First, there was a run on toilet paper. Next, it was flour. And now? Roller skates.
Over the past few months, roller skating—a pastime mostly associated with the 1950s—has seen a massive spike in popularity. Moxi Roller Skates, one of the country's most popular manufacturers, recently opened a second factory in an attempt to accommodate its increasingly large list of back orders. In Portland, local skate shop Five Stride has been completely sold out of skates since spring, and most of its business now is attaching wheels to customers' sneakers.
Of all the goods that have experienced supply shortages due to COVID-19, roller skates might be the least expected. But to call it a "revival" would ignore a great deal of history.
Black communities across the country, in particular, have long fought to keep skating culture alive in the U.S. Black skaters protested segregated rinks during the civil rights movement, and rinks in Black communities provided venues for artists during the birth of hip-hop. Just a few years ago, Beyoncé shot a video in the roller rink where she learned to skate as a child.
With gyms and roller rinks closed indefinitely or operating at limited capacity, it makes sense that more people would turn to hobbies that allow them to be active outdoors, and buying skates rather than renting them. But if you ask local skater Chelsey Christian, there's another reason why skating has blown up recently.
"It just looks cool," says Christian, who owns pole dancing studio Sinferno Studios and has been park skating for three years "It's always been a thing that's been pretty popular, but now with social media being such an area of focus, you get to show your skill and people can get inspired by that. The content is out there."
For those looking to get into skating just now, you'll have to deal with the difficulty of finding skates during an unprecedented nationwide shortage. But to limit the headache of navigating the market, we asked local roller skaters what they like about their own skates and why they'd recommend them—and for advice on how to work around the ordering backlog.
Chelsey Christian, owner of Sinferno Studios
Skates of choice: Custom-painted Moxi Lollys
Pros: Durable, stylish and easily customizable for different uses.
The first thing that drew Christian to Moxi Skates was the way they looked. "I love that they come in so many different colors," she says. "They're a little bit more stylish, and you can really begin to play with customizing your look." For her, that meant handpainting her skates with flames. She mostly uses her skates for park skating, but recommends them for all-around use, partly because of their customizability. "There's some other cool skates out there, but the quality just isn't as awesome," she says. "You might want to have a different setup if you're a skatepark skater versus a rink skater versus you just want to skate long-distance outdoors."
Gloria Bigbak, co-founder of Team Indigenous Youth
Skates of choice: Bont Quadstar Athena Skates
Pros: Comfortable, lightweight. Good for both derby and park skating.
It took Bigbak years before she found skates that were the right fit for her. "I have really wide feet because I'm Native American," she says. "[Bont skates are] kind of stretchy and flexible, they're very comfortable, and they don't hurt my feet. I have shin splints and a lot of other skates don't help with them." Though Bigbak mostly uses them for roller derby, Bonts are also good all-around skates. Last month, Bigbak wore her Bonts when she helped lead the Portland iteration of World Wide Rollout Day, an anti-hate demonstration Team Indigenous Youth co-organized in Portland.
Mia Palau, Rose City Rollers
Skates of choice: Ridell 495s
Price: Starts at $329
Pros: Super comfortable. Good for roller derby, or park skating with a few modifications.
Mia Palau uses the same model for skateparks as she does for roller derby, but added some components like sliders for grinding atop pools. "I've roller-skated for 10 years now, and I'm devout to the 495s," she says. "My feet really like them, they're just really comfortable." The only problem with wearing them outdoors? They're almost too cute. "Every time I fall, I'm kind of thinking, 'Oh no, I'm scuffing them up!'" she says. "But that's what they're for."
Angela Death, Rose City Rollers
Skates of choice: Custom Vans sneaker skates
Price: Approximately $250, including the price of the shoe
Pros: Customer sneaker skates are often cheaper, and are currently faster to get than ordering off the rack.
Considering how hard it is to find skates in stock right now, Angela Death says custom conversions are the way to go. But Death chose to get hers even before the pandemic. Not only did it allow her to pick a shoe brand she already liked, and a pair in her team colors, it was also slightly cheaper than buying off the rack. Just about any sneaker can be converted—Death had hers converted at Five Stride in Northeast Portland—so Death chose her shoes for straightforward reasons. "I like them from a style perspective," she says. "And they're pretty comfortable."