Roller skating is back and it’s not slowing down
On a nondescript basketball court in Waltham, Massachusetts, the leaves take on an autumnal glow and the air is fresh. But there are no pickup basketball players. This is now a place for people who roller skate.
“I’ve had my eye on skates for a while — I saw them making a comeback,” said Tammy Donroe Inman, 48, of Waltham, Massachusetts, who recently bought a pair of sparkling Impalas. She comes here every few days, puts on some music and skates.
“As an older skater, I thought I’d be embarrassed, but I’m not,” she said, wearing a helmet and knee pads. “I fall all the time, but it’s pure joy.”
In the 2020s, roller skating is experiencing a revival with its retro flair and shows no signs of retreating.
That may be partly due to the pandemic attracting more people to accessible, social and physical activity that can be done outdoors. It’s also part of a larger fashion and music throwback to the disco era of the ’70s and ’80s, when roller skating was last this hot. In the 1990s, inline skates, a type of roller skate, were all the rage, but their hype had died down.
Now there are pop-up rinks in parks and on streets and lots and lots of skates on social media. Skate meetups in major cities are common—for example, in front of the Louvre in Paris or in Venice Beach, California, where skaters have been gathering for decades.
Rockefeller Center in New York City hosted a roller rink this summer for the first time since 1940, touting it “brings 1970s magic with it.”
And then there are all the celebrities on ice skates.
Country star Tyler Hubbard does laps under a disco ball in a video for new song ‘Baby Gets Her Lovin’. Madonna spun around a pop-up rink in New York’s Central Park at a disco party this summer.
R&B singer Usher’s smooth skating videos are attracting views on TikTok and YouTube, while Joanna Gaines wore skates in the summer issue of her Magnolia magazine. Actors Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie cruise up and down Venice Beach in neon yellow rollerblades as Ken and Barbie in next summer’s “Barbie” movie.
The filmmakers behind a 2019 HBO documentary, United Skates, about roller skating as a vibrant black subculture, told The Associated Press at the time that they expected to chronicle the end of an era. But they found the opposite. As one young black skater told them, “Skating isn’t dead. It just went underground.”
At Harlick Skates, a San Carlos, California-based skate shoe company founded in 1933, fourth-generation owner Jason Kuhn said roller-skate sales picked up steam again in 2020.
“I was starting to see the orders coming in,” he said mischievously.
While roller skates used to make up only 20% of Harlick’s business, they are now more popular than ice skates. “It was difficult to find workers. Not everyone knows how to do this type of work,” he said.
Many adult roller skaters have not skated since childhood. This has sparked a boom in online teaching.
Nicole Fiore, 30, from Orange County, California, teaches skills and choreography classes online and on YouTube. Her parents worked as roller skate instructors and she is a four-time world roller skating champion. Growing up, she often missed school because she competed.
“I’ve never seen people roller-skating in the grocery store parking lot, and suddenly there they are,” she said. “I’ve waited my whole life for this moment.”
A day of skating can be a killer workout. There are several forms of roller skating including competitive, speed, dancing and roller derby, a contact sport played between two teams.
However, you don’t have to be in top shape to start roller skating.
Dana Johnson, whose roller derby name is Val Kyrie, began competing in a local league seven years ago after a divorce. She took up roller derby after watching a game, although she didn’t consider herself athletic.
Kyrie, 35, from Minneapolis, is an engineer who now does part-time public relations for the Minnesota Roller Derby.
“These skates are a great balance,” she said. “It’s about how you use your body on these skates.”
Of course there are roller skate influencers. You can find people posting roller skating videos, tutorials and pretty pictures of roller skates on all social media platforms.
Ana Coto, 31, lives in Los Angeles and goes by the social media name @anaocto, a nod to the eight wheels of a roller skate. A 2020 TikTok video of her effortlessly skating to the Jennifer Lopez hit “Jenny From the Block” garnered 2.5 million likes and million views.
“There was no intention — just to feel good and happy, not to find something to put on TikTok,” she said. “I started publishing a skate journal, really for myself.”
Then Coto saw that people were interested in watching her skate. As an actress, she was approached about appearing in a film and has since starred in the Dua Lipa music video “Levitating”.
“It’s funny. Skateboarding gave me this little foothold in the industry that I never had before,” she said.
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