Secret Knowledge: Roller Skating

“They’ve had skating beef for thirty years.”

Learning to roller skate isn’t hard; it’s mostly about learning to push with the bottom of your feet and maintaining your balance. The trickier part is finding your place in a group of people who have been cruising the streets of San Francisco for decades.

Lucy took up rollerskating about three years ago with a set of used Riedell skates and a day-long lesson. “It’s scary at first because you’re going to fall. And you do fall.” Now she skates almost every Sunday, mostly at the Skatin’ Place in Golden Gate Park near 6th Avenue.

The scene in San Francisco isn’t as big as those in Chicago and LA, but it’s long-standing and tightly knit. Colleen, Terrance, Miles have been at The Skatin’ Place for decades; Palmer skates a huge loop through the city while wearing a sailor hat and sequins, and the owner of Skates on Haight rides in traffic, without brakes. There are aggro derby girls, and extreme speed rollerbladers, but Lucy skates in a style that’s more like dancing.

Lucy learned her moves from Terrance, who has been at the Skatin’ Place  for thirty years. Which brings us to the beef: due to various romantic entanglements, Terrance and a man named Miles have been at odds for years. A picture of Terrance from the 1980’s includes Miles in the background, “so angry, just glaring at him.” They still haven’t reconciled.

For the most part though skating is incredibly positive, welcoming and wholesome. “It just makes you happy. It’s like dancing but it’s on roller skates. Just like anything else in the world, people can ruin something that’s simple and good, but most don’t.”

With the closure of  Redwood Roller Rink and the rumored closing of Golden Skate, the Bay Area scene may be in decline. But Skatin’ Place is still going strong, hosting tons of skaters under the towering eucalyptus every weekend. Lucy remembers thinking that the skaters she saw were thirty-somethings, only to find out some of them were in their sixties. “They’ve been skating for 45 years, and they’re never going to stop. It keeps them young.”

Photo credit: William Rittenhouse

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