Will Skate Night ever be the same?
Every weekend across the US rollerskaters have enjoyed the American pastime of rollerskating. However, Covid 19 put a stop to all of this.
With rising costs, a strained economy, and shuttering family businesses is it possible that this is the beginning of the end to what we know as Skate Night?
It’s an evening in the Golden Gate Park, normally a sparsely frequented place on Friday nights but, at rush hour skaters begin to pour in. Soon the outdoor rollerskating space of specially designed smooth blacktop pavement begins to crowd up.
Outdoor rink attendance increased since Covid-19 created a retail boom in rollerskating. Skating’s popularity surged as a safe outdoor activity that keeps young people social, away from a sedentary computer Zoom happy hours, and trying something new. Social media propelled a well thriving hobby reserved for niche cultural interest and thrust it into the mainstream view. This created crowds craving the novel nostalgia of the 1970s and 1990s inline and roller skating scenes. In the park, handfuls of newly donned skaters wobbled across the dance floor moving awkwardly to maintain balance, their roller skates making a rainbow of colors and iridescent styles in contrast to older fashioned black and white skates.
Meanwhile, local rollerskating rinks like San Ramon’s Golden Skate, Antioch’s Paradise Skate, and San Francisco’s Church of 8 Wheels shuttered due pandemic restrictions and to date remain closed indefinitely. With high rents, low profit margins and an ever widening income gap the pressure has never mounted higher and stacked the cards so against family recreation centers such as rollerskating rinks.
As various businesses begin indoor re openings, rollerskating venues remain last on the list as quarantine restrictions end. This is only where the worries begin: six feet distance protocols, disinfecting roller skates from patron contact, limiting time on skate sessions, and mask requirements may put a greater financial burden and employee risk at the center of this challenge for re openings of rinks.
However this flux of new skaters presents possibility to a new market. Newer skate companies such as Moxi Rollerskates, Impala Skates, and Moonlight Rollerskates are unable to stay on shelves and are often sellouts in retail shops and online orders. New skaters building skill are beginning to get wind that there has been a rollerskating scene all along: quietly hidden from popular view as rinks have gone through waves of shuddering.
Many claim an already thriving community of roller skaters existed all along revealing mainstream viewpoints don’t always acknowledge marginalized communities.
Young children, family party gatherings, preteens/teens, artistic skaters, roller derby, and rhythm skaters all benefit from rollerskating. Specifically, Adult Night has been a gathering where Black community comes together to rhythm skate. This skate discipline formed an underground scene to showcase dance styles signature to rhythm and jam skating.
Like many recreational spaces for the Black community, there have been and continue to be struggles breaking in, sustaining, and being acknowledged for their contributions and this wave of the rising and falling interest in skating may be no different. Much of the new drive to pick up skates is led by a “whitewashed” online social media movement that doesn’t acknowledge most of socially minded physical gatherings of community that already existed including the rhythm skate community. Some would argue that this is economic business practice as usual: where underground cultures that thrived to provide outlets for marginalized communities is commercialized and profited from by corporations and popular media thus fueling erasure.
Due to this, a gap exists in the future of the skate community.
Newer clientele driven by retail online commercials are encouraged to form a pandemic safe network where they record their progress in videos, form meetups, and learn from social media content creators all online. Value is placed on well edited video accounts, colorful skate gear, playful outfits, high achieving influencers, and skate celebrities. While in contrast the Black led rhythm skate community thrives within a physical come-as-you-are model of gathering at rollerskating rinks and in travel circuits to show off highly skillful dance moves, skater ties similar to kinship, family style picnic gatherings, and group line dances.
The question is: will these two communities that celebrate rollerskating in varied ways unite? Will they provide the much needed revenue to keep rollerskating locations open? Or in contrast, will this opportunity be missed and cause the skating rinks to sink into the ever burgeoning real estate challenge to risk closures? The pressure is becoming real and only time will tell if the future of these facilities remains a vibrant diverse future or a faded memory of American nostalgia.
*The header image is Nick who we tragically lost September 9th 2020. To our skate community, the rinks will never be the same without him. Rest in peace Nick.