While some baked banana bread or learned to crochet, others strapped on 8 wheels and kneepads during the 2020 lockdown. The seemingly overnight virality we saw with roller-skating ended up bringing unlikely communities together, as the culture of roller-skating came back.
Thankfully, the rise in popularity has helped roller rinks stay in business, many seeing almost a 50% increase in profit since 2018. There are also huge physical and mental health benefits. Besides getting outside, dancing, and using new muscles, the feeling of liberation and freedom has proven to help with depression and anxiety. Of course, the formation of skate groups is more popular and easy than ever with Instagram and TikTok fostering new friendships and meetups.
Roller-skating Isn’t a Trend
Like any other “trend” in pop culture, roller-skating has waxed and waned in popularity for hundreds of years. The first roller skates were seen in 18th century Europe (and invented by a French man) and gained popularity in the 30s-50s, but their prime time was during the 1970s.
The history of skating is extensive and includes (but isn’t limited to) inline skating, roller derby/hockey, dance/artistics skating, single and group skating and speed skating.
When we think of roller-skates, we might think of disco music, bell-bottoms and the 70’s. Something we might not think of, however, is the Civil Rights Movement. In the 50s and 60s, white owners attempted to segregate society through exclusivity of roller-rinks. This turned roller-skating into a symbol of freedom and rebellion for Black people. In the 60s, protesters flocked segregated rinks and their peaceful protests were often met with police sirens. Fast forward 50 years: the topics of racially-charged exclusivity and the white-washing of roller-skating are still prevalent, especially during some Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The documentary United Skates is an incredible film about how roller-skating is deeply woven into The Civil Rights Movement and Black history, and how the Black sub-culture of roller-skating persists today.
Icons like Queen Latifa and N.W.A performed at a rink called Skateland in the 80’s and joined in the development of skate culture that is still prevalent in Los Angeles. You can read more about N.W.A and their history in that rink here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/magazine/the-roller-rink-origins-of-nwa.html.
Certain rinks were adopted by excluded groups of friends and family. A few rinks in LA and Chicago became safer spaces for dancing, gathering, and rap/hip-hop music. Roller-skating is often associated with a sense of liberation and freedom, partly because of how it provided Black people in the 60’s and 70’s a place to gather, to protest segregation and to practice self-expression. Roller-skating is a fun new hobby for many, but for some it means much more. Due to its rich history and cultural significance, we should not call it a trend.
Buying Your First Skates
I bought skates on Facebook Marketplace for under $50. For now, they are fine, as I am still learning. Some argue that everyone should invest in a high-quality pair of skates, to learn good habits on a quality pair. If you’re not 100% sure about committing to roller-skating, maybe a more less expensive or second-hand pair is best for you.
Whatever you do, do your research and avoid skates with bad reviews. I’ve heard horror stories of wheels falling off on a skaters’ first ride.
If you are serious about learning and want a pair that will last, the best pair for you is the least expensive pair from Moxi: The Beach Bunny, https://www.moxiskates.com/pages/beach-bunny. The Beach Bunny retails at around $169. Moxis are expensive, but a great investment and the most popular among skaters. Other popular brands are VNLA, Sure-Grip, and Riedell.
You’ll also want kneepads and wrist guards, as well as a skate tool (Y-Tool) to loosen and tighten your wheels. If your wheels are too tight, you won’t be able to turn as easily. These are around $5 on Amazon. Here is a great article on adjusting your wheels: https://c7skates.com/blogs/c7-blog/roller-skate-101-hardware-basics-adjust-quad-wheels. Knee pads and wrist guards are easy to find on https://rollerskatenation.com/safety-gear/ or your local skate shop.
Where Can I Skate in New Orleans?
Before deciding where to skate, make sure your wheels are equipped for the terrain you choose.
(Uptown) Audubon Park: Our favorite Uptown park has been a favorite for runners, bikers, skaters, dog-walkers, and roller-skaters since 1871. The flat loop is perfect for beginners and beautiful scenery.
(Bywater) Crescent Park: Taking the trip over to Crescent Park’s 1.4 mile trail is definitely worth it for a smooth path and views of the Mississippi. This is a very popular spot for roller skaters! After skating, check out Pizza Delicious and Bratz Y’all! Biergarten across the street.
(Mid-City) City Park: For a change of scenery, City Park has a 3 mile loop and less debris than Audubon. You can see the famous ancient live oak after skating.
(Mid-City) Lafitte Greenway: This park in Mid-City extends from Louis Armstrong Park to Bayou St. John and is another popular spot for skaters.
(Uptown) The Levee Path: If you can make it to the end of Oak St near Tulane campus, you can skate the Levee (aka The Mississippi River Trail). It is a nice, paved path on top of the Levee and a great spot for runners, bikers, and skaters.
Bonus: Central Park in New York City turned the Wollman ice skating rink into a disco dream this summer: DiscOasis has a hefty admission price, but it is worth the visit for the people watching, synchronized dancing, the DJ, and the incredible outfits. It is a roller skater’s dream.
Groups to Join
If you aren’t sure about taking the plunge and investing in a pair of your own skates, (@tu_rsc) Tulane Roller Skating Club offers loaner skates, rides to and from skating locations, and organizes skate sessions every Sunday! Follow them and join their GroupMe to stay up-to-date and get involved.
There are plenty of ways to join skating groups in the city, including Chicks In Bowls New Orleans (@cibneworleans), a group that organizes events for all wheels, from beginners to more advanced skaters.
Sometimes the best way to get a skate group together is just to get out there and ask people for tips! You are guaranteed to make some new skate friends.
YouTube is your best friend! Watch videos to learn new tricks. My favorite YouTuber is a derby coach who makes quick, easy-to-follow videos and goes by “Dirty School of Skate.”
Learn to stop before you learn to go. This will help you avoid getting hurt in the beginning. YouTube is a great resource for learning tricks and for tips on going forwards, backwards, fast, slow, spinning, and more!
If that doesn’t convince you, just think about the 70s fashion you could be rocking on your skates. Get yourself a pair of flares and a pair of skates and get out there!
Featured Image Via Grace Gottesman
Grace Gottesman is a junior from Seattle, WA who enjoys film photography, traveling, and cooking! Through the Crescent, Grace wants to share her love for art, mental health and wellness, sustainability, and her favorite city, New Orleans.