Roller Skating Was Crazy Awesome!
Written by Rebeka Knott
Roller skating has been around for decades. Its popularity may wax and wane like the moon, but it’s always around. The 1970s and 1980s are widely recognized as roller skating’s heyday. Everyone skated everywhere they went. From morning into the wee hours of the night at the roller discos.
Roller skates were literally as common as shoes, or more like an appendage for some people. The fad had a funky yet provocative effect on people and a huge cultural impact overall. Everything was affected, from the far-out clothing, rad roller-movies, and television shows, to roller-related marketing strategies. Literally, everything went roller disco. It was like a very sparkly plague that made everyone wanna strap on some "blazin" pop wheels and get down on it.
Pop-Wheels were wildly popular
There were many versions of pop wheels that were easier on the eyes, they were just like sneakers. But the roller sandals were pretty rough. They were basically like clogs but with retractable wheels built-in. Cringe-worthy nowadays, but pure gold in the 1970s.
Sidewalk Skates were basically just sneakers with wheels
According to O.J. Simpson, skating is, “The greatest thing in outdoor recreation since jogging.” While pop wheel skates were among the more popular, even more so were the sidewalk skates which is baffling since they were essentially ankle-snappers which most rinks wouldn’t let past the front door.
There were skating festivals full of shiny happy people
Skating was a huge deal, entire streets would be blocked off in major cities for skate festivals and races. Even the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco was once overrun with the happiest looking skaters ever photographed. They even managed to earn a world record at a Golden Gate event– “World’s longest skating serpentine.”
Roller Disco emerged and made history
In the 1970s, when roller skating began to catch on, the disco craze was already at its height in popularity and people were not ready to let it go. Instead on one fad replacing the other they were combined and roller discos were born. The lights, the music, the disco ball and all the dance moves… with wheels thrown into the mix.
The seventies may have corrupted roller skating
Leave it to the 1970s to take a perfectly good, family-friendly activity and make it as pornographic as possible. The seventies was like that bad influence friend that roller skating shouldn't have been allowed to play with. But, they just had so much fun together! The influence of the eighties (oddly enough) is what calmed things down a bit and skating rinks became kid-friendly again.
Roller girl trends suddenly took on a "less is more" attitude
The resurgence of the roller skating craze launched its own brand of fashion, which consistently morphed all throughout the decade and well into the 1980s. The 1970s skate fashion was more of an unholy alliance between disco and uninhibited sexuality (with wheels strapped to it). Even the men were often scantily dressed.
Even fully covered they still let it all hang out in the groovy era
It was a time of sexual revolution and even when covered from head to toe, women found ways to exude sex appeal while boogieing on down. Stars like Cher were infamous for embracing the sheer and “barely there” look of clothing in the 70s. So much glitter, such little left to the imagination.
It was childlike fun and indulgence for adults
Many participants in the roller skating resurgence in the seventies, remembered loving it when they were just kids. Roller discos allowed the fun from childhood to merge with the benefits of adulthood, like drinking, smoking, and flirting. It was as if many took a favorite pastime and threw in a little glam and some debauchery and just indulged.
"Playboy" threw a Roller Disco & Pajama Party
In 1979, ABC’s Primetime Special: “Playboy’s Roller Disco & Pajama Party” made both, playmate and roller skating history. Hugh Hefner knew a good fad when he saw one, so he put some of his bunnies on wheels and threw the ultimate party at his California mansion. There was even a live performance by the "Village People" because if you can’t skate to Y.M.C.A., why bother?
Skate fashion evolved in the eighties
The 1980s skating attire involved much more fabric... and hair. Colorful socks, tights, giant earrings, and crop-tops filled the skate rinks. Nothing topped the lovely ladies on the floor dressed in leotards and leg warmers like they were getting ready to like, totally go aerobicise with Jane Fonda.
It was a time when everyone had skating fever
Celebrities were lacing up and rolling out off screen as well. Everybody had skating fever Cher, Brooke Shields, Farrah Fawcett, and even Patrick Swayze could be found on roller skates. This really reinforced the craze and is probably the reason it lasted so long.
All the fancy footwork kept skating interesting
Skating was popular in pretty much every city in America, and it seemed everybody had skills. Most places even developed their own skate-style. For example, Chicago’s distinctive style was known as JB Skating, this involved pulling off sweet James Brown dance moves while skating. Of course, all these different methods brought out the competitive side in people. The people of Chicago and New York each became convinced they were the roller skating mecca. Best skating, best pizza… they’ll compete with each other over anything.
The skating craze got people out of the house
Even the biggest “disco queens would roll out of bed before sundown to “go bootin” down the strip. The boardwalks of Venice Beach, California were filled with the legendary roller babes throughout the seventies. The mayor of Los Angeles declared Venice Beach “the rolling skating capital of the world,” in 1979.
Skating provided environment-friendly travel
Two good things that can be said about the 1970s was the extent with which people were concerned with the environment and personal fitness. Roller skating is certainly provided calorie burning cardio and fuel-less travel. It’s no wonder roller skates became such a huge sensation.
