Before 2020 came, I vowed to take on roller skating as a hobby. Growing up, I spent a lot of weekends at the local roller rink in Moundsville, WV. At the age of eight, my mom threw me a surprise party at the (now closed) roller rink in St. Clairsville, Ohio. I mostly stuck to rollerblades because back then quads were “lame” – I’m not sure who made those rules. But at the age of 26, I figured why not get into a hobby that could possibly break bones?
Skates are expensive, but luckily I was gifted a pair of periwinkle Moxi Beach Bunny roller skates for Christmas. Much to my surprise, I was even allowed to open them before Christmas! I was immediately hooked. So began the weekly trips to the Neville Roller Drome in Pittsburgh. Thursday Adult nights became my weekly release and something I looked forward to. I began spending evenings watching skating tutorial videos on YouTube by Dirty Deborah Harry, a long-time roller skater from Long Beach, CA and owner of Fountain Valley Skating Center. While those videos helped me build confidence, nothing prepared me for the shuffle skaters and the quick-footed rollerblades of adult night – but that made it all the more exciting for me. The music and the overall vibe of adult nights made me feel like I was meant to be there. I can truly say that I’ve never had as much fun as an adult than when I’m on roller skates. Coming home and smelling like the rink meant I had a good night, even if it meant I’d be dead tired for work on Friday.
The roller skating scene has been inviting in every aspect of the sport. No matter where I have shown up with my skates, whether it was the rink, skate parks, trails, etc., I was welcomed with open arms. Sadly, much of that came to a screeching halt when Coronavirus hit. However, I haven’t let that stop me from roller skating. I’ve taken to the alley by my house in Dimmydale almost every day to practice basics. My friend Christina Pauley has been my skate buddy from day one, and we’ve encouraged each other to try new tricks and skills. But more than anything, roller skating has been keeping us sane since the pandemic hit even when we couldn’t skate together. “Roller skating took on a new importance for me during the pandemic because it was a hobby I could do by myself,” said Pauley. “At a time when gyms were closed and we couldn’t see our friends, it got me out of the house and helped keep me healthy, mentally, and physically. Roller skating has made me appreciate my body and all the things it can do.”
Roller Skating’s Revival
Thanks to social media and the pandemic, roller skating has really seen a rise in popularity. Instagram and TikTok have been great platforms for highlighting how fun roller skating can be. After a viral TikTok video by Ana Octo skating to Jenny from the Block by Jennifer Lopez received over 16 million views, people starting going out in droves to buy roller skates. Google Data indicates that from the end of March 2020 until June 2020, the search term ‘roller skates’ quadrupled.
With the increased interest in roller skating, businesses are really taking off. Moxi Roller Skates (parent company Reidel) has gone as far as opening a second factory just to meet the demand of roller skates. Moonlight Roller, a Black-woman-owned business, released a new line of skates during the pandemic and have sold out numerous times during pre-order. Not only have skates sold out but also other equipment such as safety gear and wheels. Rollerstuff owner, Abbey Roadkill (Lana Blocker), has been tirelessly hand-making toe-caps for brand new skaters worldwide. So, if you’re waiting for your skates, be patient they’re coming! If you are in the market for skates, it’s important to watch out for scammers who are buying and re-selling skates at an inflated rate. Similarly, third-party sellers such as Urban Outfitters are raising the price of skates due to high demand. Trust me, the wait for your skates will be worth it, but don’t find yourself overpaying.
Many people are finding joy in skating during the pandemic. The nostalgic pastime has made quarantine easier for me and others to handle and has even opened me up to meeting new people all across the world, connecting via Instagram. At the beginning of quarantine, my friend, @Spirky_Skates, set up a Quarantine Skate Date group on Instagram. For more weeks than we ever anticipated, we all worked on different skills at different levels. We sent each other videos and words of encouragement, all while we were in different parts of the world, dealing with the virus in waves.
Roller skating may currently be seeing a resurgence but it’s certainly not a new pastime, especially in the Black community. In fact, Black skaters have played a huge role in keeping roller skating alive. Since the early 1980’s many roller rinks have closed due to skating losing its popularity and properties being re-zoned for condos or big box stores. While most of us had forgotten the joy of skating, Black skaters have continually enjoyed skating and have kept the hearts of the rinks we have left beating. Roller skating has served as an outlet for Black skaters, is a safe haven and a place to have fun. Although black skaters have been keeping jam and shuffle skating alive in the rinks, there are still many biases against them. In fact, segregation is deeply linked to Black skate culture and is a large part of why the subcultures of jam and shuffle skating exist as we know it. The documentary United Skates provides a more detailed history of the African-American subculture of roller skating, which has been often overlooked by the mainstream for many generations.
Wheeling’s Skate Scene
Skating is an easy outdoor hobby, but finding places in Wheeling to skate can be challenging, both indoor and outdoor. I have reached out to different resources about skating indoors here in Wheeling, only to be turned away. My hope for the future of roller skating in Wheeling would be to start exercise classes on roller skates. So, if you’re someone reading this who owns an indoor space with hardwood floors or smooth concrete to let us skate – please contact me!
For outdoor roller skating, the Wheeling Heritage Trail is great for skating for exercise and cardio. The Wheeling Skatepark is a bit difficult to roller skate, especially for new skaters and there is a real lack of flat smooth surfaces to practice things such as jam skating (dancing on skates). Before the pandemic, the closest rinks that were skatable were in Pittsburgh where there are multiple skateparks to choose from depending on what you want to work on that day and as well as plenty of well-kept basketball courts and trails. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy skating here in Wheeling, but for now, things are just more accessible and easy to find in Pittsburgh.
If you’re looking for a new hobby that gives you a fun excuse to get out of the house, then roller skating might be a great fit! Below, I’ve linked some of my favorite skate shops and Instagram accounts to (hopefully) motivate you to get started.
• Miranda Tharp grew up in Moundsville, WV, and has lived in Wheeling since attending college at West Liberty University. She graduated from college in 2016 and holds a Digital Media Design degree with a minor in Photography. She works full-time at Highmark as a production artist and does side work as a photographer. In her free time, she loves to rollerskate, tend to her plants, and hang out with her dog momo.