Rollerblading Sees Resurgence Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

May 23, 2020
Originally published on May 23, 2020 6:17 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SAM D'AGOSTINO: Well, I am standing up, which is always the hardest part.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Most days, yes, but Sam D'Agostino (ph), who lives in Washington, D.C., has also just taken up rollerblading around a parking lot. He says it's going well so far.

D'AGOSTINO: (Laughter) Relative to what? I've only fallen maybe a half-dozen times. But one of those included bruising my hand so badly that I thought it was broken and immediately, like, had to make use of my telehealth subscription.

SIMON: Sam D'Agostino skated as a child but never really considered it an adult activity until this pandemic. He needed exercise, craved a new activity and discovered...

D'AGOSTINO: Oh, my God. It's totally thrilling.

SIMON: Rollerblading - which is actually a brand name for in-line skating - peaked in 1998 when 32 million people laced up and glided into the streets. But...

JOEL RAPPELFELD: It went through its ups and downs, and I'm hoping this will be the new up. It'll be lovely.

SIMON: Joel Rappelfeld is a rollerblading enthusiast. He owns a company called the Roll America InLine Skate School (ph), and he teaches classes in New York. In the early '90s, he wrote a book called "The Complete In-Line Skater." He remembers the days when you could see rollerbladers just about everywhere.

RAPPELFELD: Back in the day, if you go to Central Park or any park worldwide, the ratio is - what? - seven skaters to two runners to one walker.

SIMON: But then lame Adam Sandler. He ridiculed rollerblading in his 1999 film "Big Daddy."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIG DADDY")

ADAM SANDLER: (As Sonny Koufax) Fall down. Yes. Oh, come on, damn it. You suck. You suck. You suck.

SIMON: And The Most Interesting Man in the World piled on, the debonair Dos Equis man, in a commercial slugged "On Rollerblading."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONATHAN GOLDSMITH: (As The Most Interesting Man in the World) No.

SIMON: Did you hear that? No. The X Games said the same thing when they dropped in-line skating. Rollerblading got what you might call a reputation.

RAPPELFELD: It was becoming the nerdy sport.

SIMON: That year, 2005, just over 16 million people said they rollerbladed, half as many as at the sport's peak.

RAPPELFELD: I still, to this day, don't know where they went.

SIMON: Into a bush, on the sidewalk, an ambulance - hard to tell, isn't it? But now they just might be strapping those skates back on. Joel Rappelfeld has started getting more calls. And Rollerblade, a brand of in-line skates, reports a 300% increase in demand. Part of what might be propelling this old, new again trend is hockey.

SARAH NURSE: Because it's the closest thing that does simulate skating.

SIMON: Most players, like Sarah Nurse of Team Canada's national women's hockey team, don't have access to ice rinks right now, but, of course, they still have to stay in shape.

NURSE: Rollerblades is a great way to do that because, you know, you can rollerblade anywhere in the world as long as you have kind of that flat surface, right?

SIMON: Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers tweeted a video of himself rollerblading through his house. So did Patrick Marleau of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Wayne Gretzky said in an interview he'd rollerblade if he needed a practice. Sarah Nurse says that rollerblading keeps you fit.

NURSE: I think it's good for your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings. I mean, I kind of take, like, 10, 15 minutes. I'm kind of going easy, just that constant motion. I'll usually pick it up for, like, 10 or 15 minutes after that where I'll go and kind of burst. Like, I guess it'd be probably, like, interval training.

SIMON: Joel Rappelfeld isn't surprised to see rollerblading return.

RAPPELFELD: People can still go out and skate together, still be distanced apart enough, but still be able to talk with each other. Where with cycling or with running, it's hard to chat, but with skating, it's more fluid. You actually - every stroke takes you 10 feet. So during that gliding time, you have more freedom to be social.

SIMON: If you're one of those people who is thinking about picking up rollerblading right now, Joel Rappelfeld urges this one caution.

RAPPELFELD: Don't forget the gear. Don't put your gear on after you fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARABESQUE SONG, "ROLLER STAR")

RAPPELFELD: So I'm hoping this could be the new, you know, the new wave. And I'll be happy to be part of it. As I always say, keep on rolling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLLER STAR")

ARABESQUE: (Singing) Roll, roll, roller star, roll on. Roll on, roller star. Come on. Teach me how to skate. Let me be your roller mate. Roll, roll, roller star, roll on. Roll on, roller star. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.