Roller skating rinks were the hangout spots for teens
Even if you didn’t want to skate, the Roller rink was where you wanted to be. It was a "be there or be square" situation. Sure, roller rinks were popular in the 1970s but they became the social hubs of the 1980s for most teens. All the popular music of the time was blared over loudspeakers, they flashed colorful lights, had video game arcades, and snack bars.
“Couple’s Skate” was a staple in young love
Who could forget couple’s skate? For one song every hour, only couples had the floor. This meant you got to slow skate hand-in-hand with the “love of your life” to Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes.” Or it meant you could skate up next to your crush as the lights dimmed and “forced” to grab their hand under the guise of not wanting to be booted off the rink with the rest of the singles.
Roller movies flooded theaters
As could be expected, the massive fad caught the interest of Hollywood filmmakers. Soon scripts with storylines centered around skating were being shot faster than they could be written. There is more roller skating films in existence than there ever should be but Skatetown U.S.A., Linda Blair’s Roller Boogie, and of course Olivia Newton-John’s Xanadu are the only ones that matter.
Roller skating-themed television episodes of the 70s are classics
Many television shows incorporated the fad into an episode but the most memorable was the Chips episode “Roller Disco” in 1979. The story was about robbers on pop wheel skates. Obviously not the best getaway plan but hey, it was 1979. Everyone wanted to make a cameo in this episode and they did. Ed McMahon, Antonio Fargas, Todd Bridges, Tina Louise, Dick Van Patten, Leif Garrett, Larry Linville, Nancy Culp of the Beverly Hillbillies, and even Laverne & Shirley’s Cindy Williams, to name a few.
The hilariously random ads that dragged roller skating into everything
“When he offers you a low tar cigarette, tell him you’ve got one of your own.” What exactly, this has to do with roller skating is anyone’s guess. As is, why anyone would think smoking while engaging in cardio is going to work out well for anyone. Oh, you silly seventies.
Skates got their own groovy magazines
It was of no surprise that major magazines of the time such as People and Tiger Beat often featured celebrities with roller skates strapped to their feet on the cover. But soon there were also magazines specifically devoted to the social sport and even some that focused solely on roller derby.
Skating even made its mark on the music industry
Music and skating may be perfectly fine on their own but are totally bitchin together. Some of the more famous roller-inspired songs were, Arabesque’s “Roller Star”, “Roller Derby Queen” by Jim Croce, Dolly Dots “Rollerskating”, The Beach Boys “Roller Skating Child” and let’s not forget “Roller Skate Rag” by Barbra Streisand.
The rise of rad roller vinyl
There was also an entire wave of roller skating record covers that washed over the 70s. In addition to featuring roller skates, there were usually unintentionally creepy elements to them. Like the Dolly Dots floating in a cardboard cutout of outer space or this album pictured here with mysterious aluminum foil tubes dangling around this roller-babe for no reason.
Bringing your own tunes was a gloriously ridiculous task
For anyone who thought the boombox scene in “Say Anything...” was impractical (because let’s face it, he could have just blared the track from his car), try roller skating while hoofing around one of those massive things and a pair of headphones. People actually did just that in the 1970s and 1980s. The hilarious applications of the technology of the time was just one of the many wonderfully absurd things about roller skating in the groovy era.
Roller Derby was brought back to life in the groovy era
Roller skating spawned quite a few subcultures besides roller disco. The more athletic application of roller skating was Roller Derby. The two team, contact sport existed before the groovy era, however, Raquel Welch starred in a docudrama about it called "The Kansas City Bomber" and suddenly it was more popular than ever. Women were back to jabbing and knocking each other down with a smile. Then making laps around their opponent's injured bodies.
Artistic skate competitions evolved greatly in the groovy era
During the 1970s, an interest Precision Roller Skating grew and led to rapid development within the sport. This particular form of skating places emphasis not only on the artistic ability but also on maintaining precise formations and timing within a group. Each season has evolved more and more in creativity, innovation, sophistication, and speed. Then other countries began to take an interest, resulting in World Championships.
There were practical uses for roller skates (sort of)
It’s a shame the roller skating carhops at fast food drive-ins are no longer a thing. The 1970s was pretty much their last hoorah before the breed died out in the 1980s. It made food service so much more fun. Sure there was always the risk of them hitting a small bump in the parking lot and splattering your chocolate shakes everywhere but those are the things that keep life interesting, right?
Weddings on wheels
That’s right, many a bride and groom thought out would be groovy to skate down the wedding aisle. Okay, to be fair roller skating-themed weddings did not originate in the groovy era, but they certainly happened a whole lot more often between the 1970s and 1980s.
Skating permeated everything
There was really nowhere to turn that was free of roller skating. The social sport seeped into every aspect of popular culture during the groovy era. Film, television, music, magazine covers, it was just about everyone’s hobby and even found its way into just about every advertisements. Although, the 'looks' people were able to pull off without ridicule from their peers is oddly satisfying. Never before (or since) has it been okay to
walk roll out of your house looking like an ice cream cone.
Creepy skating dolls cruising through your nightmares
Interest in roller skating for adults didn’t start to dwindle down until the mid-80s. Many children however, were just starting to get into it and Mattel took the opportunity to cash in on the craze while they still could with roller skating dolls. As creepy as she was, she may have been a part of keeping the fad alive for the new generation.
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