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Skater girls: Why rollerblading is this summer's hot trend

The pandemic inspired a host of new hobbies but few are as cool as rollerblading or roller skating. Kathy Donaghy meets the women freewheeling for fun and fitness

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Blades of glory: Daniela Sinnott and her daughter Molly in Father Collins Park in Clongriffin, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carr

Blades of glory: Daniela Sinnott and her daughter Molly in Father Collins Park in Clongriffin, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carr

Life on wheels: ‘I remember loving rollerskates so much when I was a kid,’ says Donegal mum Deirdre Fitzpatrick. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Life on wheels: ‘I remember loving rollerskates so much when I was a kid,’ says Donegal mum Deirdre Fitzpatrick. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

�Lorcan Doherty

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Blades of glory: Daniela Sinnott and her daughter Molly in Father Collins Park in Clongriffin, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carr

Some of us took up gardening. Some of us fixed up the house. Some of us started birdwatching. And some of us rewound the clock to the 90s and rediscovered the very retro pastime of rollerblading.

With celebrities like Reese Witherspoon leading the way, sales of rollerskates and blades have rocketed during the pandemic, with devotees rediscovering the fun of getting around on wheels. Daniela Sinnott is one such devotee. Daniela (43), mum to Molly (7) and Luca (2) got her first pair of roller skates for Christmas as a child and would skate around her family home in Sutton.

She recalls a craze for rollerblades in the mid-1990s when she would borrow her younger brother's blades and go and play roller hockey with friends before buying a pair of her own. The main difference, she says, between roller skates and rollerblades is the positioning of the wheels. Inline skates or rollerblades have a single frame with a number of wheels all in a line while roller skates have two horizontal trucks or hangars.

Daniela found rollerblading more like skating on ice and as soon as she put her first pair on, she was in them all the time. When she started college they became her main mode of transport. Every day she'd blade the six or seven kilometres to study and make the return journey home again.

Over the years Daniela, who works for Checkout magazine, would have phases where she put her rollerblades on for fitness. But more recently, she says years had passed and her old rollerblades were gathering dust.

It was only when she watched with pride as her daughter Molly zoomed past her in her own skates that Daniela thought she might dig her old blades out. On Sunday mornings the two carved out some mother and daughter time by going to Father Collins Park in Dublin's Clongriffin to get some practice in.

But it was lockdown that took her hobby to a whole new level. It was something fun to do and Daniela describes the feeling of getting back on her rollerblades as a bit like riding a bike. The old muscle memory came back and with Molly's encouragement Daniela started to enjoy the feeling of freedom again.

"We were all cooped up together so much. It got us out and we were spending a bit of time together," says Daniela, who lives in Baldoyle.

While she would describe herself as fit and healthy, since she had her second child, Daniela never got back to exercising as regularly as she had before. Rollerblading is also helping her get her fitness groove back.

Her rollerblades, which are now over 20 years old, are clocking up the miles around the park, getting her heart rate up as she flies along. "It's a really fun way to exercise. I prefer rollerblading to cycling. You feel like you're just gliding along. You can really put your back into it or you can just take it easy," says Daniela.

"I took to it pretty quickly - probably because I'd skated as a kid. It's a case of making the time to do it now. If I go on my own, I put on the headphones and do a good stint. I could do five or six laps of the park which are 1.5k each. At the beginning my legs were a bit sore but there's definitely muscle memory there."

Rollerblading and roller skating are one of this summer's big trends. As we embrace all things that trigger nostalgia from drive-in movies to vintage TV, freewheeling on skates or blades is having its day in the sun again.

Vogue recently reported a "skate shortage worldwide", with sports shops seeing the highest demand since the early 2000s. In the US, sales of rollerblades rose by 300pc from March to June, shipping more products domestically in May than any month in the past 20 years.

Reese Witherspoon, a woman who knows a thing or two about being on trend, recently used her Instagram account to tell her followers about her new purchase: rollerblades. Accompanied by a video of a young woman making blading backwards look like a walk in the park she asked: "Now who is gonna teach me these moves? It can't be that hard, right?"

TikTok videos of teenagers dancing in 1970s-style roller skates have been going viral, inspiring some, including Donegal mum Deirdre Fitzpatrick, (36) to give it a go.

"It was one of those things during lockdown - I downloaded TikTok and when I saw videos of people skating it sparked something in me," says Deirdre, mum to Evan (6), Jake (10) and Adam (14).

"I remember loving roller skates so much when I was a kid. I just felt I wanted to be able to dance on roller skates. I think I became a bit obsessed with it for a while. I kept coming back to it and watching the videos. I decided I'd buy a pair for myself so I went online and looked," says Deirdre.

Eventually she settled on a pair of rollerblades which required an upgrade. Deirdre wanted outdoor wheels so she had to find a specialist store that would give hers a reboot.

She found a small store in England with two ladies running it who were able to help her. In April Deirdre was finally ready to get going, starting tentatively in the house, moving to the garden and finally going to Ballymacool Park, not far from her home in Letterkenny.

There were a few falls initially but Deirdre says even now she has mastered the art of falling so she doesn't hurt herself. Armed with knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards - she is prioritising her safety. Building websites for people for a living, Deirdre says a broken wrist would put her out of work.

As she built up her skill, Deirdre found that rollerblading was not only helping her fitness, it was helping her feel less anxious about things. "It's great because you can't really think of anything else - you're so busy keeping an eye out for pebbles. Now I'm getting out for about 45 minutes, listening to R&B on Spotify. I have my friends dying to start as well," she says.

While Deirdre had roller skates as a child she says she never reached the proficiency of her older cousin Paula who would skate up and down the road near their home.

"When I first put them on, it was like trying to find my sea legs. As an adult you're so different. You're afraid of making a fool of yourself and you're afraid of falling. When I put some music on, that's when the muscle memory came back," says Deirdre.

"I've tried to go for walks or runs but you're always thinking about getting home again but with this I just get on with it. I really want to learn how to do all the funky little moves. It looks so easy on the videos but it's not," she says.

When she drops her sons to football now, Deirdre takes to the park to get some practice in. While they won't admit it she knows her boys think it's pretty cool that their Mum is the one gliding around the park listening to R&B as she goes.

Irish Independent