Ever since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. and people found themselves in quarantine, many have decided to take up hobbies to pass the time.
Whether it was baking banana bread, brewing whipped coffee or practicing yoga, people were finding new ways to stimulate their minds and stay active. One particular activity that has gained popularity over the pandemic is rollerskating. It allows people to come together, while still maintaining social distancing. The social media community surrounding rollerskating has always been strong, but has grown due to social media apps like Tik Tok.
Chrissy West is an example of someone who started rollerskating during the quarantine.
“The pandemic can weigh a lot on you mentally and physically because you’re inside all the time,” said West. “Rollerskating is honestly the perfect thing. Especially during the summer and springtime. I think this is the best weather to do it in. It’s convenient you know? I can exercise and have fun!”
Rollerskating Tik Tok has become very popular. The hashtag #rollerskating has gained 4.6 Billion views on the app. Many people share tips on how to skate, dance to popular sounds and show off their skate collection. Thanks to social media, an activity that was deemed old school or outdated, is now being reintroduced to a whole new generation.
“I was on Tik Tok and I just noticed everybody was skating,” said West. “And for the first time, it felt like I sort of had a resource. I would save all these videos from different Tik Toks and I would watch them back trying to teach myself. I was like you know what, I have nothing else to do during quarantine. I’m gonna finally learned how to skate backwards! I think it was the whole boom on Tik Tok of people rollerskating that inspired me to buy my own pair of skates.”
Even though the Long Island Roller Rebels (LIRR) had to hold off on competitions due to the pandemic, this new peak in interest has garnered them quite some attention. Stephanie Calderon, or “Zodiac Thriller” as her teammates call her, is the Vice President of the Long Island Roller Rebels.
“We’ve already received a lot of emails of people saying they’re interested in joining us once we’re back,” said Calderon.
Roller skating is not only a hobby, it has also been a large part of African American culture in the United States. Back in the 1960’s roller rinks were segregated and Black people were either not allowed into roller rinks or only in one night of the week. As many roller rinks began to desegregate, they would attempt to control Black attendance in different ways. For instance, They would have only played music like Rap, R&B and Soul on certain nights once a week. Rinks today still have these nights and use this terminology. Roller dancing and skating were almost like an escape from the racism.
“I’ve never seen so many people skate at once before,” said West who is Afro-Caribean. “It feels like it’s the seventies all over again and I’m really living for it! My friend the other day went skating and she was posting on Snapchat and I was like, ‘Wow look at all this Black excellence!’ It seemed like such a vibe you know? It was like a Black cookout, except on wheels and it was just so much fun to watch.”
Especially during the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, many people have also made an effort to support Black-owned roller skate brands like Moonlight Roller Skates instead of brands with questionable pasts like Impala, a company accused of not paying their POC models.
Skate shops and websites across the U.S. have been completely selling out of roller skates. Customers even had to pre-order months in advance in order to get their hands on a pair of skates.
“One of the biggest things that have hit the skate dancing community and the roller derby community is that it’s really hard to get skates right now,” said Calderon. “They’re all on backorder because of the rising popularity in it.”
Over the years, several roller rinks have started shutting down due to the loss of interest in rollerskating. Many roller rinks that do exist have to offer multiple services in order to stay afloat.
“It’s very hard to keep a roller rink or to open a roller rink because there’s so much liability in terms of like potential injury,” said Indy, the president of the Long Island Roller Rebels also known as “Indiana Bones.” “Which I think is part of why some really popular places have closed. The place where we have games they also do indoor hockey, kids parties. I don’t know of any places in the tri-state area that are like strictly a roller rinks.”
Hot Skates in Lynbrook stood for nearly 40 years before it had to close permanently back in 2019. The location had been used as a set for numerous films and celebrity photo shoots such as the movie “Whip It” featuring Elliot Page and Drew Barrymore. It’s unfortunate to see these roller rinks close down, however, this newfound popularity may change this.
“With more people rollerskating, I feel like there’s going to be a bigger demand to have places that are accessible to roller skaters,” said West. “I really do hope that there’s not much of a decline in the roller skating businesses because I would really like to go to different rinks. I would really like for more people to have access to a rink, so they can not only have fun there, but also experience rollerskating culture.”