Sometime last year, I noticed a couple of girls on skates at Tseung Kwan O Park (TKO) and thought nothing of it. Another time I was in Mei Foo and noticed the same group but their numbers grew.
Every time I'd see them out I'd get so intrigued on the community aspect of it, they were at different levels at their skating, some noticeably just starting out, but they were having so much fun. It came up in a conversation with a friend of mine and realized I knew nothing about quads.
With a genuine curiosity to learn something new, I decided to reach out to the gals at Madame Quad to walk me through Quad Culture and how it's growing here in Hong Kong.
Enjoy the read!
Derby is very empowering. It really highlights the power that community and camaraderie bring. It's a place where everyone can belong and feel accepted.
Gahyao: Let's jump right in and start by introducing yourself and what you do.
Karl Luna: My name is Snooky Wong, I am a co-owner of Madame Quad - and run it alongside my friend & business partner Milanie Becker. Most of the girls that I skate with know me as Karl Luna.
G: Where did the tradition come from with making a name for roller derby?
KL: Coming up with a name is essentially like an alter ego, embodying a different personality - much like they do with wrestling. You can essentially become the persona that you always wanted to be in derby.
G: So you grew up in Hong Kong, but you spent some time abroad? What's life been like since you've been back?
KL: I was born in Hong Kong, and studied abroad. I spent some time in England then moved to Australia for University. I've been back in Hong Kong for X years now - honestly, I feel culturally distance even though HK is my home. Living in a different country for so long, you adapt to the local cultures, and now that I'm back here it feels like I'm a stranger to the local life.
G: How did you get started with quad skating?
KL: I used to figure skate in my childhood, I took up quad skating in 2014 (when Whip It came out), it really got me thinking like this could be my way back into skating.
Melanie has been skating for about 3 years, we both met at Hong Kong Roller Derby and have skating together since.
G: I don't know much about the history behind skating, but here's what I do know - roller skates were popular especially in American culture. Diners, roller rinks, roller derby, discos. How did all that lead to female empowerment?
KL: There’s a lot of information out there now that speak about the history of roller skating and derby, Michelle Steilen (aka Estro Jen) is a good one to check out. Essentially, quads have been around a long time, from velodrome speed skating to skating full marathons. In 2003, there was a movement to try and legitimize roller derby as a proper sport, where they set up rules and teams.
G: Why the sudden boom in skating?
KL: I guess with the virus happening right now and people essentially locked down - they're looking to take up a new hobby. The shop has thrived because of Covid. People want something to do, something new to learn.
G: What are some of the troubles or challenges you face with trying to bring quad into the mainstream here?
KL: Hmm, the first challenge would be getting the number of people involved to be able to run a bout. You need 3 referees, 5 NFOs(for scoring and penalties), then 16 members per team. With these numbers it’s definitely a challenge to get a proper game going. Plus we have the challenge of time and aligning all our schedules and venues.
Most people are a little reluctant to get into derby, because they can’t skate that well or are just starting out. It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to do it, people need to be able to get hit, fall down but be able to have the drive to get up again.
G: What's it been like skating out in the parks? Do the guys out there give you any trouble?
KL: Everyone is generally friendly and accommodating with us. At the very beginning when we were just learning, we were slightly embarrassed that we were falling down and unaware of skate park etiquette, we didn't want to get in people's way. But the more you hangout at the spots, the better it gets - you get more comfortable. There's a nice little community of quad skaters and inline skaters.
G: Do you ever skate street? Skateboarding and inline has it's roots in street skating, is it the same with quad?
KL: We haven’t really explored street skating yet, a lot of our time is spent at the parks or teaching. It's funny though, guards get confused a lot of the times because they see us on skates but don’t know whether to stop us or not, because it’s not like we’re on bikes or skateboards. There are a whole bunch of people who do focus on taking it to the streets and are pushing the boundaries of how quads can be used.
G: How did Madame Quad come about?
KL: Quad skating was up and coming, we wanted a space to encourage women to come skate and try something new. We wanted to build a community and get people to feel like you’re really part of something special.
G: Walk me through some of the hardships you face running a brick+mortar store? It's petrifying knowing you'd have to cover sky-high rentals every month. What gave you the confidence to go?
KL: The shop was all about growing the community. We're still fairly new, we're a year in. It’s not easy to navigate running the business.. The tough thing I'm facing is if we should focus on growing the community or to make a livelihood out of it.. It’s always tricky to do both. Right now my schedule is so packed that there's not enough to skate for myself - but I enjoy teaching others, I enjoy putting quads on the map - it’s a tricky pay off. I don’t have an answer, I’m still trying to figure it out!
G: Whats the current state of Roller Derby in HK? Also given the quarantine it's probably tough to get people together..
KL: It's tough to run derby right now because of the virus... But even with all this going on, we run 3 classes a week, which caters to people of all ages who just want to learn how to skate.
G: What's it like having the stigma that people who do derby are rough and aggro (especially being girl in an Asian culture, where it can get very traditional)? Would you say you need a 'rough' personality to be able to play the sport?
KL: For us, skating is all consuming, it’s our passion. We feel strongly about it you know? You generally gravitate towards people with the same mentality and wave length. You don’t have to have an aggressive personality to be able to get into the sport. What is important though, is to have an open relationship with fear and the willingness to put in the hard work.
G: How does one start to cartwheel or handstand in a bowl? I'd definitely like to learn it (on my skateboard) but it just seems the risk vs rewards isn't quite worth it.
KL: Practice - a lot of it! People will say to me: “you make it look so easy!”, but what they don’t see is the number of hours, weeks, months - the blood & sweat you put into nailing a trick. It takes A LOT of time to learn something new. And even if you practice and practice and eventually land a trick, it takes even longer to get it down consistently. Like I would do the trick 100x but only land it once..
G: Derby is such a female dominated sport, do you get a lot of guys in your sessions?
KL: Guys see it more of a girls sport.. We’ve invited some males to join our team, but some of them aren’t comfortable hitting a girl at 100% or aren’t comfortable because it’s such physical event. Is it sexist? Not really, we have the advantage of having experience on our side so we can preempt if a player is going to do a certain thing and adapt to it. There are a lot of coed teams in the world.
Regardless of gender, it’s about knowing your strengths and how to use it. It’s all about having fun at the end of the day. It’s about the camaraderie for us.
G: Any advise for people looking to start roller skating or derby?
KL: You have to put the time in, really put everything into it. Get engrossed with it. I spend a lot of time researching a trick, watching my own videos and learning what to improve. Expect to fall!
It’s a lot of trial and error, the best advise is to always break things down. When you put things into bite sized steps it helps you become a stronger skater.
G: Anything planned for the rest of 2020?
KL: We’re going to continue growing the community. We’re hoping to be part of the Women’s Festival in October, and try to get our monthly skate out happening.
G: What does Ga Yau mean to you?
Need you to send me your answer to this question.. preferably by voice recording on whatsapp so I can add it as a voice over to the video!
G: Where can people find out more about you and your crew?