If there was ever a scene to put to rest doubt that roller skating is back, big time, it would be here on the open beachfront blacktop of Newport Elementary School on the Balboa Peninsula, where dozens of people show up on weekends and evenings to sharpen their skills on wheels.
It’s a scene playing out on beach boardwalks from Venice and Santa Monica down to the South Bay and Long Beach and at popular places such as the Huntington Beach Pier. With many indoor roller rinks closed during much of the pandemic, more roller skaters have been gliding into parking lots and parks throughout the region, even pushing boundaries on half pipes and empty pools at local skate parks.
Yes, we’re talking about those four-wheel roller skates you remember from the ’70s and ’80s, the ones that faded into near extinction when inline skates hit the scene in the ’90s. The popular pastime has been resurrected, a blast from the past getting even more popular as people have yearned over the last year for ways to stay active out in the fresh air amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Add in a few social media sensations who helped up the roller skating cool factor with videos showing dance moves while rolling around streets and parks, and there’s no denying that roller skating is experiencing a groovy mainstream resurgence.
Older roller skaters who remember their youth in roller rinks with disco lights flashing, hand-in-hand with their first crush, are now showing their kids they’ve still got it. And their kids are watching and posting videos on social media that are bringing new styles with a spin on the classic moves.
“All my friends are doing it,” said Chelsea Davis on a recent day practicing her backward skating, wearing bell bottom pants, a crop top and a fanny pack – looking like she stepped out of a completely different decade. “It’s a good way to get outside and get exercise, so it checks off multiple boxes at once. And you look really cool doing it.”
For Surf City Skates owner Toni Edwards, it’s an upward trend she’s long wished for – her business is booming with roller skating’s popularity. She owns one of several roller skating shops in Southern California to open in recent years, catering to the growing number of aspiring enthusiasts.
Like many who grew up in the ’80s, Edwards started roller skating as a kid. When inline skates hit the scene, Edwards refused to switch, joking she was the last of her friends at the rink.
At some point, she lost her roller skates when she moved to Huntington Beach from Yorba Linda in 1995. She took up surfing and skateboarding and dreamed of roller skating the boardwalk. But back in the early 2000s, there weren’t many places to buy old skates.
She eventually found some and started roller skating while pushing her daughter London, now 12, in her stroller. She’d turn heads and get the same question over and over.
“People would stop and ask me where I got my skates,” she said.
So she started buying all the ones she could find on eBay and Craigslist and reselling them.
“I became a skate dealer,” she said. “It’s just snowballed.”
She started combining her love for extreme sports with her roller skating and became a common fixture at the Vans Skatepark in Huntington Beach.
“I took my skates to the skate park and that changed my life,” she said. “It incorporated that California surf style movement in roller skating that I had never seen.”
In 2014, she nabbed a sponsor, Sure Grip in Los Angeles, and started selling the inventory of skates collecting dust in its warehouse.
Online sales saw an uptick the past few years, but even more popular were the pop-up garage sales Edwards would do in her yard.
It wasn’t long before she got her own shop, first in Old Town Huntington Beach near the Vans Skatepark. Then, in December 2019, her dream of being on Main Street near her home came true when she nabbed space in the Easy Rider Bike Shop – just months before the pandemic hit.
Edwards got lucky. Being inside a bike shop allowed her business to stay open because bicycles were considered transportation, and therefore, essential.
It was by the second week of April she noticed people were coming in more frequently.
“I was feeling the enthusiasm instantly, but I noticed after the shut down, it’s finally hitting,” she said. “My dream of roller skates in every household is coming true. … There were lines out of the door every day thereafter.”
There were reasons the customers kept coming. Some said they saw videos on social media that inspired them. Others were looking for ways to exercise outdoors with gyms shut down. Stimulus money put a little extra cash in their pocket and they wanted a fun activity to do, customers said.
The pop-up roller rink in Newport Beach? That never happened before the pandemic, Edwards said.
“But people during COVID were looking for ways to get outside and we live in such an amazing place, you can go outside every day,” she said. “The whole exterior of Southern California has become a place to skate.”
And as roller rinks open back up, Edwards said she expects “we’ll see a big resurgence.”
Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach is launching a retro pop-up outdoor rink from May 4 – May 19, based in part on the popularity of ice skating rink installed last December.
“With our beachfront location, we’re constantly seeing roller skaters and bladers of all ages skating to the beach. We’ve also seen an increase in guests bringing their own roller skates to the hotel to use on vacation,” said Kelsey Prince, director of marketing for Pasea Hotel.
The new addition will be called “The Rink,” a way for roller skaters to to “gather in a safe, outdoor space and get some exercise while experiencing a healthy dose of nostalgia,” she said.
Nostalgic theme nights take place every night, with themes such as “70s Night: Saturday Night Fever, 80s Night: Iconic Hair Metal and 90s Night: A Britney Spears Tribute,” with costumes encouraged.
If successful, The Rink will come back next fall, Prince said.
Cheryl Meier, of Aliso Viejo, recently discovered the Newport Beach scene by the sand. She, like many others, started skating again just recently, decades after hanging up her wheels.
“It’s this relaxed thing, this flow state,” she said. “I get in that relaxed place and that flow place and you’re not stuck in your thoughts. You’re concentrating on your balance and you’re present. If you’re not present, you’re going to fall.”
Looking for places she could skate, she saw people posting on social media about Newport Beach’s scene, just steps away from the water.
“It helps me let go of my problems and see this vast, expansive ocean and connect with people who are like-minded and have good vibes,” she said.
Roller skater Julene Uriarte prefers a more low-key place to skate, finding a roller hockey rink in Laguna Hills where few people go on weekends.
“If we come here early enough in the morning, we have it all to ourselves,” she said. “We have room to actually practice and roller skate.”
She just got her skates a few months ago and was working one recent day on the basics – not falling – keeping close to a wall, just in case.
Uriarte agrees the pandemic has a lot to do with the surge in people wanting to get into rollerskating.
“I think a big boost was COVID and people not able to do the normal things they could do,” she said. “So they reverted back to their childhoods.”