Hive Life sits down for a fun conversation with roller derby queens Milanie Becker and Snooky Wong, the energetic pair behind Hong Kong’s skate emporium, Madame Quad, and trailblazers in the local skate community!
Gliding through the streets of Hong Kong on their roller skates, Milanie Becker and Snooky Wong have made their mark in the local roller derby scene, or as many might know them by their derby personas- “Pain Goodall” and “Karl Luna.” The dynamic duo draw you into the roller derby world as their passion for the sport shines through, driving them to join forces to found the city’s first skate emporium, Madame Quad. A favourite destination for the local roller community, the unique all-inclusive space is just as unique as its founders.
Located in the retail paradise of Causeway Bay, Madame Quad is emblematic of the founders’ shared charisma and radiant brilliance. Stepping into the store, you will be transported to the best of 90s roller-skate culture, with skates showing off vibrant shades and classic prints, and accessories galore. From vintage motifs and beautifully patterned knee pads, to custom skates built by Milanie herself, Madame Quad has something for every roller skate enthusiast!
Through their flourishing space, Snooky and Milanie have not only loudly professed their shared love for roller skating, but also fostered a vibrant community. The pair roll Hive Life through their life on wheels, and how they are bringing this subculture to the forefront of Hong Kong, inspiring a new trend of skaters in the city!
Can you tell us about yourselves and how you first started roller skating?
Milanie started: “My name is Milanie Becker and my roller Derby name is Pain Goodall- it’s Pain because I hurt myself mostly. I am from South Africa, and have been skating for about five years, and Snooky first taught me how to skate! I live on Lamma Island, and am married to an amazing woman.”
Snooky followed: “My civilian name is Snooky Wong. My Derby name is Karl Luna because I was born in Hong Kong, Kowloon. I started skating when I was nine, took up figure skating, and later stopped about a year into it. Then, in 2014, I picked up roller derby again, after watching Whip It. It is definitely “the film” that [has gotten] plenty of people into derby.
For me, roller derby was the only viable sport that I was really interested in doing for a long time. That is actually how we first met. Then, through one of our after-[skate] parties, we talked about having a skate shop, which we often did, and that is how our idea came to life.”
What is your favourite part about roller skating?
Milanie shared: “My favourite part of roller skating is the attainability of the progress [you make]. Whatever you achieve there is always more to achieve and you get that sense of instant gratification, like when you do a turn sharper than you have ever done before- it’s such small things that keep you in that flow state, the perfect balance of skill versus challenge.”
Snooky added: “It is definitely that flow state. I don’t think I have ever experienced it before and I absolutely love being in that mindset where you feel your body and know how to make use of each limb and muscle. Through skating, that consciousness and awareness of your body and how things move is highlighted in these little processes that you overlook on a normal day; the more you move your body the more you realise that it is a process just like any other machine.”
How did you become a part of Hong Kong Roller Derby, and what was the experience like?
Milanie shared, “I came to Hong Kong in 2015, and only joined the team in 2017. I found the game through the movie Whip it, and searched for Hong Kong Roller Derby, that is when I found these guys.”
“It was the same idea, when you see [something] on TV and need to get in on that, and eventually turn up for practice, then realise this is all self-organised- nobody gets paid, everybody has their day job and it’s volunteer-based. On top of that, we coached ourselves, organised the events, and everything. There was a huge learning curve for us, because if we wanted to do anything, we had to learn how to do those things ourselves,” added Snooky.
Milanie followed, “Also in Asia, [roller derby teams] don’t get much support from the governing body, which makes it tough.”
Could you share some more information about roller derby?
“The idea is to pass and lap your opponent, and that is how you get a point. There is only one person from each team that can score per round at a time and you basically use your body to obstruct or offend,” started Snooky.
Milanie added, “If you pass someone’s hips, you get a point, but that does not mean they cannot come around and block you again. You have two minutes to make as many laps, and make one initial lap without any points. So it’s a whole [process of] blocking, pushing, and breakthrough. It is an intense sport, and very physical but we wear full protective gear, mouth guards, and all.”
What inspired you to start Madame Quad?
Snooky: “Naturally when you fall in love with skating, you will think of ways on how I can make it into a career and do this 24/7.”
Milanie: “Also, we didn’t have anywhere we could go to shop for laces or wheels or anything like that, so we were like let’s do it! One day, I called up Snooky, and said – if you are in then I am in, we are going to start a shop, and that was it.”
Snooky: “That sentence, I still remember. Additionally, I think getting all that love and feeling the sense of community [within our derby group] made me realise this is not a solitary sport, and if we offer that space, people will come.”
How has Madame Quad built an inclusive space in Hong Kong?
