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Finding stability through roller skating

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Smooth surfaces to practice on are as hard to come by as roller skates are. Photo by Leah Monson

I found roller skating at the perfect time, what with the year being so tumultuous for so many of us.

The emergence of COVID-19 brought along a wave of worldwide trials, tribulations and changes. Fear of this fast and seemingly ruthless virus was the driving force behind businesses, both essential and recreational, temporarily closing in an effort to contain the spread. This led to a massive surge in layoffs, furloughs and subsequent unemployment claims

I quickly fell into this statistic back in April, and remained there for the next six months.

With the world suddenly struggling through different facets of life, my misfortunes seemed trivial in comparison. Though I was unemployed and fully dependent on government assistance, I was not facing eviction or falling behind on my bills. I was doing okay given the circumstances, at least at surface level. 

I was so laser focused on keeping my finances in order that I allowed my mental and physical health to fall to the wayside. I had no idea how much of a toll that subconscious decision would take on me, or how difficult it would be to remedy such a detrimental oversight.

I spent the majority of my days looking for a job, any job, that I was more or less qualified for. Craigslist, Indeed and Glassdoor became my social media; driving around town and searching for “help wanted” signs was my reason for getting up in the morning; and turning in applications was my motivation for looking presentable. I was stuck in a rut that was getting deeper by the day, and desperately scrambling for something to fill my free time with that didn’t involve spending any more time alone. 

I needed change. Consistency. Something challenging and engaging to break up the monotony of unemployment.

After yet another disheartening day of job searching back in September, I somehow stumbled upon a listing for an upcoming roller skating class on the City of Grover Beach website. 

Intrigued, and a little nervous, I convinced two of my girlfriends to try it with me. 

$40 in class fees and a pair of entry level skates later, the three of us were flailing around the flat concrete slab at Ramona Garden Park during our first class.

Our instructors, Caity and Gianna McCardell, a mother-daughter duo, assured us that over the course of the next six weeks, we’d steadily learn to fall less and fly more. Caity McCardell, a Santa Barbara native and longtime roller skater, lead us through yoga-inspired stretches on the grass before hitting the pavement (pun intended). Her daughter Gianna McCardell, a Cuesta College student, is the true mastermind behind the class’s inception.

“I follow the city [of Grover Beach] on Instagram, and they made a post like, ‘We’re looking for outdoor contractors to do classes,’” Gianna said. “I was like, I bet there would be a ton of people who want to learn [how to roller skate] and don’t really have that community yet.”

Gianna’s idea to create a class for beginner quad skaters couldn’t have come at a better time. Since COVID-19 forced everyone inside and away from certain comforts and routines like the gym, the roller skating community has seen a massive uptick in numbers across the board. 

Quad skates and accessories are sold out across almost all popular websites, prompting scalpers to sell skates secondhand at insanely marked up prices. YouTube channels like Queer Girl Straight Skates, Moxi Roller Skates and Karen the Karrot are full of quad skate tutorials, reviews, unboxings, and inspirational videos that make the community easily accessible for new skaters. 

Recent trends have proven that demand is through the roof, with Google searches pertaining to roller skating rising in March and spiking in May. 

I’m directly contributing to the hype. Why? Because this is the first time I’ve felt fulfilled and free of the constraints that came with the outbreak in months. 

Since the class started, I’ve felt a gradual and positive shift in my mental health, and I’m not the only one. Gianna recognizes the importance of movement in a time when sedentary lifestyles are encouraged. 

“Any amount of exercise we all know really benefits your mental health,” Gianna said. “And also being able to have some kind of community, even when we’re not supposed to be in close contact with people inside.”

Though we’re encouraged to socially distance and wear masks during class, roller skating outside with a small group of friends is the closest thing to normal that I’ve experienced since March. When we’re not in class, we’re rushing out of work to take advantage of the last dregs of daylight for a quick skate session. When my skates are on, my inhibitions and daily stressors are in my backpack with my shoes – feelings that skaters, both new and seasoned, can relate to.

When I skate, I feel free – like my body can actually do what I want it to,” Gianna said. “It’s like I’m carrying around a huge weight, and then when I put my skates on the weight comes off and I’m able to move freely.”

Caity expressed similar feelings toward roller skating, with joy and a little bit of fear fueling her fervor.

“I feel free and fast and alive,” Caity said. “I feel like I can take on the world – powerful and in charge. I feel like no one can catch me – like a person with a super power. So close to flying!” 

The desire to feel that weightlessness and improve is addicting and intoxicating. I’ve pushed my living room furniture out of the way for late night practice on multiple occasions; I’m constantly scouring the roller skating subreddit for tips and inspiration; and I’m devouring YouTube tutorials in the hopes of adding a new trick to my (very limited) repertoire. 

I went from having no agenda for the better half of 2020, to finding a new passion within quad skating in a month. I’m still reeling from the change, but fully embracing it all the same. Learning to skate dance, conquering skate parks and tearing up roller derby tracks are all on my to-do list for 2021.

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