If there was ever a summer to start roller skating, this is it. Perfect for social distancing, it's a low-tech way to stay busy and get some exercise, plus it's just fun, at a time when we need regular doses of joy most. And now, with vaccination rollout well underway, themed roller discos and lively community skate nights also feel increasingly accessible—perfect timing as the energy around roller skating reaches a crescendo.
So, where to start? To no surprise, gliding like butter on eight wheels doesn't happen overnight. Learning to roller skate means getting comfortable with the concrete, first and foremost. But anyone who can hold their own on a pair of skates will tell you: It's worth it, and you will get there. Just look at Instagram skater Sebeey Chi for inspiration. He started roller skating during the pandemic and is already center-stage at rink nights, regularly posting skating videos of effortless-seeming twists and turns that could inspire any newbie.
To help you begin to roller skate in time for the warm-weather season, we tapped our favorite skaters—the community leaders, the internet-famous, the apparel designers, the skate shop owners—for their tips. Below, they share their advice for getting started, gear and apparel recommendations, and a few of their favorite places to jam.
Marawa, professional hula-hooper, roller skater, and owner of Los Angeles-based gear shop, I Want to Go to Paradise
“I've been skating since I was 2—my mum bought me skates secondhand for $20 and I have been skating ever since. Skating exploded last year, but everyone was stuck at home. Now that things are opening up it's a great time to get out and meet new friends and get to learn in person.
$120.00, Impala Roller Skates
My tip is to start slow—lacing up at home and spending time just standing in your skates, preferably on carpet or a rug at first. Getting used to the balance and feeling of wearing them is really useful before you hit the pavement or rink, or my favorite place to skate, between Santa Monica and Will Rogers beach [in Los Angeles]; they just recently repaved the path and it is super smooth and super wide. I have a series of tutorials I just finished with @impalaskate, which you can watch on their IG Live—plus, get all the tips you can by asking more experienced skaters around you. And learn to fall safely! It will save you a lot of pain and hesitation when learning new tricks. We all have to fall, but knowing how to do it correctly gives you so much confidence, so it's essential to enjoying your time on wheels.”
Learn from the pros—and get the right gear
“I started roller skating through the sport of roller derby. Roller derby originated in the early 1900s but had a massive resurgence in the early 2000s. Teams would recruit and train women to roller skate and play. I've been doing it for 14 years.
My advice to new roller skaters is to learn from the pros—folks who have been trained to teach and do so consistently. My favorite skate instructor is Dirty Debra Harry. You can find her on YouTube under Dirty School Of Skate. I also suggest wearing safety gear. The best type to get is the 3-pack which includes wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads. When you buy them together, they're greatly discounted and your arms and legs are protected. I love the 187 Teal and Pink pad set. (I also love my skate leash—the best way to hold your roller skates and store them.) At Pigeon's, our favorite brands are Sure Grip, Impala, Moonlight, Riedell, and Grindstone.
Roller skating may be challenging at first, but you can create and reach tangible goals—all while exercising, having fun, looking cute, and making friends.”
Mix solo practice with social rink nights
Saige B., founder of The Orbit Collective, a New York City-based skating community for Black and Brown queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people and women
“About 3 years ago, I witnessed a video clip of a skate party in someone's basement. I watched this gathering of beautifully skilled black folks dance circles around one another on skates without missing a beat and I immediately thought to myself, ‘How can I make this a reality for myself ASAP?’ So, I bought my first pair of roller skates and my journey began.
I founded The Orbit Collective as an attempt to find community of skaters like me. We host skate meetups called RVLVRs, a fancy way of spelling ‘revolvers,’ which can range from street skating sessions, skate park sessions, and always, always a dance skate session.
I recommend solo skate sessions in addition to community skate sessions. Some of the best progress I've made has been when it's just me and my skates, and my music of course, with a great pair of over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones. Community sessions can be a vibe, but if you've set personal goals of moves you'd like to master or work at, it can be difficult to practice among others. Skaters are super encouraging and love to provide tips which can be helpful, but it's also important to understand and be grounded in your own body before accepting critiques or tips from the outside world. Another tip is to record yourself or have a friend record you, ideally when you're not paying attention. It's always humbling to watch footage back when you thought you were killin' it and instead you look like a baby deer: the goal is to get your moves to look as good as they feel when you're doing them.
