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Roller skating is enjoying a resurgence in popularity

Dallas Racette, 11, front center, joins the skaters on the rink. The owner of Roller Skate City says he’s noticed an increase in skating’s popularity, especially with families. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Dallas Racette, 11, front center, joins the skaters on the rink. The owner of Roller Skate City says he’s noticed an increase in skating’s popularity, especially with families. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For decades, when it was time to boogie down, the best way to do it was on four wheels and the best place was at the local roller skating rink.

Skating’s popularity in the 1970s and ’80s was evident with a slew of commercials and several movies, including the musical “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, which featured the popular sport.

The Albuquerque metro area was once home to several skating rinks but today just one, Roller Skate City (formerly Roller King), still exists. Owner Andy Wuest, who has worked in rinks for years, said skating has gone through many phases and he’s seen a resurgence in its popularity lately.

“I was a rink rat. Every open session, I was there,” he said. “I think people who grew up roller skating now have children and are passing on the tradition.”

The rink held a New Year’s Eve party this year and Wuest said families came out in droves.

“There were about 200 people,” he said. “It was ordered chaos.”

The rink is open for public skating on Friday nights and all day Saturday and Sunday. The public can book birthday parties and there is also a recreational and competitive roller hockey league. Wuest said these types of activities are making skating popular again.

“We have great families that come through that door,” he said. “We just want to pass on the tradition.”

Janet Marshall, 66, laughs as she dances with her husband, Ralph Marshall, 74, at Roller Skate City. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Janet Marshall, 66, laughs as she dances with her husband, Ralph Marshall, 74, at Roller Skate City. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Expanded offerings

For Rockin’ Rollers Event Arena co-owner Robbyn Garden, roller skating never went away. Garden, who owns the Santa Fe skating rink with husband Bill Spencer, said she grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s and skating was one of her favorite pastimes.

“When I was growing up, it was the most popular thing for my age group to do,” she said. “I love skating.”

In the ’90s, Garden and Spencer were doing karaoke at venues around Santa Fe but Garden said the two were ready to get out of the bar scene. That’s when the opportunity to help run the Rockin’ Rollers rink came along.

Garden said she was hired to manage the rink and eventually ended up taking over the operation in 1997. The couple runs the business as a nonprofit venture and have expanded its offerings. She said it’s almost impossible these days for a rink to survive with just revenue from skating admission tickets.

Garden and Hill decided to give the place a new look after taking over management. They created a UFO and alien museum and repainted the walls of the roller rink using the same theme. They installed a disco ball for the rink and a state-of-the-art sound system, because really, Garden said, it’s all about the music. They also hauled in vintage video games from the late 1970s and early ’80s.

“We hope we are giving you that nostalgic feeling when you come in here,” she said. “Our whole purpose is to entertain people.”

The rink is open every Friday for public skating, with $5 paying for the session and rental of the skates. They rent the place for private birthday parties every weekend and rent the space out for events and exercise classes. Garden said $135 will pay for a two-hour party for up to 50 people.

After fading for a while, roller skating is coming back, fueled, one rink owner says, by parents introducing a pastime they loved to their children. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

After fading for a while, roller skating is coming back, fueled, one rink owner says, by parents introducing a pastime they loved to their children. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

18th-century roots

The first known skate rolled across a London stage in 1743 and the first known recorded invention of the skate was 17 years later, according to the National Museum of Roller Skating.

Inventor John Joseph Merlin, according to the museum website, created a primitive inline model that had small metal wheels in 1760 but it wasn’t until 1819 that M. Petitbled patented the first roller skate design, which couldn’t do much more than go in a straight line because it was difficult to maneuver. The skate eventually evolved to four wheels.

Garden said roller skating has endured for centuries not just because it’s fun or great exercise but because of the experience of lacing up a pair of skates and taking a spin around the room.

“It’s because of the actual sensation of how it feels to skate,” she said. “It almost feels like you’re flying.”

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