It’s 11am on a Sunday, and a group of women are strapping themselves into knee pads and wrist protectors, and lacing up their “quads” – roller skates with four wheels and a toe stop – for a morning skate. Conditions aren’t ideal – there’s a slick of wet on the pavement of Dún Laoghaire’s East Pier – but the sun is re-emerging and spirits are high. Using toe stoppers to stabilise themselves, the skaters stand and begin their warm-up. They loop in and out of flag poles, perform small jumps over cracks in the pavement. Tunes blast from a speaker, cradled in a handbag. Onlookers cast interested eyes over the graceful figures, and dogs come over to sniff out proceedings.
This is Huns of Anarchy, a group of (almost entirely) female skaters, first formed during lockdown 2020 by friends Lynsey Mac Gowan and Haelee Reis, now a burgeoning gang of #skatergirls rolling around Dublin and beyond.
Mac Gowan says that her interest in the sport was first piqued when she stayed in the “skating mecca”, Venice Beach, while on holiday in Los Angeles.
I didn’t want to go out on my own, because I feel a bit stupid, because I’m older
“There’s a big skate park there that everyone goes to, and there were girls going round on roller skates, and I thought: oh they’re so cool! They were flying up and down the boardwalk and there were even some in the bowl” – a type of sunken skate ramp – “and I’d never seen roller skates in a bowl before.”
Cut to March 2020, and she had been given a set of skates as a Christmas present from her boyfriend, and convinced Reis to purchase a pair of her own.
“We used to meet up and do sunrise swims, so we started doing the two of them together,” she says. “At the time, Killiney had just put in a new bit of paving between the car parks at the back of the beach, so we were skating there, and then we’d go for a swim and […] we’d have our hot drink afterwards.”
Reis has a background in dance, and when followers of her dance Instagram saw her skate videos, they were keen to join. This prompted the pair to start an Instagram account of their own – Huns of Anarchy (@the_huns_of_anarchy) – where anyone who was interested could message and potentially come along.
“I really didn’t think anybody would be crazy enough to come,” Mac Gowan laughs. “In the summer, we do it before work. We were doing it so early. It was, like, 6.30 in the morning.”
Crazy or otherwise, aspirant Huns did come along, many new to skating but keen to start a fun hobby, and meet friendly people.
For Mac Gowan, part of the impetus for starting the group was the idea of having a safe, welcoming environment where women could gather and enjoy themselves. “I didn’t want to go out on my own, because I feel a bit stupid, because I’m older,” she says (older, meaning in her 30s, as opposed to a child learning to skate). “But also, because I was scared. It was dark, and – a lot of people feel that way, if they’re skating on their own – there’s safety in numbers. It was really nice to come and have the gals all together.”
These days, the group meets on Wednesday mornings in Monkstown, and at the weekends in Dún Laoghaire, weather permitting. They also share a WhatsApp group, where members can post on an ad hoc basis and arrange meet-ups. They’ve even enlisted a “Hunk of Anarchy”, Connor Duignan, who joined with his girlfriend, Danielle O’Rourke.
“Most people join without knowing anyone,” says Cliodhna Ní Mheadhra, who is bedecked in practical, but typically glamorous, Huns of Anarchy attire: yellow coat, black skirt, and pink fluffy leg warmers to match her pink skates. She says Huns of Anarchy is somewhere you can make friends easily – there’s a warm, open atmosphere to the group. It’s also an environment with “no comparison or competition”.
“It’s the only sport I’ve ever done where you don’t have to be good. You don’t have to feel like you’re working on some goal.”
Which isn’t to say you can’t pursue competitive goals. The first All-Ireland quad skate jam took place in Thunder Skatepark in Northern Ireland, a few months ago.
“We were watching all the amazing girls flying around off ramps and stuff, into foam pits like crazy,” says Reis. “It’s inspiration.”
The worldwide skate community Chicks in Bowls (CIB) also organises visits from pro skaters. Spanish freestyle skater, Bomba Hache, recently came, and some of the Huns took part in workshops with her.
But where do you start, when it comes quad skating? How do you learn the basics?
