The Unappreciated Fun of Roller Skating as a Family
Looking for a new family hobby? Roller skating is good for your health, fun for all ages, and something to enjoy year-round.
As schools closed due to the pandemic in March 2020, I did something unexpected: I impulse-bought myself a pair of jungle print roller skates. It was totally random because not only was I a working mother of four with the kids at home for months on the horizon, but I also didn't even know how to roller skate. Yet I just couldn't resist that vision of myself zooming through the sunshine, feeling powerful and free.
Fast forward to more than a year later, and that vision is now my reality (just imagine a bit more stumbling). Even better, my kids are all on skates now, too. Schools closing for the second time in January 2021 in London, where we live, gave us plenty of time to master the activity, which seems to be everywhere: TikTok, Emma Corrin skating through Kensington Palace as Princess Diana in The Crown, the local park or pavement near you. I know why—it's fun, can be done indoors or out, and is as appealing to toddlers as it is to teens. Plus, it's exercise that doesn't feel like exercise. What's not to love?
Here's what you need to know before you start roller skating with your family.
The Benefits of Roller Skating
"Roller skating is a great exercise for kids and families," says Lois Lee, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, senior associate in pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital, and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Even younger kids, with the appropriate type of gear, can do it, and it definitely has cardiovascular benefits."
Another perk of the activity: it can be enjoyed year-round, outdoors or in, adds Dr. Lee. And if you're skating outdoors, you'll also benefit from fresh air and being in nature.
Jocelyn Marie Goode, a mom of two and founding director of the African-American Roller Skate Museum, likes that roller skating not only builds up muscular strength (in the core muscles, quads, glutes, and legs), but also character—you have to get used to falling over and over again and learn to be patient with yourself, whether you're 5 or 45.
Along with building resilience, roller skating also suits all sorts of personality types since it can be a solo activity or a social one. "It's one of those activities a child can completely enjoy alone, as well as with others, so there isn't a dependency on a team or even an instructor to make it fun," says Goode. It's also an inclusive hobby. "People of all ages, ethnicities, and identities love to skate. Kids who roller skate get to participate in a richly diverse community of roller skaters and be accepted," adds Goode.
Roller Skating or Rollerblading?
Whether you choose roller skates or rollerblades is up to you. There are a few differences to note between the two, like how the wheels are laid out. Rollerblades, also called inline skates, have a single frame with wheels (usually between three and four) going down the length of the sole and a heel brake. In contrast, roller skates have four wheels, two in the front, two in the back, and a stopper brake at the toe.
"Inlines and roller skates are not necessarily better than the other, they are just different. This is usually personal preference so it's never a bad idea to try both to find out what you like," explains Karli Craig from Moxi Roller Skates.
Generally, inline skates will pick up quicker speeds, and tend to navigate rougher outdoor terrain better, while roller skates are the ideal choice for indoor skate sessions. Also, Craig points out, "Inlines usually have a bit more ankle support, but roller skates have more stability."
How to Start Roller Skating
Having the right safety gear and equipment is key to an enjoyable roller-skating experience. You can find roller skates and blades in a range of styles and colors from stores like Target and designer skates from brands like Moxi. Paragon has a good selection of kids' inline skates from well-reviewed brand Rollerblade, which is also the one often recommended by instructors.
Look out for skates which are extendable and grow with your child (these are useful value-for-money options for parents who want to pass down skates to younger siblings).
According to U.K.-based Asha Kirkby, founder of Skatefresh and a skating coach for 21 years, you'll want to ensure you get roller skates with toe stoppers to brake (inline skates should always have a heel brake) and always opt for skates with cuffs that go over the ankle—these offer more support. If you can get to a shop to get fitted, even better: you want these skates to fit your child properly.
Both kids and their parents should also invest in knee, elbow, and wrist pads (these often come in a set), as well as helmets. Protective gear is crucial to protect from abrasions and scrapes, or worse like a sprained wrist, broken leg, or head injury. The latter are less common, but do occur, which is why wearing helmets and pads is so important.
Kids who don't want to wear the protective gear may change their minds if they see their parents wearing them. "Modeling that good behavior for the kids will help your kids wear that protective gear but also protect you from injuries as well," says Dr. Lee. And I've learned that if you insist on padding the kids up from that very first skate, it becomes second nature to them.
Where to Take Roller Skating Lessons
Whether you want to skate indoors or out, getting a few lessons under your belt isn't a bad idea, and there are plenty of ways to learn.
For starters, you can access a range of videos and teachers free online to learn the basics. YouTube has lots of video tutorials with a range of instructors, for kids and adults at all ages and abilities.
"Also, give your local roller rink a visit. They may offer beginner/kids' classes. You may find someone in your area that offers classes. If so, be sure they are a trusted professional," Moxi's Craig advises. Private and group lessons are often available in local parks, too.
If you want to give it a go on your own, Skatefresh's Kirkby says one way to start is to take the kids onto the grass to practice a move she calls "pizza and chips." This will teach them two positions to get moving and rolling safely, one with the feet in a V position, the other, cruising in parallel.
For adults, Skaterobics is another option for fun online classes, including those that teach you dance moves and skills on wheels as you get more proficient.
And don't forget: if your little one has a birthday coming up, roller skating birthday parties are a great option.