• Wesley Snedeker

My Pandemic Skates: Rollerblade RB 110 3WD

Updated: Jul 12

I've picked up inline skating again after years of absence for a pandemic-friendly workout and I am in love again. It seems I am not alone, as NPR reports that the sport is seeing a major resurgence during COVID-19, with the brand Rollerblade (just one of many inline skate manufacturers) reporting that demand has increased 300%. Here are my thoughts on my skates of choice from top to bottom.

The Skates.

Liners: I initially bought Powerslide Next 100's in March when I decided to get back into inline. I moved on from them primarily because the ankles were just too tight and they caused immense pain for me. They were enough of a reminder of the joy of skating for me to absolutely love them, though. When I moved from Powerslide to Rollerblade (the original inline skate brand and one known for comfort), the first difference I noticed was the liners. Rather than stiff memory foam, which can be very comfortable in a well-fitting skate (which my Powerslides weren't), the RB 110 3WD high performance liners seem to be constructed from a soft, cushioned mesh with plenty of give. This was a major plus for me comfort-wise, as I can now skate reasonable distances (10-12 km is typical for a workout) without worrying about pain.

Boots: Definitely well constructed (though out of plastic—higher end skates tend to use carbon fiber). The boots are a hardshell plastic that has all the important markers of a good urban skate (more on this below in "experience"), with a high cuff for good support and power transfer. The laces are useless, but that comes with the territory. The straps and buckles are kind of a low point, as they are constructed of a flimsier plastic and aren't well framed by the wings and fasteners, causing some occasional discomfort.

Frames: They're great. Not much to report here. They make good use of the 3-wheeled format of skate that has come into common use in the last five years or so. The alignment out of the box suited my skating style nicely and I could glide endlessly on one foot immediately. They do lack some of the responsiveness of the Trinity-mounted Powerslides I was wearing, but that's less a criticism of these skates and more a compliment to Powerslide for their design.

Bearings: SG7 bearings are fine for what they are. They're fast-ish but aren't serviceable so you will need to replace them after a few months.

Wheels: Rollerblade Supreme 85a 110mm wheels are decent. They're a little sticky at first but they wear in nicely. I upgraded to Undercover wheels after six months or so.

Returning to Skating.

I began inline skating in elementary school. My father, a northern transplant to Florida, skated beautifully, as it allowed him to channel his abilities learned in skiing and hockey to a southern-friendly sport. When I saw the grace and speed with which he moved, I wanted to try it, too. And so I did. I labored for hours to become a competent skater and glided up and down the street through fifth grade.

I didn't know this at the time, but I had picked up inline during the absolute cultural and commercial apex of the sport. This was the age of Senate, of Daily Bread, of Jet Set Radio. Inline skating was featured in movies and tv shows, it was part of the X-games, it was a thing at that point. This was in large part due to a series of very intentional branding decisions. The sport (shorthanded "rollerblading" after its original brand) had begun as a way for hockey players and skiers to keep their skills up in the summer. Soon after the technology was popularized in the early 80's, however, it sprouted stylistic legs of its own. Twin epicenters of the sport emerged in Miami on the east coast and Venice Beach on the west, and styles of rollerblading derived from rollerdance and ice skating emerged alongside new techniques for cruising distances and performing stunts. Inline really took off, however, when small groups of skaters—inspired by punk, diy, and skateboard culture—started modifying their skates, doing increasingly technical and dangerous tricks, and adopting an "edgier" public persona. This new paradigm of skating, so-called "aggressive" inline, emerged as a widely accessible action sport alongside skateboarding and bmx, and its meteoric rise is seen by some as the foundation upon which the X-games was built. Inline skating became the "cool" version of skating, unmooring itself from fitness skating ("rec blading"), rollerdance (erasing a significant black influence from its history), and speed/marathon skating, and it became the goal which I sought to attain as I entered sixth grade, soon after I saw all my 10-year-old friends in aggressive skates.

I also didn't know that inline skating was about to suffer a sharp cultural and commercial downturn basically right when sixth grade started for me. The commercial success of aggressive inline demanded some sort of response from the skateboarding sector of the action sports market. The derivative nature of its cultural presentation (which was more or less the same ripoff of punk culture that skateboarding had committed) made it easy fodder for magazines to call fake, easy, and lame. Professional skateboarders trivialized inline skaters in interviews. Pranksters tackled bladers mid-line or mocked them. Comedians jumped into the fray. The NPR piece cited above quotes Adam Sandler and Dos Equis commercials going after the hobby. The downfall of rollerblading due to vitriol within action sports is well documented in the 2008 documentary Barely Dead. What that documentary only glances at, unfortunately, is the presentation of rollerblading as an affront to masculinity and an indicator of homosexuality, both of which were death sentences for boys in the early to mid 2000's.

