Becoming a rollerblading disco girl one flailing fall at a time. Photo by Mike Matheny on Unsplash

Becoming a rollerblading disco girl one flailing fall at a time. Photo by Mike Matheny on Unsplash

It’s a weird confession, but I woke up one Saturday late-morning and was itching to rollerblade around like a bar of Dial soap was strapped to my feet. I’ve never been good with “rollie” activities like roller skating, longboarding, ice skating, etc. My hands drip sheets of sweat, my heart starts pounding and my mind shows lovely films of my brain matter splatting on a dirty sidewalk. I prefer to keep my lower regions grounded to the Earth, as they say. But these last few months, I’ve been desiring to shake it up and become a hippie twirler rollerblading glam girl. Maybe not literally (I am an accountant by day after all), but I do enjoy the casual beaded anklet and physical challenge. As my first boyfriend said in high school, “Try the things that scare you the most.” And while our relationship fizzled out when he went to an ivy league, his teenage words are still lodged in my heart all these years later. It’s a pretty peculiar sentiment to keep from your first love, but he was wise for a physics kid.

My parents have always been uber-strict about sports requiring wheels, especially skating and longboarding. When all the girls with long blonde hair would longboard around the neighborhood, I’d get so wistful and stare at their Kool-Aid dyed tips. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t become a washed up rollie girl who had the pressure of learning wheel sports and looking cool doing it. Many broken wrists would’ve been involved.

Fast forward six years and the longing for gliding motion, derived entirely from my own thighs, has returned. This time, I’m not looking to slide with neighborhood surfer boys and feel wind through my bleached hair. The pandemic is inspiring odd hobby urges in everybody, and I figured it was time to learn something that gave me anxiety. That’s what is so head-scratching about rollerblading: I was able to roller skate and ice skate in elementary school (remember those AR parties?), but once I got to college, I couldn’t figure the damn thing out. In my co-ed fraternity, a popular rush event was going to the local skate station and mingling while wheeling. I tried roller skating on three separate occasions, but I ended up clinging to my big’s hand and flailing around like a cartoon duck. After these failures, I swore to stay off the rinks forever. Something about motion and balance didn’t click in my brain, so I watched on the sidelines as new rushes sashayed past my sweating face.

I don’t have time for physical anxiety anymore, especially now that I work nine hours a day and accounting gives me enough anxiety. I don’t recall where the idea to rollerblade as an adult popped up, but it wedged itself nicely into my latent desires. In July, I started watching rollerblading tutorials and envisioning myself balancing on plastic gizmos. I was searching high and low for a pair of affordable (and badass) blades, but apparently everyone wants to rollerblade during the pandemic.1 Even Facebook Marketplace, the blue mecca of big tech capitalism, was disappointing me. Switching to the dark side, I decided to check Offer Up (gasp! But seriously, Dick’s, Amazon, Big 5 and local dealers were wiped clean of blading inventory). I was in Long Beach, CA at the time, still buzzing from my trip to Joshua Tree National Park when I decided to pursue Offer Up. Surely, in California of all places, a spare pair of blades was somewhere to be found. I was desperate for a few hours, but eventually, a white & purple pair of Roces skates popped up on my shopping feed.

Look at those beautiful clunky boots

Look at those beautiful clunky boots

The seller was 0.2 miles away from me, and her profile picture displayed her face inside an anime plush cat suit: it was destiny. When I tried on the rollerblades, my butt trembled on the Spanish tiles and my fingers were clumsy with the Velcro. I felt so scared and powerful at the same time - here were these chunky shoes that could whisk me under a car or over the highest peak. It was up to me to master the blades and bend their unyielding plastic to my will. All pomp aside, I was nervous as hell. I’m well aware of my rollie limitations, and I had just forked over $65 (plus $75 for protective equipment) on a whim. How the heck was I going to learn a sport from YouTube videos?

It turns out, learning the theory of rollerblading from German skating instructors is simple. I nailed the V-formation, the “perfect fall,” and the slalom inline style in my mind, dreaming of blading into the wilds right before I fell asleep. Of course I would romanticize the most basic pandemic hobby. When I tried rollerblading for the first time, however, my knees were shaky as noodles. “How the hell does anybody actually do this?” I wondered, standing up and falling over again. My feet felt so heavy and leaden, like I was carrying bibles on my toes. Since I was practicing on hardwood floors, I could practice the perfect fall and V formation easy enough, but actual motion was petrifying. Imagine having large cruise ships attached to your feet going way faster than their 5,000 passengers (plus cooking staff) would allow. The world was shifting underneath me, literally, and my determination was slipping.

The first few times rollerblading outside were not glamorous. Instead of being one of those sexy Impala models, I was clinging to my boyfriend’s hand and nearly in tears because I felt so frustrated and terrified. The sidewalks were uneven and partially lifted up in places, so I had no confidence in my balance or athletic abilities. I thought it would be effortless like the YouTube videos…I theoretically should position my feet in a “V” and simply fall into an easy sway. Nope - I was wearing an embarrassing amount of gear, falling down on the sidewalk and getting nervous whenever I saw another person. I cried a few times while my boyfriend was bleeding because my nails pierced him so hard. I was a wreck!

Everything changed when I rollerbladed on a smooth surface, impeded only by washed up sand. Long Beach has a bike and skating path that stretches from Belmont Pier to the Queen Mary. On a typical Friday night, it’s crawling with LBC bike gangs and skater squads of incredibly cool Californians. During the afternoons though (especially during a pandemic), the path is clear of intense athletes and open to the noob public (AKA me). Once my skates touched the porous surface, baby I was gliding like butter. I was still scared of falling, but I could blade freely and without the tedious friction of sidewalks. It was marvelous! I was blading at a turtle’s pace but I felt so free and exhilarated, especially when my boyfriend removed his hand from the small of my sweaty back. Here I was, rollerblading in Long Beach, CA exactly as I had dreamed. The other pedestrians were encouraging (“You got this!”), and the pro-bladers, especially the ones dancing while rollerblading, were true inspirations. I had forgotten what it felt like to struggle physically with a new skill and finally achieve some progress. It wasn’t much progress, but I was gliding on my own and smiling. :)

Also, it’s difficult as heck rollerblading while wearing a mask. The wire rim was digging into my eyebags and the gauze smelled like old mouth.

Once I got back to Phoenix, I was determined to keep up my rollerblading #skills and actually attain an intermediate level. As of today, I’m still leery of going downhill and doing any tricks besides stopping, but the fear of shattering my face is gone. My basic stride could use some work (it’s not as easy as the “V formation”), and I still get wobbly/nervous when I see another human. Despite all that and the noobish protective gear, I’m so happy when I rollerblade. I feel like I’m conquering my fears whenever I hit the pavement and rewiring my neural networks. The “T stop,” slalom skating and the circle stop are still mysteries to me, but when I’m blading alone - watching the fuchsia sun dip below Camelback Mountain - I am at peace. It turns out anxiety is a natural part of the learning process and without experiencing it, long-term fear cannot subside. So I roll back and forth the same stretch of canal path, the jumping Arizona crickets darting in between my wheels. I’ll be an Impala skate girl by Christmas time, I swear.

  1. Side note: Although the pandemic sucks, the flourishing of hobbies is a beautiful and healthy phenomena. Mornings are spent with mindfulness and evenings are dripping with self actualization. That may be an exaggeration, but when our lives aren’t consumed 24/7 with acts of “work,” we can be pretty happy creatures. ↩︎