People started roller skating in New Zealand in the mid-1860s. This was around the same time as skating grew in popularity in the United States, where the first quad (four-wheel) skates were designed in 1863. Hokitika was probably the location of New Zealand’s first skating rink – one was operating there in 1866, in the midst of the region’s gold rush.
The evils of roller skating
While roller skating was generally seen as a healthy form of recreation in the 19th century, one anonymous naysayer warned that the ‘health of future mothers … may be effected by some apparently insignificant cause during adolescence. There is sufficient reason for the belief that [roller skating] is capable of producing both structural and functional disturbances of a lasting nature’. 1 Such concerns did not prevent the paper from regularly advertising the local rink.
Roller skating takes off
Roller skating became popular in New Zealand in the mid-1880s, a boom period for skating internationally. Indoor rinks, some in converted halls and others purpose-built, opened in cities and provincial towns. Bigger towns and cities had a number of rinks.
Often characterised as a craze, at this time roller skating was a recreational pursuit rather than a sport. While it was subject to boom and bust periods, it was a recreational option in most urban centres in New Zealand from the early 1900s.
Skating as a sport
Roller skating as a sport was placed on an organised footing in 1937 when the New Zealand Roller Skating Association, which held national speed and artistic competitions, was founded. Between 1954 and 1969 a break-away group, the Amateur Roller Skating Association of New Zealand, held separate competitions. The two merged in 1969. In 2013 there were 18 skating clubs around the country.
Speed skating was revolutionised by the introduction of inline skates, which arrived in New Zealand around 1990. Roller hockey is also played on inline skates. In 2013 there were five roller hockey and 22 inline hockey clubs.
People continued to skate recreatinally after roller skating became an organised sport. In the mid-20th century local government, progressive societies and skating clubs built outdoor concrete rinks, which were popular in the summer months. Skating temporarily boomed in the early 1980s in the wake of disco music and new rinks were built. Some continued to cater for casual skaters in the early 2000s.
New Zealand skaters first competed at world championships in 1955. In the early 2000s speed skaters Kalon Dobbin, Shane Dobbin, Scott Arlidge, Peter Michael and Nicole Begg won world titles. Sarah-Jane Jones won medals at world artistic skating championships.
A common way of coming up with a derby name is to play on words and alter well-known names and phrases. New Zealand players active in 2012 included Pineapple Thumps, Anne Thrax, Frances Dodgkins, Heidi Contagious, Scarface Clawdia and Kiri Te Karnage. Teams are similarly named, for example Dead Wreckoning and Smash Malice. The names and costumes were originally a way of attracting spectators to a fledgling sport, but have now become part of its culture.
Roller derby is a contact sport in which two teams of five people skate anti-clockwise around an oval circuit. Each team has one ‘jammer’ who must lap the opposing team to score points. The other players block the opposing team’s jammer to stop them from scoring points and to help their jammer.
New Zealand’s first roller derby league – Auckland’s Pirate City Rollers – started competitive bouts in 2007. In 2013 there were 21 leagues, some of which have more than one team. Roller derby is a women’s sport in New Zealand, though a men’s event was held in Napier in 2012.
Roller derby is both a serious sport and an entertainment spectacle. Most teams and players adopt distinctive names and costumes, creating alter egos for themselves on the skating rink. Because of this, roller derby attracts women who would not ordinarily play team sports.