The early aughts had a fascinating air of gay panic to them. This has been widely observed and commented upon in relation to Friends, maybe the most popular sitcom of all time. Joey, Ross, and Chandler are utterly terrified at the slightest suggestion that they might appear anything but heteronormative to the bone, which was played off for laughs as masculine fragility but still normalized in relation to the audience. Masculinity in movies, especially (and oddly) comedies of the time, was asserted as something to be preserved, and any deviation from heterosexuality or strictly male presentation was hunted out and mocked. Seen through the lens of the last 15 years of social development, 2000-2005 really represented the last gasp of normalized homophobia in US pop culture, and anti-inline skateboarders really took advantage of the moment. Skateboarding magazines and proto-influencers took it upon themselves to paint rollerblading as gay, and the terms "rollerfag" and "fruitbooter" entered the middle school lexicon. This association of rollerblading with homosexuality and femininity seeped out of skateboarding talk and into media, especially videogames (in Tony Hawk's Underground 2, for instance, the player is rewarded for knocking down short-shorted rollerbladers in Boston) and, again, comedy. It culminated with Aziz Ansari's (admittedly funny but still bigoted) 2007 joke "the hardest thing about rollerblading is telling your parents you're gay." Rollerblading had "gained a reputation," as NPR put it—for being fake, dorky, and gay. It fell hard out of fashion. It was dropped from the X-games. It was done.

Rollerblading could have, and should have, pushed back on the premise of this allegation of queerness, but the subculture with an increasingly large chip on its shoulder doubled down on its own toxic masculinity, trying to beat a marketplace that hated it for being both a success and a failure at its own game. Aggressive inliners hewed even closer to skateboarding's edginess and ignored their own roots in a broad diversity of expressions and skaters. It became, like much of mainstream skateboarding, a culture of insecure white dudes trying to prove how tough they were and raging against an imagined and unimportant machine. It marginalized its own freedom, its own populace, its own joy. Its "core" skaters became increasingly insular and technical, gatekeeping against potential new recruits while desperately pining for them.

It was in this atmosphere that I arrived at a skatepark with my aggressive skates for the first time. It was weird. The skateboarders absolutely did not want to talk to you if you were on blades, but most of my friends were skateboarders so they were generally nice to me (but quietly). The other inliners ignored me because I was new and they didn't want me to make aggressive skating seem lame because I was new at it. The aggressive skaters and skateboarders absolutely refused to talk to one another. This, I suppose, is a blessing, as plenty of people in skating culture from around that time report brawls at skateparks over which sport deserved to be there. There was no fighting, just ignoring. One could read this as quiet respect or well-secured hatred, but I believe this was mostly the case because we were all terrible and terribly insecure about it. I'm sure none of us felt the right to form a tribe and ridicule or attack the other because most of the skateboarders couldn't do a kickflip and none of the aggressive skaters would drop the big halfpipe (honestly, no one would). It was a certain kind of weird, sad cliquiness that is only possible among middle school boys. I went back a few times but it wasn't for me. I stopped skating soon after and stayed out for years. Where was I to go? If aggressive skating was the peak of inline, yet it was the least fun I'd had and the most I'd felt bad about doing it, why go further?

I bounced into and out of skating a couple times over the 15 years between that time and now. The world bounced around, too. Skateboarding went entirely mainstream and lost credibility as a part of the counterculture. Interrogations about sexual and gender justice already decades through their academic treatment emerged into sociopolitical prominence in the US. Marriage equality was upheld. The younger generations are subverting and exploring gender in unprecedented ways, blazing trails for new social and romantic expressions and configurations. And something that no one expected until now but now makes sense started to happen, rollerblading started coming back.

A generation of inline skaters persisted through the dark ages between 2005 and 2014 in the US. These skaters should be honored for their tenacity, even if they were at times elitist and insular. The rollerblading resurgence originates not in the US, however, but everywhere else. Africa is having a blading renaissance with old skates. Europeans never stopped, and public spokespeople like Ricardo Lino, Greg Mirozyan, and Asha Kirby gained major youtube followings. The Canadian scene is flourishing under new skating styles popularized by Shop Task and Mushroom blading. Tied together by social media, especially youtube (a platform for which inline seems tailor-made), these sectors of the global skate scene have bound together to advocate for this joyful and graceful sport in an era when joy and grace are no longer frowned-upon as uncool or dorky or gay. They have also been propelled by technological advances that come from doing something for fun rather than profit. Around 2014, an idea emerged into the blading zeitgeist, seeming to come from multiple sectors at once, that the alterations to blading technology made by aggressive skaters should be combined with specialized advancements in marathon and fitness skating to create a new kind of skate: the "urban" skate. Based in part on "powerblading," a practice of putting fitness frames on aggressive skates pioneered for practicality's sake, the urban skate boom reimagined skates as the ultimate tool to explore and interact with an urban environment. These new skates are fast, durable, supportive, and comfortable, able to facilitate everything from wildly dangerous stunts to lines of magnificent fluidity. They are able to support advanced skaters seeking the kinds of challenges and dangers of skating's past but still accessible to newcomers and casual skaters who aren't willing to give their lives (and teeth) for the sport. Many models have experimented, as well, with rockering techniques (fixing wheels at different heights on the frame) borrowed from hockey, slalom, and dance skating for increased maneuverability and expressiveness. Perhaps the most famous example of this advancement has been the Wizard frame, invented by Shop Task founder (and former aggressive skater) Leon Basin, which has birthed a skating paradigm all its own:

This convergence of passion, technological innovation, newfound freedom, and necessity (thanks, COVID) has drawn me back to skating in earnest for the first time in a long time. I am loving it. The Rollerblade RB 110 3WD, an excellent entry level urban skate with a high performance ceiling, is my doorway back into this comfortably familiar but excitingly new world.