Let's talk about skating outside!
BYOG: Bring Your Own Gear (and Wear It!)
For these roller skating options, there’s no equipment rental. Instead, you need to have your own skates, and your own safety gear (knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, mouth guard) as well. In some cases, safety gear is required, but in all cases safety gear is just plain a good idea.
Wear Safety Gear Outside
Personally, I fall down a fair amount because I’m trying a new skill, doing something involving contact or dodging small children—and that’s inside on a floor designed for roller skating. Outside, it’s a whole different experience. Now you have things like heat, cold, rain, wind, puddles, uneven terrain, rocks and potentially traffic.
When skating indoors, even just at a roller rink, I always wear some kind of knee pads. Always. Outside, I recommend wearing closer to full gear. You may feel like a dork for a bit, but injuries suck, and sitting on the side of a trail bleeding is not cool at all. Regardless of heat, I also suggest wearing leggings of some sort. Falling on even a thin layer of material is much more pleasant than having your bare skin scrape across pavement (as my daughter learned the hard way).
Skating Outside=Different Wheels
That’s right. Indoor skating and outdoor skating require different wheels. Who knew? Well, now you do. In short, roller skating wheels vary in how hard they are and for outdoor skating, you need softer wheels to absorb the shock of uneven terrain. Wheels are labeled with a durometer (or hardness) number. The higher the number, the harder the wheels. Wheels considered outside wheels typically have a durometer of 78a. Hybrid wheels (appropriate for both inside and outside) are typically 84a. 88a and above (the scale goes to 101a) are for skating indoors.
Given that super quick description, get thee some outdoor wheels. As a frame of reference, I picked up wheels that are a 78a, for myself. I also have dedicated outdoor skates, which were my starter roller derby skates. I I know myself well enough to know that I was not going to take the time to change my wheels each time I wanted to switch from skating outside to inside.
For my daughter, who currently has 1 pair of roller skates until I figure out if her feet are done growing, I got a set of hybrid, or indoor/outdoor, wheels with a durometer of 84a. Again, I’m not changing her wheels every time we skate, and the extra grippiness of having softer wheels indoors for her is not the worst thing as she learns new skills.
Where to Skate Outdoors
Now that we’ve had the safety gear and outdoor wheels talks, here are ideas on where to actually get to the outdoor skating:
Before I started roller derby, I roller skated maybe once a year—maybe. Now, with my daughter and I both working on specific skills, we’re roller skating about twice a week and sometimes more. Just know that going to the rink is a whole different experience when you’re working on your skating skills than when you’re just there chaperoning birthday party.
Roller Skating Rinks: The Basics
Roller skating rinks are typically open for 2-6 hour stretches. Admission is per person, with an additional fee for renting quad skates or inline skates. Many rinks also have rink assistants (think a walker made from PVC pipe to help newer skates) available for rent. In the greater Minneapolis/St Paul area, the price of entry is around $6 per person (as low as $2 and as high as $8) and skate rental is about another $3 on top of that. Skating rinks may also have additional attractions like mini golf, laser tag or a children’s play area--often available for an additional (or separate) entry fee.
Roller rinks play “clean” music, typically top 40, but with special nights sometimes featuring oldies, classic rock or Christian music. Rinks usually have carnival games (whack-a-mole, skee ball) where you try to win tickets to exchange for fabulous prizes including all manner of toys that glow in the dark until nearly the end of your trip to the roller rink. There is food for sale of the pizza and nachos variety at a concession stand, and alcohol is not available.
More Than Roller Skating in a Circle
Personally, I’m happy to roller skate in a circle, by myself, for hours and be perfectly happy. However, as not to bore the general public, plain old boring roller skating is not the only thing on the agenda.
Every half hour or so, there is usually a game that roller rink attendees can play. Popular games include the limbo, 4 corners or red light/green light. Depending on the rink, occasionally there may be hokeying and/or pokeying, chickens dancing, electric sliding or whatever other “follow the directions” songs may be popular. There may also be times with more intense light shows, or theme skates like partner skate, adults only, skating backwards, or opposite direction skating.
A Cautionary Tale: Roller Skating on the Weekend
Pretty much all the rinks are open Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which are the busiest times. This is also prime time for children’s birthday parties. Consequently, if you are interested in becoming a better skater for, say, roller derby, you have very different goals from many people who will be there on a typical weekend. The average birthday party attendee is an elementary school aged child with little to no skating prowess--meaning they have no qualms about jumping in front of a group of skaters and fall spectacularly with no indication of what’s about to happen. In addition, on any given day, there will be at least one child who thinks that it’s the funniest thing ever to skate against the crowd and scream with their hands on the sides of their face ala Kevin in Home Alone.
The upside of weekend roller rink skating for an aspiring roller derby athlete is that agility training is built in. You will most likely not be practicing your transitions and crossovers, but just trying like crazy not to hurt yourself or the children who unwittingly throw themselves into your path. Personally, I now have mad skills for dodging wayward children and I have the uncanny ability to fall while sometimes even managing to shield the child who caused my fall, as well as myself, from injury.
If you do venture to a roller skating rink on a weekend, just know what you’re getting into, and mentally prepare accordingly.
The Joy of Skating When Its Less Crowded
On a whim, any day can be crowded at a skating rink (think day care field trip) but a few are less likely to occur. Here are my super-secret strategies for having a more pleasant skating experience.
We know that weekend days are birthday party palooza. Simply by skating on weekdays you can ensure a smaller crowd. Some rinks even have reduced rates on nights that are often less busy. In addition, in the summer, many rinks are open during the day for a few hours, typically around 12 Noon-3 pm. For me, the biggest trick has been figuring out which rinks are open on which weekdays and planning my schedule accordingly.
Adults Only Skate
If you don’t want to trip over small children, adults only skate is the answer. It may be later at night, or in the middle of a Sunday morning. There may even be adults only skates with varying age ranges—some of which may be over 20, while others may be reserved for those 40 or older. Regardless, there is more of a chance of skating with a crowd that hast at least some understanding of the existence of other people and the relative value of not blindly skating into them.
When Most People are Elsewhere
I am not a fan of crowds in general, and oftentimes, I plan around major events so that I’m where other people are not. I look for times when people have a greater chance of being somewhere else, and try to skate at those time. For example, when the weather is perfect outside, during a long holiday weekend when many people leave town or when there is a big event, I may very well be at the rink enjoying the sparse crowd and perfecting my backwards skating.
Brenda Peterson is a collaborative learning consultant and learning & development manager who is driven to help individuals and organizations succeed.