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Roller skating is bigger than ever – here's how to get started

If you grew up in the 90s and 00s, it’s a safe bet that you owned a pair of roller skates.

You probably donned those knee pads (thanks, Mum) and wobbled around your neighbourhood, before falling over and giving up.

Well, it’s time to dust off those roller skates, because skating is back and bigger than ever.

For some, skating never went away – there’s always been skate meet-ups in big cities.

The sport has also long been a big part of Black culture both here and on the other side of the Atlantic. During the civil rights movement, Black skaters faced violence when protesting segregation at roller rinks.

But the retro activity gained mainstream popularity during the pandemic, when people were drawn to a social, physical activity that could be done outside.

Already existing skating collectives gained new members too. South London’s Wavyon8 had started meeting at rinks before the UK was plunged into lockdown.

Instead, they held meet ups in parks – opening themselves up to those who’d never thought of trying the activity before – and the skating community continued to flourish.

And of course, the internet couldn’t get enough. When Berlin based Oumi Janta posted a video of herself skate-dancing, it quickly which went viral – to date, it has more than 3 million views.

But if the last time you donned a pair of skates was back when Y2K was an actual year – not an aesthetic – you might be wondering how to get started.

We spoke to skating experts who shared their tips on how to take part.

Get the gear

Stephen Johnstone is a skater and works at Slick Willies Skate Store, who have been supplying London’s skaters since the 1970s, making them the oldest skate store in the city.

Stephen says making sure you have the right equipment is key.

He tells ‘You need to decide which skates are best for what type of skating you’re about to get involved in.

‘For example, beginners may want to go for a figure or artistic skate with a heel as it almost forces you to lean forward which is very important when skating.

‘You could also go for a plastic skate which are almost flat, with a slightly raised heel, and are more durable due to their material and removable and replaceable liners.

‘The next option would be a flat skate which can usually be more comfortable for those who have flat feet. The flat skates are especially popular with those wanting to get involved with Roller Derby.’

You’ll also need pads and the all-important helmet.

Stephen says: ‘It’s usually cheaper to go for a pad set where you will receive knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards in one box, instead of paying for everything separately.

‘If you plan on skating in the park or having a dance, then most pad sets will be fine for you, but if you wish to adventure into the skatepark then I’d recommend some of the more heavy-duty options.

‘Lastly, I would always recommend a helmet to protect that precious brain. It’s uncommon to fall on your head but it’s not impossible so it’s best to be prepared for it.’

And it’s important to check your skates before you head out. A spokesperson from skate brand Impala told ‘Check your toe stops, wheels and trucks – if they are too loose, tighten them with the appropriate tool. You can use a skate tool, or if you don’t have one – a screwdriver and spanner will do. 

‘Make sure to correctly fasten your laces and ensure your skates are not loose around your foot. If you notice movement of your feet in the skates, you should adjust the laces.’

Find other skaters

There’s a thriving community of skaters across the UK – and Stephen says they’re easy to find.

He explains: ‘There are many skating groups in London.

‘If you simply appear in Hyde Park on the Serpentine Road in the afternoon on a Sunday then you will find many, many skaters along the road, dancing in groups.

‘Otherwise, you will find a similar thing outside the Emirates Stadium, Burgess Park, Victoria Park and many more.’

And once you get chatting to people, you’ll soon be invited into the fold.

Stephen says: ‘If you have some skates on, then simply stroll up to these lovely people.

‘They’ll let you know about all the relevant WhatsApp or Facebook groups that share information about meet ups and events.’

Impala’s spokesperson says try not to feel bad if you’re not a natural. They say: ‘Don’t compare your progress to anyone else – roller skating is all about having fun and everyone learns at their own pace. 

‘When you are learning – start on carpet or grass, somewhere you can practise the basics. If you’re skating out and about, always observe road rules, stay alert and avoid high-traffic areas.’

Roller discos are also a fun way to get started.

‘Local roller discos will be happy to take in any newcomers,’ says Stephen. ‘The skating scene is extremely welcoming which is why it is growing at such a huge rate.’

Take a class

Stephen says: ‘Whenever someone buys a pair of skates in store, we usually direct them to the instructor groups.

‘In London, that would be London Skate Life and Skatefresh, who both offer a free first class and are happy to teach beginners.

‘Otherwise, there are many instructors out there who teach regular lessons in parks sports halls and roller discos.’

And you might find you simply have a natural talent.

Stephen says: ‘Not everyone needs lessons. Some people will pick it up very quickly, if they are already quite active – and not worried about falling over a few times.

‘My big tip would be to always lean forward, bend your knees and relax.’

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