Like the Doppler effect of a passing train, a semi-in-tune rendition of “Walking on Sunshine” grew in volume from behind me as I dragged my sweaty, hungover corpse through the University of Illinois’ main quad. I already knew what this was, and I stepped aside just in time to dodge a rail-thin, painfully pale and shirtless man as he sailed by me on rollerblades.
Yes, rollerblades. This was in 2010, no less, more than a decade after my childhood friends and I unstrapped our skates for good in the seventh grade. I remember how good it felt to rollerblade over to my main man’s house in my K2s to watch Brink and suck down a couple Capri Suns. So when the campus rollerblader blazed by me without a care in the world, I burned up. I knew in my heart of hearts I’d never again achieve that level of pure, uninterrupted happiness.
And so far, another decade later, I’m proud to say I was right. But what if the key to unlocking that unadulterated happiness was staring me in the feet the whole time?
What if I never gave up the skates?
In fact, I have never seen a sad person wearing rollerblades. They look like freedom from fear and judgment. They look like unabashed joy. (Which is probably why all our used inline skates made their way to Nairobi, where they’ve become a phenomenon. Also why I can’t find mine.)
So, I reached out to some guys who still rollerblading to see if this is truly the key to happiness. Has the internet changed anything? What does the stigma look like? And, uh, can I try yours on?
Matt Ginsburg, a 32-year-old in California, first learned to rollerblade in first grade, around 1992. “My whole family got them and we started doing it. After that, we would rollerblade up the beach as a family on the weekends,” he tells MEL.
For 16 years, he held onto his old blades, “but college partying and starting a work life interfered with me ever really getting back into it.” That is, until four years ago, when his wife wanted to try Roller Derby, so he bought a new pair of rollerblades so he could practice with her.
John Craig, a 32-year-old in Canada, discovered rollerblading in the ’90s after seeing “pro online skater A.J. Jackson tearing it up on the game show.”
He bought his first pair of “neon-orange Blade Runners by Rollerblade Brand,” and he hasn’t put down rollerblades since — other than during a brief experiment with skateboarding.
Matt Plasencia, a 28-year-old in Pittsburgh, got into it around 2003, “so definitely after the height of its popularity,” he laughs. “What really got me into it initially was the movie Brink.” Plasencia continued rollerblading for a few years until he tore his ACL in his 20s.
“What got me back into it was just the simple fact of missing it,” he tells MEL. “Rollerblading had been my obsession for years, so I slowly started easing my way back into it, kind of defining how it fits into my life.”
Hello, Old Friend
Picking up an activity they thoroughly enjoyed as kids has been a unique experience. After all, they didn’t quit rollerblading because they grew to hate it, they just quit because adulting tends to smother out everything good in life. So now, as with all hobbies in adulthood, the challenge is mixing the two.
“I used to run a lot while pushing my son in his stroller, but I started to feel some pain in my knees and I didn’t want to risk needing knee surgery, so I dialed back on the running and am now rollerblading. It doesn’t feel as good a workout, but I’m able to keep up with my wife on her electric skateboard, and now we go on ‘family cruises’ where we skate the same beach I did with my family when I was a kid.”
Ginsburg teaching his son to blade:
“Everytime I strap on my blades, I feel like a kid again,” Craig tells MEL. “I feel free of worries and less stressed from the problems of adulthood. It’s a fantastic way to really let go and just be in the moment. It’s such a serene feeling of peace and nostalgia.”
In addition to curating a 5,000-subscriber count on his rollerblading YouTube page, Craig will rollerblade to friends’ houses, to the store and to take his dogs on walks. “Anything to spread awareness that people still blade!” he adds. “I’m 32 years old now and I can see myself rollerblading well into my senior years.”
Plasencia might not have cared much about how much exercise he got from rollerblading as a kid, but now he considers it a major plus. “I really appreciate the health aspect too, it’s kept me active,” he tells MEL. “Half the dudes I went to high school with now are very out of shape and unhealthy.”
One thing that’s cool about blading as an adult? Having money. It’s way too tempting to splurge on upgrades. “As a kid I would wait for a birthday to ask for a new pair of blades I really wanted,” says Ginsburg. “Now if I want something, I have to spend time trying to convince myself not to buy it, because I already have what I need and extra blades or parts would just sit in my garage.”
At the same time, Ginsburg says, he feels more responsible. He’s “much more aware that there are consequences to any injuries.” That’s something he learned the hard way as a kid: He opted not to wear his mouthguard and broke his two front teeth doing a “trick I’d done 100 times.”
“Since then, my teeth have fallen out before dates, business meetings and other embarrassing moments not to have teeth,” he says. “So now I wear the helmet, pads and mouth guard without a second thought. Beyond being injured, I have a family now. I can’t risk a serious injury just to look a little cooler.”
Rollerblading on a Rebound
Thanks to the internet, rollerblading is making a comeback. All the three guys say without social media, rollerblading would have died in the 2000s, but the community is slowly seeing more growth.
But as any hobby goes that sells its soul to the internet, the internet wants one thing in return: content.
“As an adult, I am more into keeping the sport alive by promoting the sport and growing the numbers. It’s all about the youth and healthy growth,” Plasencia says, adding that the addition of content creation to rollerblading is something he welcomes. “Thanks to rollerblading, I’ve discovered filming and editing. I always wanted to be in front of the camera when I was younger; now I want to film the crew and make good videos. That sort of creativity is really fun.”
“Essentially, [the internet] brought rollerblading back from the dead ever since social media blew up in 2010,” says Craig. “It opened a new way to see how people blade across the world, and you realize that in many places, blading never died to begin with!
“It’ll never be on TV again like the golden era of Blade Warriors or the X Games, but it has enough momentum to keep motivating people through online content, which is all it needs. Rollerblading doesn’t need massive investments to thrive, just the same passionate people [bringing] awareness to the children who haven’t tried rollerblading yet.”
A Newfound Community
Beyond feeling the need to promote the sport and create content, the rollerbladers find solace in their burgeoning online community.
“The community around rollerblading is also stronger than ever,” Craig explains. “This one shared passion is enough to bring all kinds of people together you would normally never get to meet.”
Much like the Esperanto passport service, Craig says, he’s “literally had people let me stay on their couch in foreign cities simply because we arranged plans to rollerblade while in town visiting on vacation or whatever.”
“Our numbers don’t compare to skateboarding, but we are tight-knit, down to help each other whether skating-related or not, and we have made good friendships in the process,” Plasencia explains, adding that he’s got a pretty good group of IRL rollerbros.
“I skate with some awesome dudes these days,” says Plasencia. “We are all in our late 20s and early/mid-30s, but we have sessions at least once a week, do some street skating and are nonstop messaging in our WhatsApp group. Plus we constantly upload rollerblading videos to our Google Drive. It’s really dope, we all support and push one another. Then once blading is done, we grab a beer. It’s a good process,” he laughs.
Ginsburg doesn’t have as much luck. He wouldn’t have a rollerblading community without Reddit, Instagram and Facebook. “I am the only person I see on rollerblades anytime I go to the skate park, and I rarely see another person on them at the beach,” he tells MEL. “So it definitely helps to see other people going through many of the same situations as myself even if they are in another state or country.”
“I’m not sure if rollerblading is making a comeback, but I know things tend to come full circle, and if it ever swings in our favor again we’d better be smarter and focus on long-term growth and whatever that takes,” Plasencia concludes. “Rollerblading will never die, and that’s what is most important.”