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Derby United Headquarters Pivots In Pandemic

Roller skating facility goes from hosting bouts to offering recreational skating

Photo by Mike Damron

Nili "Isabelle Ringer" Goldfarb looks over the Derby United Headquarters outdoor facility.

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Back in March Derby United Headquarters opened its outdoor, two-rink facility for roller derby bouts. The coronavirus pandemic soon forced it to close. But the organization has turned their skates in a new direction in order to reopen.

Aired: August 24, 2020 | Transcript

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Back in March Derby United Headquarters opened its outdoor, two-rink facility for roller derby bouts. But a week after its grand opening, the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close. Now the organization is pivoting in the pandemic to stay open.

Reported by Beth Accomando , Video by Mike Damron, Roland Lizarondo, Andi Dukleth

Women who play roller derby have a special kind of toughness because they play a challenging sport that gets little respect and even less support. Nili Goldfarb, better known by her derby name of Isabelle Ringer, was fed up with not having a place to play roller derby so she took matters into her own hands and simply decided to build an outdoor facility for her team Derby United. The two-rink venue known as Derby United Headquarters had its grand opening in March.

"We had a huge celebration. Hundreds of folks came out for a roller derby game. And a week later, we closed for the pandemic," she said.

But as any derby player knows, you have to be able to adapt to whatever gets thrown at you whether it’s an elbow or a pandemic.

"I'm not going to lie," she added. "It's been really hard. We built this place to have big roller derby programs. It works on volume. And here we are saying, OK, we're going to have 12 people per class in a limited time slot with online reservation."

Derby United Headquarters was built to host bouts with teams from around San Diego and the country. Now it is turning its smooth, flat rink into a space for recreational skating.

"Fortunately we are an outdoor facility," Goldfarb said. "So we are open air to start with. We do still require masks for everyone on the property. All of our activities are taking place six feet or more apart. We limit our class numbers. So even though we have nine thousand square feet of concrete pad, we still only have about 12 people per class. So that there's plenty of room for you to have your own space and so that you can feel like you're in a safe place."

Skaters of all ages and experience, including no experience at all, are welcome.

Goldfarb explained the options: "We have a wide range of offerings from really little kid classes we call little rollers to adults who are opening their very first pair of skates and need to learn to roller skate or more experienced folks who want to learn things like jam and freestyle and dance that can come out and really hone their skills and feel good on their skates."

Feeling good is key to the Derby United mission.

"We hope that when people come to this property, they're able to escape whatever is going on in the outside world and just spend some time focusing on themselves on roller skates," Goldfarb stated. "It's good for their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health… we want to be the best part of anybody's day."

Photo by Mike Damron

David Diaz built custom skates before coming to take classes at Derby United Headquarters in Encanto.

David Diaz agreed. He came to the facility for a private birthday party and then signed up for classes.

"Honestly, it's just the cardio. It's so fun," he said. "Cardio is good for the heart and a lot of other things. It's good to sweat but running is very boring. So if I can skate and get a majority of my cardio and supplement it with running then I'm A-OK."

Diaz built his own custom skates and was enjoying his second session with instructor Carolee Kness. She provided basic instruction about how to get started, how to fall safely, and how to stop. Points that were very important to someone like me who has not been on skates for more than three decades. So while people like Diaz skated circles around me, I was cheerfully encouraged to just keep working on my basic skills and eventually made it around the track without holding onto the wall by the end of the 90-minute session.

Goldfarb noted that roller skating has had a massive revival during the pandemic with skates being hard to find. But not to worry; she’s got that covered too.

"We have hundreds of pairs of roller skates," she said pointing to a storage container with racks of skates."So even if you can't get your hands on a pair of roller skates right now, we have some that you can borrow with any class or session that you come here for. Please bring your own protective gear. For beginners, I especially recommend at least wrist and knee pads, and we'll teach everything from there."

It’s hard to say no to Goldfarb. She got me back on skates despite my supreme lack of coordination and balance. On the rink or off, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Whether on skates playing in a bout or dealing with a pandemic as Derby United’s owner and general manager, she sets her goals and goes after them with ferocious energy.

"We are extremely resilient. We will survive through this no matter what," Goldfarb said. "But it also takes a lot of creative financial planning. A landlord who's willing to be flexible, taking on more debt, a lot of different programs that we're applying to. And we're going to have to piece that whole thing together to make it to the other side of this. But we will. We'll be here."

You can count on that.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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