Without a doubt, my favorite place to roller skate is “the Wood” aka the wooden floors at The Rink at Delanco in Edgewater Park, New Jersey. Nothing comes close to the feeling of smooth wheels on even smoother wooden floor, and Adult Nights at rinks consist of mostly Black and POC folx executing Olympian-level dance moves on their skates, with a seemingly effortless finesse and swag. Even as a spectator, Adult Nights at the rink are a fantastic time.
Folks should follow @theorbitcollective to stay posted on our future RVLVRs and other news. Our great friend Amy Collado, founder of @ClubButterRoll, typically hosts incredible Skate Pop-Ups and is in the process of opening a roller skate shop/boutique/third Space in Ridgewood, New York. For skate lessons, @Skaterobics is a fantastic place to start. I think it would benefit a new skater to follow a few popular hashtags on IG, allow profiles to organically enter their feed, and follow accordingly. Some great examples: #bipocwhoskate #blackgirlsskate #365daysofskate #skatedaily. Support Black and Brown women and non-binary folks, and their many contributions to the skate world.”
Give it some flair
“My love of roller skating began at the age of 7, in the basement of my childhood home, playing dress up in my grandmother’s fringed flapper dress. I would roller skate alone for hours, ‘80s jams blasting from my pink boom box.
My pro tip for looking good at the roller disco: Sweeping arm movements will make you look like a better skater than you are! Take the attention away from your novice feet as they shuffle along, by moving your upper body and arms to the beat. I also believe that fashion is an essential component to the roller skating experience. Roller skating provides an excuse to bling it up, rock your most colorful outfit, bust out those sequined hot pants, bedazzled crop top, and colorful hair accessories.
One of my favorite designers of roller disco attire is Burlesque superstar Mr. Gorgeous (yes, he totally lives up to that name). He has a line of dazzling roller disco apparel called Gorgeous by Gorgeous. We also collaborated on a set of Gorgeous + Dreamland skate covers, hot pants, and arm tassels.
More than ever before, there is so much roller disco eye candy on the internet. The amount of inspiration is endless on TikTok. Skaters on Instagram that I personally look to for inspiration: @Fat_Girl_Has_Moxi, @NeonKeon, @Estrojen, @T_StackXZ, and @queergirlstraightskates.”
Skate where you're most comfortable
Ana Coto, actress, ballerina, and roller skater of TikTok fame
“My life has orbited around rollerskating for a very long time. A friend of mine actually had a dream [before I started] that we went skating and that I was twirling around and smiling so big the whole time. In actuality, I spent most of my first days skating clinging to friends’ arms and falling on my bum constantly.
I think wearing a helmet and pads when you’re park skating is a great idea in the beginning. Taking dance classes (now that we may be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID) is a great idea if you’re trying to build up coordination and strength—my dance training in ballet and Latin dance has really informed my skating. Also, loosen your trucks! Using your skate key, turn each of the nuts one quarter of a rotation to the left, and make sure they are all loosened evenly [or, ask a skate shop to help you with this].
Roller rinks have traditionally been my favorite places to skate. It’s where I have felt most safe, and inspired. Unfortunately, COVID meant my hometown (and probably yours, too) lost several of its rinks. I think now is a great time to get involved with the #saveourrinks movement because with all of this increased interest in skating, more rinks need to be opening, not shutting, their doors. Where we put our money matters, so I support my local rinks whenever I can. At the same time, where you feel most comfortable skating is where you should skate: COVID closures meant lots of empty parking lots. I love discovering new spots with skate mates, and if I travel, I take my skates in case I stumble on a smooth surface.”
And don't forget to have fun
Harry Martin, founder of The Roller Wave skate party pop-ups
“I started rollerskating at the age of six years old, by going to Empire Roller Skating rink in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Empire Skating Rink closed its doors in April of 2007, and after it closed, I didn't skate until I rediscovered it in 2015—now I'll never stop ever again.
It's important to find your groove. There are so many different skate styles. Find out what type of music you prefer to skate to, as the type of music you rock to on skates will tell what type of skater you will become. For example, I love to skate to old school house and R&B music, so my skate style is more of a jam skater. A friend of mine is more into rock music, and his style is more speed/roller derby-styled skating. From there, you can navigate and perfect your skate technique.
I am into streetwear fashion, so I’ve been rocking my custom van sneaker skates— I love the fact that I can turn my favorite sneakers into a pair of roller skates to match my fit. Check out my guy @bgcbrennan or @fivestride to view some cool custom builds. And follow The Roller Wave on Instagram, we have a traveling pop-up roller skating party that pops up in different boroughs in NYC and also in different cities and states like Atlanta, Chicago, Texas, and Los Angeles. Last but not—least have fun!”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler