For the love of quad: how rollerskaters are keeping the scene alive in Edmonton

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Arts & Life

By Stephanie Swensrude

If it’s your first time buying rollerskate equipment in Edmonton, you will Google the nearest shop and find Toe Stop Derby Shop. You’ll plug it into your GPS, but when you arrive at a residential street on the north end, you may be confused, as all you see is a row of houses. But in the window of one of the houses you’ll see a green and black sign telling you that you’re at the right place.

It’s Claudia Garcia’s home, as well as the city’s only shop dedicated to rollerskating. Her kitchen is stacked floor to ceiling with Chaya skates and there is a display of Skate One helmets in the living room where a TV would usually go. The garage has boxes of rollerskate wheels and wrist guards instead of winter tires.

The shop used to operate out of Ride and Play, an indoor skate park, but it closed suddenly in 2017 and Garcia made the decision to operate out of her home. She didn’t have much of a choice – skaters were on their way from Saskatchewan to pick up orders before the derby season started.

“It has been more convenient in the long run,” said Garcia. 

Garcia has been operating out of her home since then. When the pandemic hit, she worried about how it would affect her industry. Luckily for her, rollerskating experienced a huge surge in popularity over the pandemic.

“At first I was kinda panicky because I had pre-ordered a bunch of stuff and it was coming… and I’m like, ‘what am I going to do with all this stuff?’,” Garcia said. 

“If people aren’t able to go to work, like heck they’re going to be buying roller skates! But I was wrong and it was good.” 

To the excitement of all skaters in this wintry city, Garcia is opening a roller rink in Edmonton in early November. Originally, she just wanted a brick and mortar shop, maybe with a small rink to try on skates and host skate lessons in the winter.

“But I saw that there wasn’t gonna be any other option for derby if derby wanted to stay around,” Garcia said.

Garcia predicts that most of the skaters at her future rink will be young. In the weeks before the school year started, Garcia was receiving seven or eight calls a day asking about junior roller derby. Junior teams can start as young as seven years old, and kids were really excited about joining the sport. Garcia received calls from more than 200 interested kids.

“And that’s something that hasn’t happened in a really long time,” Garcia said.

“Everything was kinda in the air because school wasn’t going on, then school was gonna go back, and is school gonna actually be staying back or is it going to go back home?,” said Garcia.

All of the derby leagues in town decided to postpone their season to January, until things are hopefully more certain.

She has been searching for a suitable location while battling zoning bylaws and reluctant architects. Luckily, she found a warehouse that was nearly perfect for her specifications. It has limited poles holding up the ceiling so that skaters don’t need to dodge cement pillars while flying around the rink. It has smooth, fresh concrete and enough space for tons of spectators to watch derby games.

It’s even relatively easy to get there on transit, an essential for young people who may not have a ride to derby practice.

Until there is a roller rink in the city, recreational skaters have had to be creative in finding places to skate. Edmonton Roller Skaters and Friends is a Facebook page nearly 400 strong. Leaders in the community post multiple times a week about skate meetups.

Until the snow falls, the skaters intend on holding meetups in freshly paved parking lots. They also take over community league hockey rinks (ones that aren’t covered in sand) and even the wide-open foyer at Roger’s Place.

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