On a nondescript basketball court in Waltham, Massachusetts, the leaves are turning autumnal and the air is crisp. But there are no pickup basketball players. This is now a place for people who roll.
“I’ve had my eye on skates for a while — I’ve seen them come back,” said Tammy Donroe Inman, 48, of Waltham, Mass., who recently bought a pair of shiny Impalas. She comes here every few days, turns on the music and skates.
“As an older skater, I thought I would be self-conscious, but I wasn’t,” she said, wearing a helmet and knee pads. “I keep falling, but it’s pure joy.”
With its retro flair, rollerblading is enjoying a resurgence in the 2020s and shows no signs of letting up.
This may be partly due to the pandemic, which has attracted more people to affordable, social and physical activity that can be done outdoors. It is also part of a larger one fashion and a musical throwback to the disco era of the 70s and 80s, the last time roller skating was so hot. In the 1990s, roller skates, a kind of roller skate, were all the rage, but their buzz became quieter.
Now, there are pop-up roller rinks in parks and on roads, and lots of skaters on social media. Skate meets in big cities are common – in front of the Louvre museum in Paris, for example, or in Venice Beach, California, where skaters have gathered for decades.
New York’s Rockefeller Center hosted an ice rink this summer for the first time since 1940, advertising that it “brings back the magic of the 1970s.”
And then there are all the celebrities on skates.
Country star Tyler Hubbard spins under a disco ball in the video for new song “Baby Gets Her Lovin’.” Madonna strolled around a pop-up ice rink in New York’s Central Park this summer at a disco party.
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.”
The filmmakers behind the 2019 HBO documentary, “United Skates,” Fr roller skating as a living black subculture, they 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 is not dead. It just went underground.”
At Harlick Skates, skate company in San Carlos, Calif., started in 1933, fourth-generation owner Jason Kuhn said roller sales have started to pick up again in 2020.
“I’m starting to see the orders coming in,” he said slyly.
While roller skates were once only 20% of Harlick’s business, they are now more popular than skates. “It was difficult to find workers. Not everyone knows how to do this kind of work,” he said.
Many adult skaters haven’t skated since they were kids. This caused a boom in online classes.
Nicole Fiore, 30, from Orange County, California, teaches skills and choreography classes online and on YouTube. Her parents worked as skating instructors, and she is a four-time world champion in roller skating. She often missed school growing up because she was in competitions.
“I’ve never seen people skating in grocery store parking lots before, and all of a sudden here they are,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.”
A day of skating can be a killer workout. There are different forms of skating, including competitive, speed, dance and roller derby, a contact sport played between two teams.
However, you don’t need to be in top shape to start skating.
Dana Johnson, whose name is the Val Kyrie of roller derby, started participating in the local league seven years ago after getting divorced. She took up roller derby after watching a match, even though she didn’t consider herself athletic.
Kyrie, 35, of Minneapolis, is an engineer who now works in public relations for the Minnesota Roller Derby side.
“These skates are a great equalizer,” she said. “It’s all about how you use your body on those skates.”
There are, of course, roller skate influencers. On all social media platforms, you can find people posting roller skating videos, tutorials, and pretty pictures of skates.
Thirty-one-year-old Ana Coto lives in Los Angeles and is followed on social networks @anaocto, an homage to eight wheels on roller skates. A 2020 TikTok video of her effortlessly skating to Jennifer Lopez’s hit “Jenny From the Block” garnered 2.5 million likes and millions of 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 contacted for film appearances and has since appeared in Dua Lip’s “Levitating” music video.
“It’s funny. Skating gave me this little foothold in the industry that I never had before,” she said.