Milanie started: “We are just living by example, by opening the store, and having people come shop without worrying about any judgement. In our shop, you have that space, and the community just happens to be super queer and supportive. I think another big thing is the communication and connections, a bit of vulnerability, and just talking to people about their lives.”
Snooky followed, “I think that’s also roller derby inherently, with a bigger population of LGBTQ people. Being part of the derby community has [allowed] me to meet more people from that community. It [made me see] how you would want your roller community to accept you, regardless of [your] sexuality or identity. That should be the only thing that matters, and it is what we have tried to build.”
Why the name “Madame Quad,” and what was the vision behind it?
We struggled with the name, for the longest time we could not figure out what it could be. Skate 852 was already taken, and Skate Valour was floating around for a little bit. Then we went to Madame Fu one night and were like Madame [resonates] with Hong Kong. And for quad, just because roller skates are called quad skates. Also, Madame Quad sounds like Chinese, Madame Kwok, and we wanted to incorporate the local element, hence the Chinese opera face.
Why was it important to create an all-inclusive space?
Snooky shared, “I feel like as skaters, our natural tendency is to gravitate towards other quad skaters, as we see them. We want to know more and get them into our circles so we can skate together, and learn from each other.”
Milanie continued, “On my side, it’s a way [to meet people] with the same interest. Our consistent skaters now, were people that came into the shop wanting to buy their skates, later started skating with us, and then invited their friends, and more. For me, it’s just a nice big inclusive community, and who wouldn’t want a part of it.”
Snooky added, “When you view people as skaters rather than their sexualities and traits, that makes it easier to see our common traits and skating goals. That is the only thing that matters, and if you think the same, then [feel free] to join us!”
Can you tell us more about your services and the range of products that you offer?
We do new skates, secondhand, and rentals. We offer classes, workshops, post events, private and for the public, and have team building, birthday parties, and all sorts of different events. We also build custom skates- we have got the master here [Milanie].
We do repair and maintenance as well- if there’s anything wrong with your skates, bring them by. We also offer special discounts, if you bring in your old skates that you got with us for an upgrade. Recycle the old parts that you have sitting at home, so they don’t go to waste.
What events do you currently offer?
We are doing a bunch of free workshops at the moment, to get people out skating, once a month, or on the weekends. So for three weekends, we will have, either a jam skate, which is dancing on skates, street skating, or park skating.
We also have private classes to get your family and friends together to learn with you, or one-on-ones. We also work with different venues [such as] rinks and shopping malls to host events. We have got an event coming up in July from the 1st to the 3rd at D2 Place.
What are your favourite skates from your store?
Snooky remarked, “It is like [picking] a favourite child, that is hard!”
Milanie said, “It depends on what comes in and what I really want. But, I prefer selling skates over anything else.”
What advice do you give to first-time customers getting started with roller skating?
Milanie started, “I’ll ask them first how many times you’re going to be skating in a week, what kind of budget they have in mind. Are they thinking of doing it long-term, or one to six hours a week? That would then depend on what kind of skate I would recommend to them.”
Snooky mentioned, “Age also [plays a major part], whether or not they have grown into their feet. How often you skate in a week usually helps people put things into perspective. Also, as I said before, we help upgrade your skate parts, so customers don’t have to get rid of everything and can save certain reusable parts.”
Do you have a favourite rink or outdoor venue you recommend for roller skating?
Milanie said, “I like the skate park in Chai Wan [Chai Wan Skatepark], they have a mini half pipe, so you could do a lot of tricks and everything. But there are quite a few skateparks that we like to visit.”
Snooky suggested, “Urban Terrain is an indoor skatepark that opened up. I think for scaling it’s more about what you are doing, then the surface, and how many people are around, because you need the space.”
What has been the best part of running Madame Quad?
Milanie initiated, “Spending time with Snooky, and that it’s my day job and hobby, seeing people be happy, skating, and enjoying themselves.”
Snooky followed, “That we could have skating be our entire life, and putting a smile on a person’s face, especially when they have figured something out, and feel like they have made progress, it is beautiful and I love this. But also to spend my time with Milanie all day!”
What does the future look like for Madame Quad?
Snooky: “We want to focus more on our social media presence, our branding. We definitely want to host more events, and will see from there.”
Milanie: “If the world opens up a bit, we could travel to some other Asian countries and do some workshops. Also, I’m moving to the US early next year to join my wife, and will see what I can do from there. We are thinking of skate tourism, and will just keep rolling forward.
I also got invited to go to Singapore to do a TED Talk, and am really excited about it! We want to go to Bali afterwards- they have an Eat, Skate, Sleep hostel, with this skatepark, massive swimming pool, right on the beach.”
Snooky: “Yes, we will definitely make a trip, and film it all!”