Young Females Changing the Skating Game

Roller skating was always part of (pop)-culture. Its comeback adds a new chapter to the tradition of the sports.

Different to other trendy sports, roller skating is a very traditional activity, started as a pleasure for the masses at the end of the 19th century, in the same era as organized soccer in Europe, or baseball in the US. Nevertheless, there were many periods, in which it was regarded as extremely hip, or very lame. It seems, that roller skating is very adaptable to cultural cycles. Reason enough to pursue its renaissance further.

Roller skating as a female lifestyle

Let us start with an article in The New York Times. The text, titled in the print edition “Feminism On Skates”, has the subhead:

“Roller skates have become an accessory of female empowerment.”

Hayley Krischer (Journalist)

This statement points out two important aspects for understanding the current roller skating movement. It is acquired by mostly women and it transcends the function as only a trendy workout, or fashionable recreational activity. To understand this, we have to look back to the origin, that can be located in the early 2000s, when former sports entertainment roller derby was re- born as a grassroots, women-run competitive sport steeped in a feminism ethos. Since then roller derby gained an amazing popularity in women around the globe. Over the past years, pushed by the opportunities of social media, female empowerment became more individualistic, which outgrow that very regulated and intimate team sports. One step into increased visibility and individuality of female rollerskating begun with the Chicks in Bowls (CIB) movement: Women conquer the male dominated skateparks.

“The rules we set were it had to be all-inclusive (gender, religion, age, sexuality), no skill-level excluded – basically we wanted to form a safe environment for people who wanted to quad skate in parks.”

Samara Pepperell (Founder of Chicks in Bowls)

Roller skating in bowls and ramps isn’t for everybody, consequently also a less athletic form of roller skating paved its way, which took up dancing – an art form already captured by women. Modern dance has created a platform to comment on and combat inequalities. Roller skates has been always tools for expression in dancing and fit perfectly in the concept.

Accompanied by both the ongoing retro trend in pop-culture, and the impact of social media, it forms the basis for the new approach to roller skating.

1970s inspired tee offered by the retailer Old Navy in spring 2019

Emerging new skating culture utilizes social media

Most evident characteristic of the new roller skating scene is the adherence to social media. Some virtual locations of the new skating scene: Planet Roller Skaters has more than 2.3k members, the CIB Facebook page is followed by over 26k users, 3.2k members subscribed the reddit-sub “rollerskating”, the hashtags “rollergirl” and “rollerskating” are popular on Instagram. Michelle Steilen, most prominent skater in this scene, gained 95k followers on Instagram. Social media both influence and drive the trend. Exciting developments for roller skating enthusiasts, but I have noticed three main attributes, which causes disconcertment in “old-school” skaters.

  • Striving for uniqueness
  • Inclusion of small towns
  • Blowing off roller skating history

Being unique and creative is a trait that has incredible value on Instagram and social media platforms. Any study of how to sell to internet generation (call it millennials, generation y, z or else) shows that they want customized products, to have total control over as much of the process and product as possible, to present their creativity and uniqueness. Skates are perfect for that. Boots, plates, wheels – endless opportunities for mixture of colors, materials and parts. The manufacturers respond with colorful skates, with seasonal changes same as the fashion industry. Sharp contrast to the only in white and black available skating boots, few years ago. So fashion and the look of the skates – and the skaters – become same important as the activity on skates – some argue even more.

Although globalization and social media have equaled metropolises, suburbs and rural areas, and countries, everything is literally available everywhere, in reality the living conditions and lifestyles are very divers. Media focus on young hip urban audience, and Instagram stars in rural Idaho are actually not existing. Activities and shareable experiences, which connect young people from allover are sparsely. Roller skating is an exemption. Prerequisites are just skates and a smooth floor, the feeling of the freedom on skates neither depend on population, nor on money. In the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, skates symbolize freedom, a way for the protagonist to escape from the constraints of a small town. The connective effect of roller skating, shared via social media across lifestyles and cultures is important to understand the new roller skating scene.

As described, roller skating is an old-established activity. It has a rich history in African American culture, but also artistic roller skating, the last heyday in the 1980s, the modern roller derby, among others , left their marks and developed the perception of roller skating. In the past progress based on transfer of skills and tradition. For some surprising, new skaters do not have a very pronounced motivation to adopt existing styles and skills. Social scientists said, that younger people are an experience generation. That doesn’t only apply to goods, also to values. Make your own experience and share it – not adopt and develop. Unfortunately such behavior is often regarded as lack of respect for the skating culture.

Bridging the gaps

Skates – the boots with the tiny wheels – are not sufficient alone to create common values and interests among the users of those. Roller skating consists of a variety of subcultures, artistic roller skaters, recreational, bowls, outdoor, indoor, roller derby, African American skating, to name few of them. The young generation is adding another subculture. Roller skating sees a comeback, yearned by the skating community for many years. Take it as an opportunity. Internet and social media can have an impact and bring these roller skating subcultures closer together, to develop roller skating – the sports we love.