“By falling a lot,” laughs Elysée Yhuel, who has been with the group since the early days.
Indeed, many of the Huns are self-taught, or have learned from Instagram tutorials, or trial and error.
“Lessons are great, and workshops that we do every now and again are so good,” says Ní Mheadhra, “but for the most part, those of us have been skating like a year or two learn just by [saying] oh, I wonder will this work. Experimentation.”
“And we teach each other,” says Mac Gowan, who has brought along a pair of skates for me to try.
Tentatively, I lace them up, borrow some knee and wrist pads, and try not to think of the potential dentist’s fee if I fall.
Mac Gowan and Yhuel support me on either side, as you might an injured soldier. I wobble forwards like a newborn foal. Reis skates backwards in front of me, explaining what to do. Keep your feet staggered. Think about shifting your weight from one foot to the other, and pushing forwards. Stay low. Bend the knees. Lean forwards.
I’m no good, but they encourage me as though I’m a prodigious talent. And it is thrilling to find your skate legs, not to mention good exercise.
“It’s fitness at the end of the day. It’s hard work,” says Reis. Last week, after skating for hours at a skate park, her fitness watch said she had burned 12,000 calories.
The main focus of the group, though, is camaraderie – “having the chats”. There’s no pressure to go outside your comfort zone, but some of the more adventurous skaters have picked up some war wounds along the way. Thankfully, they wait until after I’ve removed my skates to share these. Yhuel shows me a scar on her wrist, behind which lies a metal plate – a bad fall on undulating terrain in West Cork. Anita Mernagh describes a tailbone injury she’s still recovering from – a slip as she was dropping on to a ramp. It’s not for the faint of heart, but there are different styles of skating to suit different temperaments.
“We have different backgrounds. Some of us do aggressive skating, which is more on ramps and skateparks. Some others like to dance. Some others are just learning skills,” says Sofia Hurtado, who moved to Ireland from Mexico City five months ago.
It’s a constant fight for public spaces and we think we deserve better
She had been a skater before coming here (skating is very popular in Latin America, she tells me), and was keen to continue practising the sport she loved. Huns of Anarchy provided “a really safe space to come and meet a lot of females owning their space, their bodies, learning from each other,” she says.
Not only does Huns of Anarchy represent a safe space for women, but for the LGBTQ+ community too. During Pride festival, the Huns took part in a “pride skate roll-out”, where they paraded, on wheels, from the Three Arena to the Grand Canal.
They organised T-shirts, emblazoned with the slogan “Rollin With Pride”, and donated €10 from each T-shirt sold to the youth LGBTQ+ organisation Belong To.
At one point, a walker stops Mac Gowan to ask about joining the group – something that happens “all the time”, she says.
What kind of person does Huns of Anarchy generally attract?
“It’s so diverse,” she says. “Everybody’s really different. But skating brings us all together. It’s a really nice way to get to know different people that you wouldn’t meet [otherwise].”
The Huns perform snake-like formations and various synchronised movements on the pavement, their feet flashing with light-up wheels. No one seems particularly perturbed by their presence, but Hurtado tells me that there’s often pushback from those who patrol the area. “They keep on saying that we’re not allowed to skate on the pier here. And there are signs all over saying no skateboards, no skates. And we think it’s really important that they let us do it because it’s healthy, it’s sport, it’s community centred.”
Apart from Zero Gravity in Sligo and Thunder Park in Bangor, indoor spaces for skating in Ireland are hard to come by, an issue that makes skating in the winter months harder.
“We want more friendly spaces,” says Hurtado.
Reis points out that there’s “no drama” with the “senior cycle groups that come up and down [the pier].”
“There’s guys that cycle up and down in the morning and stuff. There’s kids on scooters. But we’re a group of girls out here skating, and they’ll come up and be like: you can’t be skating here.”
It’s not just Dún Laoghaire, but a great number of public spaces that are hostile towards skaters. The Huns are keen to see this attitude change.
“It’s a constant fight for public spaces and we think we deserve better,” says Hurtado. “It’s a discipline, it’s a sport, it’s something that brings people together.”