How roller-skating became the sport du jour of the pandemic.
Claire Brnjac // Arts and Culture Editor
Annika McFarlane // Illustrator
Two months into quarantine, I made a roller rink in my dad’s garage.
The rink itself wasn’t a lot; it was just a clear space that was devoid of broken glass and dirt. When my skates arrived a month later, I tentatively strapped them on and made my dad move his car to the road while I wobbled my way around the small space in tight circles. Amateur as it felt, there was the thrill of freedom in the way I zoomed around.
I got the idea to try roller-skating from a social media trend on the app TikTok, where beautiful, graceful people zoomed down streets and did tricks in cute skates without breaking a sweat. During the pandemic, other people did the same, causing stores like Roller Girl, a roller skate shop in Mount Pleasant, to have their highest sales in fifteen years.
To understand the fervour and to better understand how to learn a sport in quarantine, I talked to Carla Smith, the co-founder of Rolla Skate Club, a Vancouver-based roller-skating facility, who had noticed this jump in popularity as well.
“In our first month back, we had almost a hundred people come through our introductory class pass,” Smith said, noting Rolla Skate Club’s introductory online, and now in-person, lesson packages. “So, there is definitely a backlog of people who are interested to come in, and people were eager.”
When asked why roller-skating in particular seemed to have gained popularity, Smith shrugged. “It’s a very good socially distant thing to do nowadays. Like, if you can put on a pair of rollerskates and go onto the bike path or down your street or onto a tennis court, it’s great. It’s a great way to get outside and be active.” She mentions that it’s a community-driven sport as well—the roller derby scene in Vancouver is one she cherishes, as she got her start in it when she first came to Vancouver in 2007.
“Not [just] roller derby,” she said, “There’s roller dance, and roller workout.” Smith got her start making roller-skating workout videos before the pandemic, so she sees the current pivot to video-making as a Groundhog Day-like scenario, but a much scarier circumstance.
“In March, we started literally in our living rooms like, okay, how can I get my camera set up? We were lucky enough to be able to get some space for that in the Roller Girl basement, so we have kind of like a little recording studio down there.” She sees them continuing their dual Zoom call classes and pre-recorded videos in the future. They are also in the process of starting up new learn-to-skate packages and classes in their Kerrisdale location, and expanding into a new location in the Shipyards. Their rental skate service has a collection of over a hundred and fifty pairs of skates, in every size.
I asked if she had any advice for new roller-skaters like myself, wobbling our way through our own improvised set-up. She stood up and demonstrated a position that she calls the “Oh Shit Position,” where skaters in fear of falling crouch down and hug their knees to avoid hitting the ground.
If you can’t avoid falling? “Ideally, you have time to pick a cheek,” she laughs. “It’s the worst fall ever, but it happens a lot.”