Long before the craze rolled into 2020, roller skating has held deep ties to Austin.
When the pandemic left a nation stuck at home and even "Tiger King" got old, thousands hopped on wheels to spice up quarantine life and stay active—and the sport has grown in popularity into 2021.
TikTok creators have garnered millions of views as the embodiment of retro cool on wheels, while trick skaters on Instagram have gained traction as street-savvy adrenaline junkies. Demand for skate shops grew exponentially: from March to August, roller derby legend Estro Jen's Southern California skate brand Moxi Skates grew by nearly 1000% from March to September she told the Huffington Post.
The sport is nowhere near new to Austin, however.
Deep ties to the city
In 2003, Austin made waves as the site for the first-ever professional flat track roller derby league in the world. Born from a mix of authentic Austin weirdness and the city's rep as the live music capital, the Texas Rollergirls pioneered a standardized flat-track formula and became known worldwide as the founders of the modern roller-derby movement. With outlandish names (Shutem Up Buttercup or Thugs Bunny), unapologetic aggressiveness and the fierce aura of girl power, the Rollergirls warranted enough attention to inspire a documentary and help create hundreds of professional leagues around the world.
Founding Rollergirl member Amy Sherman, who created the measurements for the official flat track still used today, said that the city's love for entertainment and live music made it a perfect place for roller derby to flourish.
"I think that Austin just being Austin lends itself really well to accepting this sport," Sherman said. "In the very beginning, it was kind of more about the music culture as we were learning how to skate and do tricks. We would have bands play at halftime, and so they kind of helped us with the draw, but we don't need bands anymore because now we're the attraction."
(Texas Rollergirls Travel Team/Twitter)
Since the beginning, Sherman and the six other founding members sought to make roller derby as accessible as possible. A flat track, as opposed to the former banked track, could be played anywhere with a large flat surface. The non-profit league also spent as much time traveling to help create leagues in other cities as they did playing the actual sport, an effort that has paid off with over 600 leagues in the world in 2021. To Sherman, it's the "for the skater, by the skater" mindset and grassroots aspect of the league that has kept this type of roller derby successful for nearly 20 years.
The pandemic has turned back the clock in more ways than one. Just as many are channeling the '70s in their funky bell-bottom roller skating videos, many traditional roller derby athletes are moving back to the streets to stay on wheels at a safe distance.
Sherman said that many veterans are now going back to their roots as outdoor skating becomes increasingly popular.
"It's kind of come full circle," Sherman said. "In the early days, there were a few of us that were involved in the skateboarding community as we were getting the Rollergirls rolling, and we would go and skate at skate parks. And then when roller derby got going, a lot of those park skaters came and focused on the roller derby aspect a little bit more. Now, a lot of derby skaters that can't skate because there's no contact sports right now have taken to the parks again."
The derby girls are joined by a growing movement of outdoor skaters who pull tricks alongside skateboarders at local skate parks.
A new era of skating
For former trapeze artist Amanda Alexander, street skating has been a therapeutic way for her to transition from the adrenaline rush of circus acrobatics. After a friend strapped on some skates on here, there was no going back, and Alexander has committed ever since.
"Skating really blew my mind as being equal to the adrenaline rush of circus but being way more simple because you can just strap on your skates and go," Alexander said.
Since she started two years ago, skating has also become "free therapy" and an escape from the daily stresses of life.
"You just kind of forget about all the stupid stuff that's really not all that important in life and when you walk out of here you just feel at peace," Alexander said. "I feel like it's definitely a free form of therapy at this point."
Street skaters Amanda Alexander (left) and Andrea Phillips take a break at House Park in Austin. (Claire Partain)
For fellow skater Andrea Phillips, outdoor skating is as much about the people as it is the sport. While Phillips had long been one of the only female skaters and few roller skaters on the ramps at her favorite skate park, new visitors come and go much more frequently now.
"With skating culture, we're all just so weird and all goofballs," Phillips said. "Nobody really cares here, so you can just get away with so much and it's always just fun and nobody is ever super competitive. When it boils down to it, we're just adults playing with toys so there's no judgment."
Both Phillips and Alexander are members of a team themselves. The group, known as Grindstone, consists of 10 "dirty southern roller skatin'" trick skaters. According to Alexander, the Grindstones were created by a fellow Austinite who looked to sponsor some local skaters with her toe-stopper company.
From a mystery skating ramp in the middle of the desert in Marfa, Texas to New Orleans, the skaters have since formed a tight bond as friends with a deep common interest. Despite strong personalities, Phillips said all of the players manage to get along.
"We all have different styles, but we're all super aggressive with whatever we do," Phillips said. "We all just get together, skate, wreak havoc, and travel, although that has slowed down because of COVID. I've never seen 10 alpha females work together in one unit, it's mind-blowing."
While neither Phillips or Alexander have an interest in roller derby, many derby athletes have crossed over to the Grindstones during the pandemic. Similarly, Sherman said that she is inspired by roller derby players who could bring more players onto the Rollergirls after COVID cases go down.
