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Roller Fever: It's Back and Hotter Than Ever, So Pull Out Your Old Wheels, and Hit the Rinks

By Todd Eric Lovato
Journal Staff Writer
    After being ignored for decades, the sport and art form known as roller skating has found its wheels.
    Quad skates— the up-to-date name for traditional roller skates— are making a high-profile comeback with appearances in film, network commercials, television and music videos.
    The exposure is sparking a nationwide resurgence in the popularity of quad skates, and the hype is making its way to New Mexico.
    "A lot of people don't go to roller rinks anymore," says local jam skater Jay Stuckey, 23. "But I have noticed a lot more interest around town, and I think it's because a lot more movies and videos are coming out with quads in them."
    Jam skating— a mixture of break dancing, gymnastics, artistic dance and modern dance— is helping push the nearly abandoned quad skate back into the public eye.
    Maybe you've noticed some of the recent cameos that quad skates are making:
    A current iPod commercial features black silhouettes jam skating on neon backdrops to the Gorillaz's Grammy-nominated hip-hop track "Feel Good Inc." A Diet Coke commercial ("Sparkle: It's a Diet Coke Thing") features an angelic blonde gliding and bouncing on quads on a beachfront of choreographed skaters. In theaters nationwide last year, hit rappers Bow Wow and Nick Cannon starred in the retro-roller skating movie "Roll Bounce."
    Quads are also making cameos in television music videos, sitcoms and dramas, including the premier of the reality television series "Rollergirls."
    In Albuquerque, a burgeoning interest in roller-skating sports is breathing life into a shoe form that many thought was extinct. "As far as quads, jam skating and roller derby are two of the biggest things in Albuquerque right now," Stuckey says.
    Stuckey first learned to jam skate when he was 8 years old. He practices regularly at Albuquerque's lone remaining roller rink, the Roller King at 400 Paisano St. And on Sunday afternoons, Stuckey volunteers as a referee for Albuquerque's premier full-contact, all-women roller derby league, the Duke City Derby.
    Stuckey says he's glad both sports are getting more attention.
    "I think the resurgence in roller skating right now is coming from all the things that people like about the '60s, '70s— the old school," Stuckey says. "Jam skating was huge back then and so was derby and rollerball, and now all that stuff is coming back again full circle.
    "We're just adding our own twist onto it."
    At age 20, Jerry Arnold could be Albuquerque's most successful jam skater. He jam skates at the pro level and competes in tournaments across the country with his outfit, Team Jammers.
    The team took first place in several categories during the 2005 winter United Jam Skating Teams of America nationals in Leesville, S.C. Arnold's team is sponsored by a major roller-skate company— a rarity in the roller-skating world.
    "It's a big deal to be sponsored by a big company like Roll-Line," Arnold says. "It helps you put out a name for yourself, and people start saying, 'Oh that's the kids who got sponsored!' But it really just makes you want to work harder because you know people are watching you."
    Arnold and Stuckey didn't begin skating until after roller skating's peak of popularity in the 1970s. Both agree, however, that much of today's roller skating is rooted in the old school.
    The technique of jam skating has been around for decades and is in a constant state of evolution, Arnold says.
    "The older technique of jam skating was more on your feet and rooted in the funk style of the '70s," Arnold says. "The new school is more related to break dancing and hip-hop.
    "There's a lot of ankle variations, a lot of people wear knee pads because a lot of people do front flips, back flips and windmills. The bar is getting a lot higher now."
    Because of the nationwide trend, David Gold, owner of Skate City in Albuquerque, says he has ordered a new line of skates and wheels. "Roller skates have almost been dead for a long time," Gold says. "Now there's a resurgence, a long overdue one.
    "In the 1980s, roller skating was huge, and then rollerblading came in and it bounced roller skates out, and they haven't come back until now."
    Nationwide sales of roller skates have increased 150 percent since 2004, according to statistics published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Meanwhile, sales of in-line skates declined more than 50 percent between 1998 and 2004, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association.
    "For the past 15 years, it's been difficult to even find a pair of skates," says Los Angeles-based director and film producer Tyrone Dixon. "My goal is to get roller skating in the mainstream as much as skateboarding is seen. We're really practicing the whole economic value of the thing. I want kids who can roller skate showing their houses on 'MTV Cribs.' ''
    Dixon worked as a consultant and collaborator on recent roller skating projects, including the iPod and Diet Coke ads. He is also the associate producer of the film "Roll Bounce."
    He discovered his fondness for skating while creating the independent roller-skating documentary "8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha' Music," which was released in 2005. The film focuses on the black and urban roller skating culture and its influence on roller skating and pop culture.
    "I made this film to make a difference, to get people familiar with all the different styles of roller skating. It's not just jam skating or roller derby. There's all these different styles from different regions of the country that need to be recognized."
Not just for kids
    Dixon is working on several roller-skating projects, including an instructional book and a roller-skating video game in which the player can control the rhythm and motion of the skater.
    He is also working on a reality show planned to be titled "Skate Groove Tour," which will feature a touring group of cutting edge roller skaters. Also, Dixon says to keep an eye out for another jam-skating movie featuring Atlanta-based rapper T.I., due for release in March.
    "We can't go on with what people think roller skating is— that it's only for kids. Roller skating isn't just kids' stuff. It's been around forever. It's one of the oldest American pastimes. It is an American sport."
On a roll:
    Across the country, roller skating has branched into styles and techniques that vary among locales. With its incorporation of hip-hop and break dancing, jam skating is becoming one of roller skating's fastest-growing styles in Albuquerque. "But jam skating is just one of the ways to skate," says Tyrone Dixon, film director and creator of "8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha' Music."
    Here's a crash course on roller skates provided by Dixon:
  • Roller skating with traditional skates can be called "quad skating," "8 wheelin'," "roller dancing," "roller disco" and "8-wheel boogie."
  • Roller skating styles are many (jam skating, break skating and artistic skating, for example) and are regional in some cases, such as the "Detroit Open House," where people perform moves while pair skating; "The Chicago JB (James Brown) Style," inspired by the Godfather of Soul's dance moves; "The Jersey Bounce"; "The Cincinnati Style"; "The East St. Louis Style"; and "The Jammin' Technique" out of Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Within those styles are moves such as the "Crazy Legs," "The Big Wheel," "The Grapevine," "Shoot The Duck," "Hocky Stop," "The Plow," "Hitch Kicks," "Tension Drops," "The Butterfly," "Trios" and "Sit spins" started in the early 1900s by African-Americans.

    E-MAIL Journal Staff Writer Todd Eric Lovato