Looking back, when you’re in your mid-30s, it’s hard to think of a dumber sport than roller skating. I was fortunate to survive the birth and confinement without any lasting injuries, and rather than congratulating myself on my luck, I thought I was tempting fate. And so, a year into the pandemic, when my daughter was almost 2 and my sanity was almost completely gone, I spent my summer evenings falling right on my butt in a concrete parking lot.
It started when my friend Alice texted me that she had just bought roller skates. She sent me a video of herself skating in a church parking lot near our house and performing a trick called “Shoot the Duck” where you crouch low on the ground and then extend one leg straight in front of you while you roll forward. It looked impressive and fun. I immediately opened a new tab on my computer and started buying roller skates.
At this point, Hot Girl Summer 2021, roller skates had already penetrated my subconscious. Who needs Leonardo DiCaprio? beginning If you have the TikTok algorithm, videos are provided of Ana Coto driving there jenny off the block or Oumi Janta dances in Berlin. I understand where the one in eight man who thinks he can beat Serena Williams at tennis comes from because one of my craziest traits is when I see someone performing an objectively challenging physical feat and I think: maybe i could. Men and I just don’t know what we don’t know. Never mind that I’m bad at ice skating, the only sport that could give you a foundation in the skills required for roller skating. After a year of monotonous isolation, I was restless and desperate for novelty. I found a pair of skates I liked in stock and ordered them.
Not only was I craving the endorphins of exercise; I wanted feeling some. And it turned out that the feeling I was looking for was a pleasant shock of deadly terror.
Impulsive online shopping is rarely the panacea we seek when we click buy in a moment of boredom or desperation, but in this case I actually got what I didn’t even know I needed. As I first slipped on my new roller skates and skated tentatively down my hallway, my fingers brushing the walls for balance, I thought: Oh damn I’m gonna die. It was terrifying and exciting. After a year of dreading a pandemic that had compounded my already existing fear of a new mom, roller skating pulled me out of my brain and into my body.
In hindsight, that wasn’t typical for me. I’ve always resisted new sports for the simple reason that I find it humiliating to be bad at things. As a child, my parents would let me try any sport I was interested in – gymnastics, soccer, scuba diving, volleyball – but I always stopped once they became competitive and my lack of natural talent became apparent. As an adult, I avoided group fitness activities for the same reason. I had the feeling that I had missed an essential sporting development stage that drives other people Yes, really pushing hard in the spin class, rather than just pretending to increase the resistance on their bike when asked to, as I did in both classes I’ve taken. It’s not like I didn’t do any exercise at all. I enjoyed riding my bike, doing yoga at home, and picking up my running habit for a few short weeks each spring—things that I could do without constantly comparing myself to others.
After having my child in July 2019, I assumed that eventually I would come back to myself. My body would feel like mine again, and I would rekindle my own relationship with it, beyond the demands of a tiny person treating me like a Pikler triangle. But the post-postpartum never came: my maternity leave went straight into the pandemic, which dragged on. Even after I stopped breastfeeding and woke up all night, I felt both constricted and disembodied. I was either a mom in the house or a disembodied presence on Zoom and FaceTime and social media. Not only was I craving the endorphins of exercise; I wanted feeling some. And it turned out that the feeling I was looking for was a pleasant shock of deadly terror.
Exercise, especially for moms, always promises to uplift something: it will calm your mind, or tone your body, or help you shed baby weight. There is a relief in doing something physical that exists outside of this self-improvement paradigm.
I’m not the only person who took up skating during the pandemic: British Vogue declared 2020 the “summer of roller skating”, CBC called 2021 “the year of the roller skating renaissance”, and VICE rolled with outdoor skate teams in the Philippines. In a way, it’s the perfect pandemic sport: the only requirement, aside from skates, is a flat surface to practice on. But the appeal goes deeper. I think people love skating for the same reason they love horror movies, roller coasters, or bungee jumping: it induces eustress, a kind of euphoric fear. It turned out that maybe the reason I didn’t like the spin class was because I wasn’t scared for my life.
I had to overcome my dislike for some of the more cheesy elements of roller skating culture. The derby names, the grrl power vibes – it’s not for me. But I guess it’s a sport with no particular baggage of how you’re supposed to look, and there’s no expectation that skating will change your body in any outwardly obvious way, aside from bruises. Exercise, especially for moms, always promises to uplift something: it will calm your mind, or tone your body, or help you shed baby weight. There is a relief in doing something physical that exists outside of this self-improvement paradigm.
A few times a week, after our kids were in bed, Alice and I would meet in the church parking lot to go skating. Because of the pandemic, we were unable to attend courses; Instead, we watched tutorials on YouTube and Instagram and tried to apply what we saw. We made videos of each other and cheered. After a few bruises to my tailbone, I finally learned to crouch low when I lost my balance and, if necessary, fall forward so my knee and wrist pads would break my fall.
If I want my daughter to think differently than me, it’s this: You don’t have to be good at something to have fun.
The great secret of roller skating—understanding how to shift weight while maintaining balance—requires me to tune into my body in a totally immersive, almost meditative way. At the same time, every “trick”, whether it’s a spin or a turn, requires me to let go and trust my instincts. Trying to think too much about what I’m doing prevents me from actually doing it. But I’ve found this lesson to be infinitely transferrable: at some point, you have to trust yourself and be okay with falling on your butt once in a while. That’s the only way you can grow.
I watch YouTube tutorials and run them through my body’s Google Translate, smoothing out the garbled results with repetition. When something I’ve been trying to figure out clicks, it’s magical, but sometimes I give up the tricks and just glide as fast as I can while feeling the wind lift my hair. I listen to Olivia Rodrigo as I circle a parking lot at dusk. I’ll never be very good at it. I will definitely never be able to pull off any of the moves from the videos that got me hooked in the first place. But somehow I don’t care anymore. If I want my daughter to think differently than me, it’s this: You don’t have to be good at something to have fun.
Roller skating was an escape from motherhood, but it turns out they have a lot in common, at least to me. Both require your full concentration and attention, even if you’re just trying to stay on your feet. There are no shortcuts: the only way to improve them is to make an effort. And both offer those sublime pleasures that make pain worthwhile that are almost impossible to explain. You just have to experience it yourself.