Written by Jess Holland.
Italian skater Irene Dose doesn’t live in a world roller-skate capital, but she’s found a way to build community at home and across borders.
Cities like Barcelona and Los Angeles are obvious places to become immersed in roller skate culture. Trieste isn’t. But over the last handful of years, Irene Dose has done just that; overcoming anxieties and setbacks to put the Italian quad community on the map. “There’s not so many people skating here,” she says, “but there are some good roller skaters, and I want them to have the visibility that they deserve.”
Irene is a graphic designer and skate coach from Trieste in northeast Italy, who opened the roller-skate shop and brand Coven in 2021. Trieste is a smallish city with lots of historic buildings and rising rents, close to Croatia and Slovenia. There are just a couple of badly maintained outdoor skate parks there, and in the winter, when the region is whipped by cold winds, the closest indoor option is a 90-minute drive across borders.
It’s impossible to watch the Coven team video ‘Furore’ without wanting to grab your skates and run out the door. Filmed over a few days in Italy and Croatia, it’s a whirlwind of DIY runs, pink sunsets, car-journey dance parties and full-body slams. Appropriately enough for a collective named after a gang of witches, it ends with the image of a half-moon rising in a pale blue sky. The video documents all the scrapes and sweat of skate trips at their best.
In October 2022, Irene ran the country’s first proper quad competition. Furore was filmed with the Coven skate team the same week. During the previous month and a half, she toured four European countries, running workshops, competing in jams and meeting other skaters. All this was pulled off despite a fear of flying that caused her to scrap plans to fly from Dublin to Vienna, and instead travel overland for 44 hours on a ferry, train and buses.
I met Irene in London during this tour, and it was a treat to see her skate my local park with the pop and flow that gives her style so much energy. She was checking out spots in east London on a warm but grey bank-holiday in late August. “I’ve been out of the game with travel for two years, and communities are growing up so fast,” she says. “I wanted to look at what’s around.” The idea was to absorb things that she could bring back to Trieste and feed back into the scene there. “Business and skating and teaching are all mixed to me,” she says. “You look at something, and you see potential in all those areas. Inspiration is everywhere.”
It’s this attitude that’s enabled her to build first a roller derby league, then a ramp-skate scene, in places that aren’t hotspots for DIY culture or niche sports.
She first found roller derby while living in Bremen in 2013 and was inspired to start a league herself when she moved back to Italy.
“The themes that are typical in roller derby, when it’s done well, like LGBTQ or anti-fascism, that stuff is really important to me,” she says. “[The Bremen skaters] taught me to embrace the DIY philosophy as well. If I want to do roller derby, I also want to do something for my community. Otherwise I can play volleyball or something. There’s no point for me.”
At her league, Banshees Roller Derby, Irene coached for four years despite a commute that often took two hours each way. Then, with a friend from derby, she decided to do some travelling with her skates, visiting Barcelona, Lyon, Cologne and Bremen in the summer of 2015. They met old-school quad skater Ingo Gessner, who skated sidestance, wearing skates with blocks made from chopping boards. “I really got stoked when I saw him,” she says. “A new world opened before my eyes.”
She brought this stoke back home again, taking over the CIB Italy Facebook page and organising the group’s first meet-up a few months later. As many skaters do, she hit a plateau in her skating over the next few years, struggling to find time to go to the skate park amidst her other responsibilities. Then CIB founder Samara Pepperell put on a workshop in Milan, and Irene signed up.
“That was another lightbulb moment,” Irene says. “She was doing basic things, but with a lot of fluidity and control. I was like, ‘I want that too, but is it possible? Can I practice more, to the point where it’s second skin for me?” It helped her make the decision to leave derby behind.
If part of building a skate scene in a place where it doesn’t exist is travelling and connecting with skaters from elsewhere, the other part involves constantly trying out new things without getting too hung up on outcomes. In 2016, Irene launched an Italian-language blog about skating called Doom Skates; by this point she had already been running a clothing brand with her brother called Busking Bears. She shut both these down in 2020, but these ventures helped her build the skills and knowledge to launch her roller-skate shop.
She still freelances as a graphic designer and coaches skating on the side, but running Coven has allowed her to find ways to keep having an impact on the quad-skate community, whether that’s by organising monthly meetups, collaborating with others or developing a team. “If I’m blessed enough to have sponsorships,” she says “I have to make sure that other people can receive support. It’s a matter of giving back.”
Together with local skate friends that she considers her “chosen family,” Irene has recently been patching holes at her crumbling local skate park and putting down some concrete in an abandoned building up in the hills. A group of them also created a “fake” sports association, just so they could talk to the council and try to influence any plans for new skate facilities.
“We want to create some more opportunities for kids,” she says. “I’m 34 this year. I want to skate for one thousand years and live forever, but let’s be realistic. At some point I’m going to stop, and I want to make sure the people after me have more possibilities.”