Jan. 9, 1990


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New in-line rollers help fad make speedy comeback
By Leslie Goldberg


ROLLER skating, like platform shoes, the Dave Clark Five and Corvettes, is due for a comeback. Talk out on the sidewalk says the fad is already starting to roll, picking up new converts (often former ice skaters) faster than you can say, "Watch where you're going!

Skeptics, check it out:

Sales for the newest, latest, in-line" skates, which look like a high-tech combination of ice skates and conventional skates, doubled last year. (Instead of wheels on each side of the foot, the in-line skates feature a single row of four or five wheels in the middle of the foot, similar to an ice skate blade.) A spokeswoman for Rollerblades Inc., the biggest in-line skate company, says the fad is showing no signs of letting up: Sales are expected to double again this year.

"Starlight Express," Andrew Lloyd Webber's megabucks musical now careening across the country (and currently at the Golden Gate Theatre) is performed totally au skate. "Roller Games," a glitzy version of the old "Roller Derby," has jostled its way on to the airways: 12:30 a.m. Sunday on KPIX, Channel 5, right after "American Gladiators." The Olympic Committee is allowing roller hockey as a demonstration sport for the 25th Summer Olympics to be held in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain.

The American Heart Association has dubbed roller skating an "aerobic sport," which strengthens the circulatory system as well as the large muscle groups.

OK, skating is hot, but don't expect to soon see your elderly next-door neighbor swooshing down the block on a pair of Roller blades. And just because roller skating is starting to gain popularity doesn't mean you should quickly invest your money in a favorite roller rink.

Roller rinks seem to be an endangered species. Tom Martinson, owner of the Rolladium, a San Mateo rink, said that about 11 area roller rinks have folded in the last few years, mostly due to insurance crisis. Roller World in Concord is slated to close up sometime in May. San Francisco has no roller rink.

"The biggest gains we see are in outdoor skating, particularly with the in-line skates," says Leonard Taylor of the United St Amateur Confederation of Roller Skating.

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You can't tell the new trends without a program. Just when you thought stair climbing machines were the hot new aerobic exercise, roller skating makes a comeback. Talk on the sidewalk says the fad is already starting to roll, picking up new converts (who are often former ice skaters) at a rolling place.
The in-line skates are seen most briskly among the generation too young to worry too much about broken bones and torn ligaments - the 18 to 35 age group. These skates (in-line) are faster and offer greater maneuverabilitv" says a Rollerblades spokeswman. "They also can go over bumps more easily."

Bumps? A Rollerblade promotional video showed skaters literally skating down stairs, over curbs, off 8-foot ledges. Bay Area skater Greg Levien, 24, and his buddy; Mike Riddle, 17, swear they went rock climbing in Glen Park Canyon wearing their in-line skates. "It was great workout for our legs."

Skaters say they can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. Ingrid Gabrian, 25, who has skated down from Twin Peaks, as well as do Powell Street and Clipper Street, describes the experience as "close to the edge of death."

The San Francisco traffic code allows roller skating on the street. No special speed restrictions exist for roller skaters. "They have the same limits as cars," says San Francisco police spokesman Jerry Senkir. "If they can go 35 miles an-hour, more power to them. He added with a laugh, "especially on the freeway." .

Skating on the sidewalk in business districts is, however, prohibited.

Gabrian also skates under trucks (parked) and atop the Ocean Beach retaining wall. "Something that wide (the wall) you should be able to skate on," she says. "I like practice things and not be afraid of falling. Falling shouldn't be one of your fears."

Falling may not be one Gabrian's fears, but the chance of it does give her mother a start. "She (her mother) was driving through the park and she saw me," says the skater. "What scared her was that was going faster than she was"

Gabrian's mother's not the only I person perturbed by the sight of maniacs on skates. "They hate us I at.Pier 39," says David Miles, founding_member of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol. "They want to call out the National Guard." In his 11-year skating career, Miles has missed only seven skating Sundays in the park. "I couldn't imagine a world without skating," he says.

David Miles and a group of 11.others twice skated from Los Angeles to San Francisco, as part of a city-sponsored campaign, Skate Against Crack and Violence. One trip took about two days, with each skater completing about 150 miles.

When he's home, Miles and his skating friends go in for "afterhours" skating: 10 or 11 at night until the wee hours when the traffic's not bad. Some Tuesday nights they might skate across town to the Financial District or to the Wharf. School playgrounds and underground parking garages are favorites.

Recently, a small but dedicated pack of skaters tackled the now closed-due-to-earthquake-hazard Embarcadero off-ramp. "It was great," says one of the be-wheeled urban adventurers. "We got to see some of the (earthquake damage) up close."

Visiting new and unusual places via skates is great sport,. say the skaters. Ingrid Gabrian does her laundry, goes to movies and does her shopping (at Tom's Natural Food Store) on skates.

"I dance in my kitchen wearing my skates," says another skater.

While skate dancing is still part of the scene, in-line skate manufacturers are apparently trying to distance themselves from the disco/spandex skating fad of the late '70s. "We want people to look at it as a whole new sport," says the Rollerblades spokeswoman.

The American Heart Association has published a pamphlet, "Roller Skating for a Healthy Heart," stating that 20 minutes of vigorous skating three times a week can go a long way to build fitness. Some athletes from sports such as skiing, running, rowing, and cycling are touting skating as a way to cross-train. According to Rollerblades, members of the U.S. Ski Team, 7-Eleven Cycling Team, Reebok Cycling Team, the U.S. Biathalon Ski Team, Cross-Country Canada and the Boston Bruins skate on Rollerblades

Skaters say their sport doesn't pound the joints the way, say, running does. Skating is generally considered "low-impact," although a spill on the pavement can certainly be considered "high impact." Typically, skaters wear heavy plastic knee guards and wrist protectors. "I'd say it's a lot harder to fall with these skates (in-line)," says' _ San Francisco skater Pat Mulrooney

Apparently, it's a lot harder to stop with the in-line skates. Many skaters don't like the built-in brake on the back of the skate and prefer to learn "hockey skater's stop," which involves turning and skating backward.

"The stop is the hardest part to learn," says the spokeswoman for the Rollerblades company. "We encourage people to skate on flat surfaces at first - at least, until they learn to stop."

At least.

Where to pay and roller skate

SKATER'S HEAVEN is Golden Gate Park, particularly when John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to traffic on Sunday. The new bike path along the Great Highway is also recommended.

Beginning skaters might want to attend a free skater's clinic held from 11 a.m. to noon Sunday at Sixth Avenue and JFK Drive. Sponsored by the Outdoor Roller Skating Association, it's a chance,. says the organization's president, David Miles, to "get a starting point and set a goal."

Rounding up a pair of skates isn't hard. The new in-line skates cost $90 to $250, but beginning skaters probably would want to rent a pair at first:

Skates on Haight, 1818 Haight St. (752-8375). Rents both in-line skates ($5 an hour and $20 all day) and conventional skates ($4 an hour and $16 all day). Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Closed Monday.

Magic Skates, Sixth Avenue and Fulton (668-1117). Rents only conventional skates ($3 an hour and $9 all day). Also rents bikes. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

Of course, the easiest way to enjoy skating might be to turn on the tube to Channel 5 at 12:30 a.m. Saturday for the excruciatingly tacky "RollerGames." Strictly for the slumber party set, but if you're in the mood.