Inline skating is a sport performed while wearing a pair of skates having two to five wheels arranged in a straight line.
Many people enjoy inline skating purely as a form of recreation, with no interest in the competitive aspects of the sport. Other individuals engage in one of the many competitive variations of the sport, known as aggressive (also called aggro, aggroblading, blading, mushroom blading, rollerblading, rolling, toerolling, and trollerblading), powerblading (also called free riding free skating, and urban skating), freestyle, hockey, and speed skating.
Two business groups, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and the National Sporting Goods Association conduct some statistics on the popularity of inline skating in the United States. One measure of the sport's popularity is the number of people who participate in inline skating at least once a year, which amounted to 17.3 million men, women, and children. The peak year for the sport was 1998, when 32 million people were said to have tried the sport at least once. A more useful number might be the category of frequent skaters, individuals who skate 25 times or more annually. In 2004, that number was 3.9 million individuals. Although the number of inline skating participants is said to be about equally divided between males and females, there are few statistics after the late 1990s showing the breakdown among participants in the sport by age or gender. Very limited evidence suggests that the drop in participation seen in the United States after the late 1990s was reflected by a similar decrease in participation in other nations where the sport had once been extraordinarily popular.
The renaissance for inline skating began in 1980, when two hockey-playing brothers from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Scott and Brennan Olson, saw a pair of inline skate boots that had been produced by the Chicago Roller Skate Company in 1966. The skates had four wheels, the front and rear of which projected beyond the skate boot. The Olson brothers saw the potential of such a skate for off-ice practicing, and set out to make a number of adjustments that would make it suitable for that purpose. They ended up producing a skate that met their own needs and, incidentally, had the potential for being a popular land-based recreational device. They formed a company called Roller-blade, Inc., to market their invention, a company that soon became very successful. In 1984, they sold Rollerblade to Minneapolis businessman Bob Naegele, Jr., who expanded the market for the inline skate beyond its limited appeal to hockey players to a much wider, general interest audience that soon reached into the tens of millions of customers around the world.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, local, regional, and national groups organized competitions for enthusiasts of roller skating. In most cases, those competitions involved so-called rink hockey, an ice-hockey-like game played on roller skates. In 1924, representatives from four nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Switzerland, met in Montreux, Switzerland, to found the Fédé ration Internationale de Patinage a Roulettes (FIPR), later changed to the Fédération Internationale de Roller Skating (FIRS), or the International Federation of Roller Skating. The FIRS organized the first European rink hockey championship in 1926, followed by the first Roller Speed Skating Championship on Road in 1937 and the first Track Roller Speed Skating Championship a year later. The first inline hockey national championships in the United States were held for men in 1995, for juniors in 1996, and for women in 2002. World championships in inline speed skating have been held since 1989, with the winner that year being the team from Australia.
Inline speed skating, figure skating, and hockey are very similar to their counterpart sports played on ice. The primary difference is that performers use inline skates on a smooth floor rather than ice skates on ice. Aggressive skating is also somewhat similar to skateboarding with regard to the venues in which the two sports are performed and the types of stunts performed. Aggressive inline skating is sometimes subdivided into three subcategories: street, park, and vert (vertical). As their names suggest, street and park skating take place on city streets and in public parks. In both cases, skaters take advantage of objects in the natural environment for the performance of their maneuvers, objects such as concrete ledges, handrails, steps, embankments, and ramps. Skaters may also make use of their own simple equipment, such as boxes, pipes, barrels, and ramps. The skater's goal is not only to perform each individual maneuver with skill and elegance, but also (especially in park skating) to combine groups of maneuvers with a smooth and flowing rhythm.
As with most kinds of skating, the best way to begin learning the sport is to buy a pair of skates and start skating. There are a number of things a person can do to learn the sport correctly and quickly. One of the most important preparatory steps involves purchasing skates that fit well and are designed for the type of activity in which one is interested. One should seek advice of experienced skaters and skate sellers to make certain the purchase is appropriate. It is almost always helpful to seek the advice of an experienced skater in beginning the activity, of choosing an appropriate arena in which to begin (such as a public park), and to make sure that one does not practice alone (in case of an accident). In many instances, it may be helpful to join a formal or informal club of inline skaters to learn the basics of the sport. The learner should also be aware of and be sure to wear equipment that will reduce the risks associated with inline skating, especially aggressive inline skating.
Inline skaters can wear any type of clothing for their sport, although gear that helps protect against falls, scrapes, and other injuries is preferable. Serious skaters often purchase specially designed jackets, pants, shirts, socks, and other equipment to increase the comfort of their activity as well as to provide protection against accidents. Because of the severity of head injuries, helmets are an absolute necessity. Other protective equipment includes elbow guards and hand protectors, such as palm sliders, similar to cycling gloves with a hard plastic palm to protect the hand while performing certain types of maneuvers. Other than safety equipment, the most important purchase for an inline skater is a pair of skates that fit well and are suited to the type of activity in which one is interested.
Many inline skaters do not engage in any form of training for their sport. They regard inline skating as a recreational activity for which no special preparation is needed. However, the more serious someone becomes about inline skating, the more likely they are to include training and conditioning activities into the sporting schedule. Experienced skaters have suggested a number of ways of training for important inline skating events. For example, a professional inline skater, Alex Fedak, recommends cycling as cross-training for inline skating. He believes that cycling improves one's cardiovascular capacity and sharpens one's competitive instincts. Fedak also recommends a carefully planned schedule of off-season exercises to build one's overall strength, improve cardiovascular functioning, and develop one's technique. Among the exercises included in Fedak's plan are pylometric exercises, such as vertical, side, and cross jumps; weight lifting; and short and long sprints. Another professional skater, Westy Bell, recommends weight training to improve a skater's overall strength, especially arm, back, and leg muscles. She suggests avoiding leg exercises, however, as they may tend to cause cramping during a competition. Some participants also point out the value of improving one's mental fitness for the sport by training to eliminate or reduce one's performance anxiety, learning how to stay focused on an event, and developing skills of visualization and centering.
Inline skating as a leisure activity is a relatively safe sport, especially if basic safety equipment is used. Competitive inline skating can pose more risks because of the difficult maneuvers that are part of the sport. Research suggests that a proper program of training and conditioning, along with the use of appropriate safety equipment, can significantly reduce the risk of injury in the sport.
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Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS), Maison du Sport International, Ave. de Rhodanie 54, 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland, 41 21 (60) 11 877, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.rollersports.org .
USA Roller Sports, 4730 South St., Lincoln, NE, 68506, (402) 483-7551, Fax: (402) 483-1465, http://www.usarollersports.org .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD