For the first time, I pull tight on my sky-blue laces and tie in a bow. Then slide on velcro knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and buckle my sparkly, black helmet. Twenty minutes in, and I'm ready to wobble. Like the fledgling I am, I stand knees bent, arms out wide in front of me, preparing to fall. Fear-gripped, I ask myself, is this really worth it?
Turns out, I'm not the only rookie-roller taking my chances on the rocky-roads this summer. Stores like these, Nerd Roller Skates, a local skate shop based in Inglewood, have seen a definite increase in roller skate sales since the beginning of the pandemic.
"I've been hearing a lot of, ‘I kind of been thinking about it for a long time, but now there's nothing to stop me,’" says Kathleen Janzen, skating alias, Roxy Acetylene, owner and founder of Nerd Roller Skates.
An unlikely match for the sport, Roxy, an AUArts grad in silversmithing started skating in 2006 with a newly-not-quite-formed roller derby team here in Calgary. Her first derby coach said she would break every bone in her body. Instead, she excelled at the sport, becoming a founding member of Calgary's first league, the Calgary Roller Derby Association, and the co-owner of Calgary Roller Skates along with opening her own shop, Nerd Roller Skates.
Nerd Roller Skates storefront. Photo: Angela Lackey
QUARANTINE — WHY SKATE, WHY NOW?
Roxy believes the draw to the skating world is its versatility. Once you learn the basics, you can take roller skating in several directions from contact sports like derby to park skating, which is more trick-based. You can also explore more artistic methods like roller figure, roller disco and jam skating, which grew out of the hip-hop community.
"And for most people, even if all you do is you get some wheels on a sunny day, you go cruise down a pathway, stop for ice cream and have a nice day out, that's brilliant."
Quarantine has offered a unique opportunity for Calgarians to delve into something new. Roxy says it’s something they've been thinking about for a long time, but just never did.
"I think really having that bit of space in people's lives is giving them the chance to think about picking up something new or doing something different."
"It's an opportunity for people to put their minds
and body towards a better purpose."
Rhiannon George, 28, bought her first pair of roller skates from Roxy this past May. Inspiration, brought on by roller skaters on Instagram and TikTok doing incredible things outside on four wheels — She knew this was the time to try it out.
"There's just a little more free time which kind of makes it a perfect time to be able to learn things like roller skating," says George. "It's an opportunity for people to put their minds and body towards a better purpose."
As an ex-Lloyds-inline skater, she, like me, rejoined the sport as an adult remembering the days of gliding along, not a care in the world. Now a pebble is a boulder, and everything is terrifying. Also, like me, a challenge George is faced with is where to learn.
Rhiannon George with her brand new roller skates at the Nerd shop this past May. Photo: Roxy Acetylene
WHERE TO SKATE
COVID-19 has opened up time for those to explore the sport. But, it has closed down opportunities to learn inside amongst other skaters, on beautiful, even, waxed-wood surfaces. New skaters are left with the dilemma: Where can I learn now? And safely?
"With Lloyds (Calgary’s former skate venue) gone and without any opportunity to use arenas or other options like that, it makes for a steeper learning curve to be learning on the sidewalks and asphalt and avoiding the obstacles that are involved with that," says George.
"I like to make jokes that you can skate anywhere
if you believe in yourself."
For new skaters looking to break out of their homes, Roxy recommends finding a nice flat concrete pad, like a driveway, basketball court, or an outdoor skating rink. You can also try the pathway system or even your kitchen floor — people do that. Roxys adds it’s a bit of seek-and-explore your own neighbourhood to discover your local, favourite places.
"I like to make jokes that you can skate anywhere if you believe in yourself."
Happily heeding Roxy's advice and after a few days of driving around, checking out different outdoor skating rinks, parking lots and skate parks, I have learned a few things about what makes for the perfect local.
As a newbie, I won't be going to skate parks, at least until I get my sealegs. Parking lots have too much gravel, and they're hardly ever smooth enough for a comfortable ride. I've had the most success with outdoor hockey rinks - but it took several tries before I found one that was suitable.
Now that I've found my "local, favourite place," with the help of a push broom, I'm skating outside safely (nearly) every day.
To address the lack of open, dedicated space for skating, Roxy would love to see roller skaters in Calgary gather together to request this from the city.
WHERE LIES THE FUTURE
The future is bright in the world of roller skating. There is growing interest in Calgary, especially now. Roxy hopes the interest continues to grow outside of Quarantine.
"I just hope that this carries on as people will have to go back to their regular lives and jobs and things in that they discover some of that joy of being on wheels and that they want to carry that forward."
As I continue to fumble through the pandemic, now on eight wheels, I think about where Roxy started and where she is now.
She told me: "You'll get there and it's absolutely possible. It's given me a conviction that if I could do it and I could figure it out, then so can you."
- By Angela Lackey