"I find it really inspiring that some of those roller derby skaters have now taken to the skate parks and more street skating, and I think it's helped inspire some of the more average skaters," Sherman said. "I definitely think that will bring more people into the league and people will want to expand their horizons and not be afraid anymore to get out there, because it can be intimidating."
For Phillips, the future of outdoor roller skating lies in making the sport available to all. Phillips said that she hopes the Grindstones eventually tour different cities, teach classes and inspire young athletes along the way.
"We're trying to teach people and teach legitimate classes so we can get everybody going," Phillips said. "There's people in po-dunk towns who have never seen roller skating. If someone had rolled into my town when I was 10 and shown me roller skating, I'd have been in a lot less trouble."
After their first two-win week and a two-week hiatus, Austin FC is back at home against Minnesota United as they attempt to up their home win streak to three on Saturday.
The team kicks off at 8 p.m. against the Loons in their first matchup since a 2-0 loss in June, but they're 1-1 against the club after beating Minnesota in May for their first-ever shutout.
Austin maintains a last-place spot in the West but has seen a bit of a late comeback with two wins in their last three matches. Austin's Cecilia Dominguez, who scored a brace for the team in their last match against Real Salt Lake, will look to keep that momentum as the team works for another victory. Meanwhile, the seventh-place Loons will work to keep that last spot in playoff contention as the season nears its end.
Follow along here for updates on the biggest plays of the match.
80' Austin makes first subs
With just over 10 minutes left in regulation ,Austin FC made some late-game subs, swapping Diego Fagundez for Austinite McKinze Gaines and Sebastian Driussi for forward Jon Gallagher. Both have a history of clutch performances for the team: Gaines scored just 10 minutes in to his first match of the game back in September, while Gallagher was Austin's first scorer at Q2 Stadium.
It's looking more like a draw at best for Austin as the time continues to tick down on the match.
61' Djitte loses chance after controversial call
In the 61st minute of a less-cohesive half for Austin, Moussa Djitte found himself alone near the goal with a good chance at making the home team's first goal. But referees had another ideas, making another controversial call on the Senegalese striker.Refs stopped Djitte's menacing drive after Minnesota's Michael Boxall appeared to flop in a run-in with the striker, curbing Djitte's attempt to boos from the crowd. It's Djitte's second foul of the night and the team's ninth foul in the match. Both clubs host a yellow card, with center back Julio Cascante holding the home team's sole warning call. Minnesota's Emmanuel Reynoso holds the away team's yellow after an obvious flop that left him rolling on the ground for minutes, waiting on a call.
Blown whistles for both sides have slowed the match's tempo and left both clubs reeling as Austin looks for its first goal.
At the half: Austin still can't finish
45' still left to play. pic.twitter.com/39J1XnvvOc— Austin FC (@AustinFC) October 17, 2021
With minutes-long shooting sprees and more shots on goal than Minnesota, Austin could easily have the lead in the match. But each crowd-raising attempt has still been slightly skewed as the home team ends the half with nothing on the board.
In just 45 minutes, both Austin and Minnesota have reached the double-digits in scoring attempts, but Minnesota's ability to infiltrate Austin's penalty box has given them the leg up in the match. The Loons have sometimes found themselves nearly alone alarmingly close to goal, and they've capitalized on their chances with a 16thb minute goal by Franco Fragapane.
Austin FC, however, has not. The club has seen close calls from Dominguez and Driussi, headers from Djitte and near-misses from Tomas Pochettino, but missed opportunities and a few strokes of bad luck have left them scoreless. The team will need to shake their age-old scoring issues if they hope to get back into tonight's game.
16' Minnesota nabs 1-0 lead
Austin may have struck first, but Minnesota won the first points on the board as Franco Fragapane got one past keeper Brad Stuver from a close range in the 16th minute to make it 1-0. The Loons tested Stuver just as Austin did Miller, making two anxiety-inducing shots before Fragapane struck gold.
This goalie-vs.-goalie match has already seen three shots on goal from each team and a relatively quiet midfield as each team dukes it out in the box.
11' Austin tests Minnesota first
Austin FC has taken no time to threaten goal. In a three-minute span, the home team has racked up three shots, two of which are on goal, as the ball bounces between Austin attackers but can't quite find the net.
Dominguez strikes first as he looks to find his third goal in three matches in the eights minute, but Minnesota's Tyler Miller fights back with a clutch save. Djitte then tests Miller just seconds later, while Driussi takes a final shot from farther back that just misses the top left corner.
Austin's Fagundez and Pochettino were the playmakers of the three-minute shooting spree, but the club still came out scoreless. Minnesota soon rebounded with a shot of their own that was blocked by keeper Brad Stuver.
This may be Austin FC's most popular lineup— even the crankiest fans are commending the strong starting XI on Twitter. Tonight's starters are the same as in their win against Salt Lake.
New standouts Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi are in alongside double-scorer Cecilio Dominguez up front, while fan favorite Diego Fagundez, Captain Alex Ring and Designated Player Tomas Pochettino take the midfield.
With Matt Besler still out on concussion protocol, Zan Kolmanic, Jhohan Romana and Julio Cascante take the back along with Hector Jimenez, who is in for right back Nick Lima. As (almost) always, Brad Stuver holds it down in goal.
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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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