What I Learned Growing up Rollerblading in the 2000s
"I love being on skates. I think everyone has an activity where they feel tranquil and at peace or whatever."
I started rollerblading as a kid because it was everywhere. You'd see it on Heartbreak High everyday after school. Drazic and the guys were always blading and it looked really cool to me. Or if you were in a holiday program, one of the days would be going to a skate rink. Choosing rollerskates was never an option.
When I started in '98, inline was still pretty popular. Plus, Darwin — where I grew up — was so isolated that trends took a while to get there and even longer to take hold. Also I had a solid group of friends who I skated with.
Back then I used to skate with rollerbladers and skateboarders and never felt any animosity between the groups. It was common for there to be rollerbladers who skated and skateboarders who rollerbladed — they would switch. It didn't matter if I was blading or skating, I was just fascinated with extreme sports. I just happened to keep going with rollerblading. I had a board and I would muck around trying to grind or ollie, but I personally had more fun with inline and liked it more.
My family moved to Melbourne in 2000. In retrospect, the sport was definitely dying by then, but it was still big compared to now. You'd go to a skatepark and encounter rollerbladers you'd never seen before. Now everyone knows everyone.
Around this time, companies — predominantly skateboarding brands or ones linked to pop culture — started using rollerblading as a way to create a message. It was like they were putting us down as a way to seem cool. Whatever the reason, it worked. By the early 2000s, rollerblading had been dismissed as a thing cool people did.
It's self-preservation. When you're promoting something and trying to sell a product, it comes down to money. You don't want kids to be like: oh what, I can have a choice? You want them to be thinking: Oh skateboarding is the right thing to do. It's been reinforced in the media that rollerblading is not something that's cool.
By about 2004, you would have people going past in cars — always blokes —shouting out stuff like POOFS! Or rollerblading SUCKS! It was always something. You wonder where these opinions are sourced. What causes a person to lean out of their car to shout a profanity at me? It's not specific to rollerblading. Those people would do that to anyone they think is uncool or lame or whatever. They'll laugh at someone for wearing something different or having a weird haircut. It just happens that, somewhere down the line, rollerbladers became fair game too.
Because of that, I sometimes get hesitant when people want to know about rollerblading. Are they legitimately interested, or are they just wanting to slag it off?
The decline happened organically. It was only really noticeable at dedicated events. A lot of the older generation had to get jobs and figure out their own lives so they weren't skating as much or organising things. I've always put on skate meets to try and promote involvement. But you would definitely see fewer people as time went by.
In my personal group of friends, at crew level, it also got smaller. There was a good group of us in 2007 and 2008, but by 2009 a lot had quit. Whether they got into other things or moved away from Melbourne, it just got smaller and smaller.
It was disheartening, especially with your friends because that's the main thing about any type of skating—it's a very social activities. When I'm rollerblading I'm hanging out with my friends. It's probably why I've kept doing it for so long.
Friendship is the main thing that's kept me motivated. As the number of rollerbladers has decreased, the community has gotten tighter. The other thing is that I just love doing it. I love being on skates. I think everyone has those activities where they feel tranquil and they're at peace or whatever.
One of the main issues facing rollerblading is there aren't many young people doing it. It's symbolic of life: you need the young to replace the old. A continuous cycle of youth is what rejuvenates things. Within rollerblading we don't have many young kids. Without that it's hard to visualise growth. Even so, I can still honestly say that rollerblading is in a good place right now and as long as there are people out there who love doing it, it'll be there – maybe just a bit out of sight.
Ultimately it takes a long time for opinions to change. Sometimes people need to be challenged or they'll never think why do I think this way? What was the source of this opinion?
For the most part people haven't seen rollerblading for a long time. It's in such a minority you have to be in the right place at the right time to actually catch someone doing it. It's not on television anymore, it's not in the movies, it's not in the public eye. But when people hear I rollerblade, a lot of times they're fascinated. There's a sense of curiosity. I think people are actually more open than before.
When you're growing up in the minority, or doing something different from everyone else around you, you're always going to encounter resistance. And maybe it makes you more resilient. That's not specific to rollerblading, it could be someone who is experiencing that through anything that's considered non-linear. But for me it's how I learned to cope with people who aren't open minded.
Growing up there's a point where you turn 18 and leave school. You start going to uni, art school, bars and clubs, and you're taken out of the context of skateboarding vs inline skating. I found I started to become friends with a lot of skateboarders again. You find you actually have a lot of things in common and you realise it doesn't matter what you're choosing to do. You're still people, you're still human. Now some of my closest friends are skateboarders. What you do skating wise becomes irrelevant.
As told to Wendy Syfret. Follow her on Twitter: @Wendywends