There came a point last year when I couldn’t open Instagram or TikTok without being fed roller skating content, with people dancing on skates at the beach to Doja Cat or freestyle slaloming to Justin Bieber.
If only John Joseph Merlin could see his impact. The 18th century Belgian inventor is credited with the earliest version of what we now know as rollerskates. He first glided around on his “skaites” in the 1760s at a masquerade party, while also playing a violin, and crashed into a mirror. His skaites didn’t have brakes. He lived, but I can imagine party fouls still stung even 262 years ago.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, roller skating was inaccessible to most people during this time. 19th-century labor laws excluded a lot of the working class from enjoying skating (or anything, really) as a hobby, given they were working 14-hour days. The pastime became more accessible—and a lot more popular—in the 20th century, when the average workday was legally shortened.
I see a parallel with the roller skating revival during the pandemic: Many of us stopped going into offices, and on a higher level, reevaluated our relationship with corporate culture. Plus, no more commute time. It’s no wonder so many of us laced up and found joy in an activity away from desks, screens, the news, and within our communities.
It’s also a solid full-body workout. Our editors at our sister site just looked at nine things that make roller skating a great form of exercise: It’s good for focus and balance, strengthens calves and ankles, can reduce anxiety and stress, improve self-esteem and body image, and it doesn’t have to be too pricey. To name a few. Just make sure you wear your protective gear—distal fractures of the radius are one of the most common skating injuries. Protect those wrists (and elbows and knees and beautiful brains).
If you’re now feeling inspired to start skating, Brooklyn-based designer Jenny F. chose a colorful pair of $43 high-top rollerskates in an earlier Wellness Diaries to accompany her to summer roller disco nights. “It's hard to learn a new skill as you get older, but it's been pretty delightful so far and I haven't fallen on my butt yet,” she told us.
Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop in Long Beach, California also curated a roller skating starter pack. In a word, it’s euphoric, and everything is under $100. Check out this on-sale sky blue pad set and these Cynthia Rowley floral skates. Also taking reader recs.
Melanie, editor at The Nessie