Gravel crackles under plastic wheels as avid skaters venture out on a leisurely roll through Depot Park in Gainesville. Some are geared from head to toe with helmets, wrist guards and knee pads. Others wear nothing but a smile.
Stay-at-home ordinances, which began in April and were caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, took people outdoors onto trails and into parks. Roller skating and rollerblading gained huge followings in 2020 as people were eager for safe ways to stay active and socialize.
Google searches related to roller skating skyrocketed in Spring and have stayed well above the average for the past five years.
Once or twice a week, Adriana Rivera laces up her black and teal rollerblades at Depot Park just as the sun is starting to set and everything turns golden, she said. She’ll skate for about an hour, depending on how hard she wants to go.
“Sometimes I turn off my music and I'll just blade and listen to the sounds of nature,” said Rivera, a 22-year-old UF psychology senior.
Rivera runs a fitness page on Instagram, @theefitgirl_adri, where she posts her workouts and lifting routines. Rollerblading has become her preferred choice of cardio in the past few months because she said it’s a great alternative to running.
She would occasionally skate around her neighborhood as a child and picked up the hobby again in April, after seeing a friend with skates, she said. Rivera borrowed her friend’s skates for as long as she could, eventually getting a pair of her own at the end of October.
When Rivera started skating again in the Spring, she ended up on “roller skating TikTok,” she said. TikTok, a short-form video social media platform, started showing her videos of people skating backwards and doing flips. She may not have those skills yet, but she is learning, she said.
Skating is a novel mode of transportation – not as taxing as running and not as serious as biking for Timothy DelCharco, a 22-year-old math tutor who lives in Gainesville.
DelCharco started rollerblading when he started college in 2016 at the University of North Florida where he was in need of a more exciting alternative to skateboarding. There is something fun about getting around on wheels, he said.
The skating community carries a special camaraderie skating is a niche activity, he said. Anytime he sees people skating at Depot Park, he will talk to them about new tricks and compare skates. They’re always willing to share knowledge.
“It's abnormal enough that people will take notice of it and be like, ‘Oh, cool skates,’” he said.
DelCharco has noticed that skating is a safe, communal activity, he said. He is often worried about scaring people whenever he has to pass them on a dark trail. However, whenever he calls out to warn those in front of him while wearing a pair of rollerblades, he gets no reaction, he said.
“Roller skating is just, like, for funsies,” DelCharco said. “There's nothing less intimidating than a man rollerblading.”
As a veteran in the roller skating community, Shanna Swiers, a 33-year-old employee at a church in Gainesville, thinks it is wonderful that the pandemic brought back skating. It’s awesome to see people getting interested in something she loves, she said.
Swiers, also known as “Vera Dreadful” among her teammates, has played roller derby for nine years. Roller derby is a roller skating team sport.
Her derby career started with the Gainesville Roller Rebels, a flat track derby team, after her brother introduced her to the sport, she said. Swiers now plays for the All-City Rollers but their season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Swiers recreationally skates two or three times per week, usually at Depot Park or on the Hawthorne Trail, she said. When skating outside, Swiers uses softer wheels on her traditional quad skates rather than switching to inline skates. Softer wheels are less affected by pebbles and cracks in the sidewalk.
Swiers and some of her All-City Roller teammates put together a Facebook Messenger group to coordinate group skates on Sunday mornings at Depot Park, called “Social Distancing Skate Club.”
There are usually two to five people every Sunday, and people rotate in and out throughout the morning, she said. The group wears masks and does their best to socially distance during water breaks.
“If you see a blonde woman on roller skates saying good morning to you, stop me,” Swiers said. “I would love to help people learn how to roller skate.”