The sad state of inline skating in the USA

1 04 2011

Coming to the land of new innovative sports and the birthplace of inline skating, I thought I would arrive in an El Dorado for rollerbladers, the likes of which I will have never seen before. Especially in Florida, where the weather is conducive to outdoor sports pretty much the whole year round.

Sadly, that is not the case.

Before I arrived here in Florida, I found a group on the Internet that conducts a weekly night skate. I was ecstatic. I imagined hundreds if not thousands of skaters, collectively taking back the streets, just like they do in every European capital at least once per summer month. (Think: Skaterparties in Paris, Berlin, London…) Even in Zurich our Monday Night Skate attracts anything from 2000-6000 participants every second Monday from May to September.

The Wednesday night gang.

The first time I joined the skate group here in Hollywood, I found eight people waiting at the assigned meeting point. And I asked… “Is this the skate group? This is it?” One of the other skaters answered, “Oh, this is a great turnout.” Last night’s group was 14 strong, a real army.

This is how I discovered that the skater demographic here is um… small and not really, shall we say… sustainable.

The folks I met in the group and also when I’m out skating on my own are great – very friendly and chatty people, we have a grand time. But they are all… well… middle-aged. There are Tom and Dave, who are in their late 40s probably; Karen is a few years younger. Then there’s Harry, who I would have guessed is in his late 40s but is actually 62 (a true testament to the youthful effect of skating). Those are a couple of the regulars. I have never seen anyone at the meetings that was under, say, 35.

Then there’s also George, who looks like he’s 70, but is probably 85. He is out every morning at 7:00 a.m., skating his laps along the beach like there’s no tomorrow.

They all complained to me that for some reason young people are not interested in the sport. And even though the group officially has more than 370 members (according to their website), only a fraction of those show up for the weekly meetings. Kids don’t seem to find skating “cool” anymore.

There is no decent skate shop in a 100 mile radius and I know of no organized races within a day’s drive.

George told me that for a few years, Disney organized an annual skate marathon in Orlando, but declining participant numbers prompted them to cancel it. Unfathomable for us in Europe, like the folks at the Berlin Marathon, who have to turn away hundreds of skaters every year because the event is sold out six months before the race.

My skate friends here say that for the monthly Miami South Beach Friday night skate (the epitome of coolness if there ever was one) usually about 50 skaters show up. If the weather is good, maybe five more will come. That event is tomorrow night, and I can’t wait to cruise through the Art Deco streets, escorted by police, past curious onlookers and irate motorists. I’m sure it will be a blast.

And I will be wondering where the thousands of other skaters, who would make it truly an experience of a lifetime, are hiding. They must be out there somewhere.

South Beach at sunset.