RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (KVEO) – Big roller skate brands are still struggling to keep up with demand after interest in roller skating spiked last March and continued through the rest of the year. An event caused by correlating COVID-19 restrictions and internet trends.
Meanwhile, locals in the Rio Grande Valley who managed to get their hands on a pair for the first time, as well as seasoned skaters, are grateful roller skating provided a safe pastime for them during the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, roller skating was an activity preserved by niche communities, such as culturally Black community skating rinks and urban roller derby leagues.
Now, after almost a year of shifted norms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the activity has garnered thousands of new skaters allured by its aesthetic appeal and endorphin-spiking effect.
Just like bicycles, roller skates saw an explosion in sales when restrictions on indoor activities became part of the effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, while bikes were able to come back into stock rather quickly, roller skates are still difficult to get.
There are a few the reason for the short supply and they all seem to circle back to the virus.
When many people found themselves losing their livelihoods and asked to shelter in their homes, videos of seemingly carefree women gliding through neighborhood streets went viral on TikTok.
With thousands wanting to go from the viewer to the maker of such videos, rollers skates flew off the virtual and brick and mortar shelves.
Christina “Fritz” Stang, owner of Fritzy’s Skate Shop, Skateworld San Diego, and Skateworld Takoma, recalls thinking her grand opening in March would be the beginning and end of her shop, as the pandemic quickly turned businesses on their heads.
However, having familiarity with the roller skate industry helped Stang make early decisions that continue to carry her shop through the craze.
“As I completely sold out of all my inventory in April, I realized that this was getting huge, so I actually ended up placing orders for thousands and thousands of skates,” said Stang. “So I ended up getting really lucky, and it kind of catapulted our business to, I would say, the forefront of roller skating shops because I was able to have inventory when a lot of people did not.”
Stang says only selling the inventory she had readily available made the difference for her shop, notably in August when few had anything available.
Unlike many other out of stock skate shops, she says she never took pre-orders for rollers skates. Those who did leave customers waiting several months for their skates to arrive, some still waiting for skates they placed orders for as far back as June.
Breaks in the supply chain made production difficult for rollers skate manufacturers. COVID-19 shut down factories that made various rollers skate parts, ultimately delayed the assembly and shipment.
Anxious to get rolling, Brownsville resident, Andrea Morales says she bought her first pair of skates off eBay back in August to bypass the out-of-stock shops and bought her second pair recently from a skate shop with a limited quantity.
“I didn’t think I was going to like [rollers skating] as much as I did to be honest,” said Morales. “I was like ‘oh whatever, it’ll probably be like a fad, it’ll die out and then I’ll get over it, but no. I just want to learn how to do all the cool stuff already.”
Morales says she watches skating tutorials on social media to improve her skills at the skate park after realizing making roller skating look effortless takes work.
“My skating goal started of as jam skating, because of the video, like I want to dance skate, and then once you actually try to do it with no background on footwork or any of the fancy stuff, it’s a lot harder. So, I guess my skate goal changed from jam skating to park skating,” said Morales.
Part of the appeal for her is the community. She says she met the friends she skates with while skating alone at skate parks.
Though the skating community may be new to Morales, in the Rio Grande Valley, the sport of roller derby has been introducing women to roller skating since 2006.
The full-contact sport on roller skates has its roots in the televised banked track roller derby marathons that started in the 1940s.
McAllen resident, Esmer Castillo, got her started skating in 2011 with the MacTown RebelRollers, a recreational flat-track roller derby team.
Prior to joining the league, Castillo says the only skating experience she had was with rollerblades, but she was hooked on roller skating after the first practice she attended.
“It’s challenging for sure, but for me, that’s always been part of the fun. I like to push myself, I like to get out of my comfort zone,” said Castillo.
Castillo has been heavily involved in the community and has served as a key member in establishing the RGV Bandidas, a new league created through a merge between the MacTown RebelRollers and their predecessor, the South Texas Rolleristas, in 2015.
She hopes roller skating’s explosion in popularity will bring in people interested in using their newly acquired skills to her league once they are able to reconvene.
“Because of the pandemic we just had to do like everyone else, what was socially responsible and take a time out for now. We don’t hold practice, but we do skate on our own,” said Castillo.
For the time being, Castillo roller skates on trails throughout McAllen and is also learning how to skateboard.
Rollers skates on Stang’s website continue to sell out within minutes of being released, but she’s unsure if most will stick with the new hobby.
“I don’t see it being quite as popular once COVID fizzles out just because people want to get back to their lives and roller skating anywhere is just not the number one priority,” said Stang. “But I think what a lot of people discovered with roller skating, is that when you put on roller skates and you find that comfortable cursing speed and the wind in your hair, or whatever, the disco lights, whatever makes you feel comfortable, there’s almost nothing that matches that.”