Finding Your Truest Self on 8 Wheels
A roller-skating squad of self-proclaimed misfits shows how community can create a safe haven for sport.
"In Good Company" is a series about athletic teams and clubs that are challenging the status quo.
Is roller skating making a comeback? Ask this posse of fierce skaters—who've been rexing, dipping and spinning in Long Beach, California, for years—and they'll tell you that the sport never went away. It's just that the current global crisis made more people take notice. "With only outdoor sports being allowed, a lot of people looked into it to have a chance to learn something new, get outside or find the freedom they couldn't have during lockdown", says Kiana, who regularly meets up with this pack of athletes to collectively push the boundaries of their sport (and style). Because many roller rinks and indoor venues have been closed, this skate team took to the streets and their very own rainbow-adorned back-garden ramp.
But the back gardens and side streets where the group of friends regularly rolls represent only a fraction of their reach. Online, their community has grown to include roller skaters from all over the world. Through video calls and social media they stay connected, learn new tricks, improve moves and support one another with a mission to promote body and gender positivity, inclusivity and confidence, across continents and oceans. For all of them, the sport is a safe haven for people who feel they don't represent the traditional definition of what it means to be or look like an athlete. "I can show love to other skaters by encouraging them and cheering them on", says one skater, Jes. "Showing love is showing inclusion—heart and arms open wide allow for people to feel welcomed". A few in the group say they have childhood memories of being humiliated after falling over on roller skates, but their adult return to wheels has helped sweep those days of trauma away. "Instead of getting laughed at, I get cheered on", Jes says.
Meet the Skaters
A leader in the community (locally and globally), Rebel, 29, runs an expansive social media project called "Queer Girl Straight Skates". It includes a podcast called "Skate Date", which she uses to bring together skaters from all over the world with the goal of boosting their confidence the way skating has hers. "When I started roller skating, I was not only welcomed into the community exactly as I am, but I was told that my body was a powerful tool that would help me to be amazing", she says.
Shove, 34, is an artist who works at Moxi Skates and is Rebel's partner. The two, who met at a roller-derby induction event, love to hit the ramps or the streets in their thrift-store 'fits. "I can't wait for this pandemic to be over so I can host a HUGE roll out with hundreds of skaters gathering to take over the city of Long Beach", Shove says. "I miss the unity we had before, and when it comes back, the roller-skate love is going to be so freakin' amazing!"
Jes, 28, was introduced to the sport by Shove. "She wanted to teach me how to hill-bomb [skate downhill with little braking]", she recalls. Jes eventually tried it, but only after some much-needed encouragement. "I was shaking and tearing up because I thought I was going to face plant, but then I didn't", she says. Nowadays, she says, her style is all about being relaxed. "I cruise around the bowl, maybe throw in a little trick here and there. I try to keep it cool and calm. You can't rush if you're cruising", she says.
The founder of online shop Moxi Roller Skates, Estro Jen has been involved in the skating community since childhood. While people certainly notice her tireless advocacy for those who roller skate, it's the aerial moves she pulls that really wow onlookers. (When not skating, she's a professional stunt person in big-budget Hollywood superhero flicks). "We are intense, and it's so important to feel good on Earth, and it's so much easier to keep your high when you have friends flying around with you", she says. "I know roller skates really will be the shoes of the future".
Kiana got their start on skates with roller derby and moved to the park after they were inspired by watching the Moxi Skate Team video. One of the younger members of this crew, Kiana, 23, is especially encouraging of their companions, but is also a force in their own right, often skating in colourful clown make-up, proving they have the personality to hold their own. "I look at skating as a way to get my stress and creativity out, all while having fun".
Some names and personal details were altered to protect the privacy of those featured in this story.
Film: Erynn Patrick
Photography: David Elliott
Words: Tristan McAllister
Reported: November 2020