Roller skating may be 2020's sport, if TikTok trends and industry sales are any indication. Inline skate company Rollerblade reported a more than 300 percent increase in sales since the beginning of March, and Google searches for "roller skates" peaked in May, reaching 100 on the Google Trends interest-over-time chart, the highest it's been in five years.
With so much interest, as well as an increase in attention for Black-owned businesses, Black-owned skate shops are suddenly dealing with high demand and managing a backlog.
Printle "Pete" Russell, owner of the Los Angeles-based custom roller skate company SK8 Fanatics, says he's seen more customers lately, possibly in part because, "they were getting bored staying at home and they wanted something to do."
Russell reported unprecedented growth in his business. As of now, he estimates that SK8 Fanatics' sales increased by almost 40 percent from June, and 70 percent over this point last year. "It just seems like the whole world decided, 'Hey, this is a great thing, roller skating,'" he says.
To keep up with the demand, Russell has been working extra hours, with his team of three to five usually servicing about 100 customers in-person on a daily basis.
For Marawa Ibrahim (aka Marawa the Amazing), owner and founder of the athleisure company Paradise, which has a partnership with vintage-style skate maker Impala, meeting demand has been difficult.
Ibrahim says Paradise is experiencing an approximate 50 percent increase this year. While she welcomes the growth, the pandemic strained her production, making it difficult for her to personally visit her "fabric guy" in Los Angeles. It's also been nearly impossible to get skates: She's been waiting on one shipment since February.
Adrienne Cooper, owner of Moonlight Roller, is experiencing similar demand. When the pandemic hit, Cooper was establishing Moonlight Roller Lounge, an 18-and-older roller rink and event venue. Cooper pivoted by selling what were originally Moonlight's rental skates back in March. Since then, she's sold 3,000 skates and started her own roller skate line, which is selling fast. "As soon as we put something out, it'll go rather quickly," Cooper says.
The renewed interest in skating can be attributed to TikTok, where the #rollerskating tag has 2.5 billion views. BuzzFeed News has credited the uptick to Ana Coto, whose TikTok videos of her skating to Jennifer Lopez's "Jenny From the Block" went viral earlier this year.
Many Black skaters feel like this moment merely represents White people catching on to a long-loved activity. Roller skating figured into the Civil Rights movement, as skaters protested for desegregated rinks back in the 1960s. Rap and hip-hop shares a history with the roller skating scene. United Skates, a 2019 HBO documentary produced by John Legend, goes deep into this history.
Coco Franklin, a yoga skating instructor, feels that social media whitewashes the sport. As a Black professional skater, to see her life's work trending on social media only after a White woman's videos went viral is frustrating.
"It's really unfortunate that it took somebody like Anna [Coto] for everybody else to want to roller skate when people like myself, I've been roller skating for 30 years and have been building a brand and teaching people," Franklin says.
One upside for Franklin has been that her yoga skating company, Gypsetcity, experienced around a 300 percent increase in clients. But this happened only after TikTok was revealed to be censoring Black creators and started promoting their work more aggressively. "But before that--nothing. I felt invisible," says Franklin.
Los Angeles native Phelicia Wright has been skating her whole life; her mother worked as a skating rink DJ and manager, while her father was one of the floor guards. For her, the rink is a sanctuary, and skating a way of life.
"It's not like a resurgence, because we've been here. We haven't gone anywhere," Wright says. "No one just paid attention to us until now."