“Rollerblading is a great alternative for jogging,” the girl at the Sports Center said to me when she rang me up. I’d never rollerbladed before, but I’d skated (this was in Ottawa, where skating on the canal during winter was a cultural imperative). What are rollerblades if not land skates? So I took a few turns around the store, and yes, it was basically like skating. Piece of cake.
And it’s true: rollerblading isn’t just a cool way to get around, it’s a pretty killer cardio workout, and it builds up your ankles and legs. But it takes a lot of practice.
Later, blading along on the bikepaths, I had my Rollerblade Moment. This, I thought, was the greatest way to travel.
And if this were a movie, this would be when we’d smash cut to me screaming in terror as I rocketed down an incline, pedestrians leaping out of the way. Good alternative to jogging? Jogging has never gotten my heartrate up that fast.
When I was younger, I used to bail out on bicycles all the time. When you’re a kid you have no concept of the speed you’re going, and that usually left you liquefying across the asphalt at high velocity, rolling and tumbling in front of oncoming traffic.
I started to think the trucks were just part of the experience. Like, whenever you took a corner too fast and you shot off your bike into the other lane, a giant truck would manifest to bear down on you. I think if I barrelled onto my driveway and wiped out, a truck would appear in the garage just so the driver could lean on the horn and think about how much he hated these stupid kids.
I was definitely a stupid kid. I rode my bike as fast as I could and never braked to take corners. Once a girl smiled at me and I crashed into a telephone pole. I think there may have been a truck involved. So, basically, the holy trifecta of bicycle wipeouts—bike, asphalt, truck—was very familiar to me as a kid. This is a long winded way of saying that I’m used to the concept of wiping out.
But the first time I almost wiped out on rollerblades? I thought my heart was going to leap out my throat. I shot down a steep hill, dodging cyclists and joggers, throttled off the path out onto the grass, and I managed to keep myself from falling backwards through sheer force of will. Rollerblades are much scarier than bicycles. Bicycles have brakes. On a hill, you can easily slow yourself down, and you can stop yourself on a dime. On rollerblades, you can blow down a hill at speeds upwards of 75 miles an hour (http://www.livestrong.com/rollerblading/), and if that’s not dangerous enough, add a busy intersection at the bottom of the hill, and you’re in good danger of getting flattened.
You have to be aware of everything—when to start slowing yourself down, where cars are, where people are. If a toddler gets away from his parents and rushes out in front of you, you’ve got a problem.
THAT WHOLE STOPPING PROBLEM
The beginner’s stop is called the Turn Stop, and if you’re going to start rollerblading, it’s what you’re going to have to master. Rollerblades aren’t like skates, where you can use the friction between the blade and the ice to control your speed.
If you’ve got momentum on your blades, inertia means that your weight will keep those wheels going. That’s not too much of an issue in on a hockey court, but when you’re on the street or a sidewalk, you have to know how to stop if a car pulls out unexpectedly ahead of you, or a small child runs in front of you.
Turning 90 degrees will only change your direction, sending you flying off in the wrong direction. The trick to turn stopping is the ability to turn all the way around , in a 180 degree turn. You keep your rollerblades pointed outwards, and use one leg to turn all the way around. On a safe, mostly level surface, this will kill your speed efficiently.
From there, you move on to T-stops and more advanced moves, but if you’re just starting out, you have to practice turn stops. And it’s probably best to avoid steep hills until you get better at it.
Note: If you don’t feel you’re ready to tackle a steep hill, don’t. Rollerblading is not, in my experience, like skiing. In skiing, you slow down by turning in your skis, slaloming, turning uphill slightly, etc. When I tried to apply these methods to my first downhill experience, I realized the joke was on me; I just kept picking up speed.
Earlier, I said that I almost wiped out on that first hill experience. But I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why.
This is what you do when you wake up and realize that you’re bombing a hill on rollerblades: Bend your knees and lean forwards. Don’t go into a crouch. Grab your knees to let you lean forward more easily. If you feel comfortable enough, apply your heelbrake liberally, but at high speeds that might make you feel like you’re going to fall, so be careful. Don’t be afraid to bail out onto the grass. But stay on target, and start slowing yourself down when you reach a level surface.
But don’t try this if you’re on a busy street with a lot of traffic. And wear your safety gear.
Slaloming does work to slow you down, but you have to be well practiced at it. And that’s really the thing—I recommend rollerblading, I really do. It mixes brilliant gliding with great cardio and fairly efficient means of getting around. But there’s a learning curve. I’m still learning too, and I’m probably going to head out now, with my friends, to get in some more practice.
(Smash cut to: screaming, pedestrians leaping out of the way, etc.)
It’s a steep learning curve, but, like most things, it’s worth it in the end. And don’t forget to wear safety gear. But, like a lot of good things in life, you might get hurt.