In tough times it’s said we’ve just got to roll with it, and a growing group of roller skaters have been doing just that during lockdown.
With gyms closed and social gatherings restricted, more and more people have decided to go retro for their daily exercise, lacing up a pair of roller skates and sparking a shortage of four-wheeled boots.
Shona Marshall, owner of Glasgow-based 5th Blocker Skates, says demand has boomed, with many enthusiasts inspired by viral videos which have filled the likes of Instagram and TikTok since the pandemic began.
“Social media seems to be flooded with people roller-skating,” she explained. “Moxi, an American company, is one of the main manufacturers that everybody is trying to get. They make their skates in the US and, as far as I’m aware, they’ve had to at least double their capacity to keep up with demand. Orders have been massive. I’ve heard of people waiting for certain types of skates since March.
“All the skate shops use the same suppliers, so if one doesn’t have the stock, there’s a good chance none of them do. Thankfully, none of our customers have been waiting that long. The majority of our orders are available within three months.”
For Shona, who skated as a child but only developed a real passion for the sport when she started playing roller derby 10 years ago, skating is not only a great way to keep fit – an hour long session can burn up to 300 calories – but a great way to build confidence and meet new people.
“I’ve had people come to the shop for their first skates who are maybe a little shy or lack confidence in themselves,” explained Shona, 49, whose shop is now available online.
“Then when they come back a year later for better skates, they are a different person.
“Their confidence has grown, they’re fitter, they’ve gained muscle, and they’ve come out of their shell. It’s quite amazing.”
She added: “There are times when I’ve been working long hours or the weather has been awful, and I haven’t been able to go skating. Then within five minutes of putting my skates on, I feel fantastic.
“Lots of sports release endorphins, but there is nothing like skating.”
In the last 12 months, Google searches for “roller skates” have more than doubled in the UK and Moxi, the brand mentioned by Shona, says it’s now selling more boots monthly than it usually would over the course of a year.
Today’s craze, admits Iain Donnolly, from Glasgow’s RollerStop skating rink, is a far cry from the inline rollerblade races he enjoyed as a kid in the 1980s, but he believes nostalgia has played a big role in skating’s renewed popularity.
“It’s quite an interesting wave that’s happening now,” said Iain, who has been teaching skating for eight years, and looks after sales and marketing at the popular roller disco.
“It’s not like in America, where the popularity is constant, and the trend is a lot different from what we were doing, say, five years ago. But there are a lot of people online documenting what they would call their ‘skating journey’ – they’re really excited by roller skating, they’ve seen other people doing it, and they want to try it themselves.
“During the summer we had a clear out of our hire skates, and gave loads of pairs away to charity groups and individuals.
“We posted an advert online and so many people took up the opportunity to grab a pair of skates for free. I think only being able to exercise outside made people want to try something new.”
Although currently closed due to coronavirus restrictions, RollerStop is remains popular with people of all ages and abilities, but particularly with parents who want to relive their youth.
He continued: “The majority of our customers are female, aged from 25 up to 55 or 60.
“People have a lot of nostalgia for roller-skating as a kid, so as a parent themselves they want to share that experience with their children.”
When I started, I couldn’t even stand up and I fell a lot. I looked like Bambi!
Alicia Rodgers took up roller skating to stave off lockdown boredom, but soon realised she had found a sport for life.
The 29-year-old from Glasgow began posting online videos to help raise money for mental health charity Theatre Nemo and has found a community of like-minded friends who share her passion for retro rollers.
“I bought a pair of roller skates after watching the film Whip It a few years ago, but they just sat untouched. Then lockdown happened and I was bored, so I decided to try them out. I figured the streets were empty, so at least no one would see me if I was terrible.
“I really liked it – even though I fell a lot – and after I heard about the 2.6 Challenge, which was launched after the London Marathon was cancelled, I decided to learn how to roller skate in 26 days to raise money for charity.
“When I started learning I couldn’t even stand up in the skates but after doing it every day I got loads better and even managed to raise £3,000. I haven’t stopped since, really.
“I started just bumping into people when I was skating down by the riverside, and before I knew it I was in a group chat with 40 or 50 different skaters.
“Some of them had been skating for a long time, but the majority were people who, like me, started last year.
“I’m hooked for life now, and I’ve met such a great community of people, which has made the experience so much better.
“Obviously, right now, we can’t skate together because of Covid restrictions but come summer I can’t wait to meet up with everyone and maybe even hold our own events.
“When I look back at my first videos, I look like Bambi! It’s wild to see how far I’ve come in just a year.”
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