Davis: The death of a sport


Over the past few years I started to notice that the number of in-line skaters, a.k.a. rollerbladers, has been declining. I have been skating for at least 25 years and I consider it one of the best forms of exercise. Apparently millions of people no longer find it appealing, so I tried to do a little research to find out why.

As far back as 2011 the sport was declared dead in a story in the Oregonian by Rachel Bachman. She noted that, "Twenty-two million people strapped into the rigid skates with the single-file wheels at least once in the year 2000, five million more than played baseball. By 2010 the number of in-line skaters had plummeted by 64 percent, the second-biggest drop in a sports or fitness activity in that span. Only its cousin roller hockey fell further, 65 percent, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association."

So what happened? Based on reading different blogs and accounts it sounds to me that people just no longer found the sport appealing for a number of reasons. Sure, in-line skating is not easy and it takes time to learn how to enjoy it without causing serious injury. I suspect Americans, in particular, did not want to spend the time to do something that might take skill and patience.

Another factor has to do with how difficult it is to stop on skates. But there are ways to deal with stopping if you really want to be safe on skates. The first lesson I learned is that you should not go faster than you feel is safe. In other words, while you are skating decide how hard you will fall and adjust your speed accordingly.

Safety equipment is a must and that is a turnoff for a lot of people. I always use wrist guards because the most common skating injury has been broken wrists. It is also a good idea to wear knee guards. Elbow guards might be good for some. I have never been convinced of the need for a helmet unless you are a complete klutz. In that case, skating is probably not a good sport for you.

Stopping can be done with sensible skating. There is a rubber brake on the back of one skate and leaning back slows down a skater. The other stopping tactic has to do with planning your stop well in advance. Skating on flat surfaces is a must because hills are just too dangerous for skaters. If you do find yourself speeding up on an incline you can zig-zag and that is a very effective way to slow down and also stop.

Critics of skating also cite the difficulty in taking off skates when one has to heed nature's call or to simply walk into a store. That is why I bought skates from an Italian company years ago. Their Hypno skates have detachable wheels so you can easily go from skating to walking in a few seconds. However, with the near death of the skating industry, those skates are just about impossible to find.

My Hypno skates have finally reached the point where they are no longer safe to use. Duct tape and superglue can no longer repair the wear and tear they have sustained over the years. I thought I would buy myself a new pair of skates so I went to the usual local places that have sold skates over the years.

What I found in Brattleboro is that no one sells in-line skates anymore. Sam's sporting goods department does not sell them and Burrows Specialized Sports has also stopped selling them. I spoke to Bob Woodward, the owner of Burrows Specialized Sports, and he told me he only sold one pair all of last year. That's when I decided to confirm my sense that the sport of in-line skating is nearly dead.

Despite the popular death of in-line skating, I still find it a great way to exercise. It is low impact (if you don't fall) and it helps with balance and coordination. I hope to continue skating as long as I can walk and that is why I bought a new pair of skates last week. I had to search a lot online sites before I found what I wanted, but I am back in action and have no qualms about continuing to engage in a sport that has been declared dead.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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