The 90s have served as a golden era for rollerblading. The craze for the sport spread countrywide. People went crazy for Power Ranger movies depicting characters chasing each other on rollerblades or hitting the streets for a ferocious ride. But the limelight soon diminished and the sport lost its craze.
Why does nobody rollerblade anymore? What changed over time that led to the disappearance of a once-popular sport?
Well, the sport took some historical turns and the events of the past gradually shifted the focus away from the sport leading to a meteoric rise and eventual fall.
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The primary reasons were the lack of facilities to support the sport. There were fewer professionals at the time who provided formal training to beginners.
Also, the rollerblades were not a cheap commodity to buy. The event of 9/11 made a silent blow to the sport raising terror in the hearts of the enthusiasts. Here is a summary of events that led to the eventual fall of the sport.
A Mental Shift
Rollerblading started as a favorite sport for adventure seekers. However, the infatuation blurred overtime soon after the nostalgia of the 90s. The mental shift was visible on various grounds. The number of supporting events fell over time. As a result, fewer rollerbladers were seen hitting the rink. The number of rollerbladers eventually reduced by 64% by the end of 2010.
As a reciprocation, the number of rollerblading events reduced to half gradually making more rollerbladers giving up on the sport. The ripple effect continued for many years to come. In the year 2015, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported the number of participants in an annual sports event to be only 6 million [source] which was many times less than the records of the prior years.
The statistics further revealed alarming facts that the people quitting the sport were actually enthusiasts who took it up more for fun than for professional agenda. The series of events gradually ended up in shutting down many more contests for rollerblading. Many of the events were losing their sponsors leading to a substantial decline in the popularity of the sport.
Role of Media
According to one theory, the mental shift was caused by the advent of video games. Another group of people believes that the loss of popularity was caused by negative support for visual media. Even the events that were being organized were never telecasted or reached the sports enthusiasts to develop a positive and supporting vibe for the sport. There were no TV shows, classic contests or live competitions to intrigue the audience or keep up the popularity quotient.
The popular rollerblading bubble was supported by false marketing campaigns that promised learners a sense of freedom. An air was created via TV commercials and magazine ads during the popular days convincing millions of teenagers that they can glide fast, spin quick, and jump high like the pros to experience the extremities of rollerblading.
However, most teenagers felt opposite to the misleading visualization of having fun or feeling cool. They simply flailed on the pair of boots and couldn’t control their movements or stance. The sports required commitment and practice which was not everyone’s forte. Many of the skaters gave up the idea of becoming an extreme rollerblader and ended up with the notion that rollerblading is a thing for the Gumby or gay.
Promoters Agenda and Expenses of the Sport
The final plunge came from the promoters who were more interested in economically beneficial sports that can generate better revenue. As a result, some non-recreational sports gained the focus of promoters moving rollerblading out of the picture. They were soon promoting sports on which multiple end-users were ready to spend a penny.
The cost of rollerblades was a serious factor when compared with other sports goods. They were three times more expensive than a good skateboard. If you add the maintenance cost as well, they seemed even more expensive. Considering the age of the learner, people had to invest almost every year on the rollerblades for their growing child, unlike other sports goods that were a one-time purchase like a football or a skateboard.
Lack of Professionals and Challenges of the Sport
Rollerblading is an extreme sport that requires proper training and consistent practice. You cannot undermine the constant threat of injury if you are negligent to follow the rules or could not comprehend the basics. It takes time to balance on rollerblades. Learning to stop can be a next-level challenge for beginners.
Not to forget, the difficulty of finding a professional instructor to comprehend the intricacies of rollerblading or a safe place to skate, which is devoid of obstacles. Only one in ten bladers were genuinely interested in passing on the knowledge to the younger generation.
As the promoters tried to entice maximum viewers by targetting the largest addressable market, judgemental comments about rollerblading were making headlines that generated an air of animosity between the bladers and non-bladers. The sport soon became a taboo.
All this negative approach and support for rollerblading concerning the overall market cap, lack of facilities, and poor pro-athlete salaries made the sport a secondary option for many. Later, the ejection from the famous X Games served as a death knell for rollerblading [source].
The Blow of 9/11
The event of 9/11 served as a medium to change the psyche of people, especially in the USA, who were witnessing a land of the stoic where there is no place for a dangerous sport like rollerblading [source]. The sports was already on a decline with less public places to grind, continuous rejection by consumers, and legitimate safety concerns.
However, the event of 9/11 did serve as a blow to the mindset of people in a way or the other causing a cultural shift. Even statistics suggest a whopping drop of 35% in the sales figures for the rollerblades in succeeding year after the event. In 2002, the sales were $160.7 million accounting for a drop of $90 million in comparison to the previous year.
Popular Sports That Required Less Skill
Similar sports were gradually gaining popularity during the decline of rollerblading. Sports that required fewer skills like skateboarding or bike riding. Teenagers felt more comfortable driving a bike or riding a skateboard than flailing around goofily on a more difficult-to-master pair of rollerblades.
The awkwardness of first-time rollerblading and unstable body language during the learning phases made people conceive strange hunches and develop unrealistic notions regarding the aggressive aspects of rollerblading. As a result, more people switched to sports that required fewer skills to get going.
Is it difficult to rollerblade when you are a beginner? Rollerblading is indeed a difficult sport that requires you to learn and master the basics well. You may require dedicated hours and days of practice before you can master the skills. Therefore, it is important to learn from a pro or a trained instructor. However, once you understand the basics and learn to balance on skates, all you need is a little practice to get to the next skill level. All it takes is time, patience, and practice.
What efforts are required at the ground level by local authorities to support rollerblading? Local authorities must figure out the support build-up at the ground level. They must invest in building skating rinks and skate parks to promote the sport. Another step can be to invite professional skaters at the rink to train the newcomers. Further, area-based events can be organized to create a general awareness of rollerblading. Seasonal events and competitions can encourage more people to join the drill to support rollerblading as a sport.
Is rollerblading any different from other forms of skating? Indeed. Rollerblading is an extreme, action sport, unlike recreational or artistic skating forms. It involves multiple tricks and several stunts. Even the skates designed for the sport have special features to accommodate the quick spins and sudden jumps. The hard soleplate and smaller wheels of the rollerblades can easily withstand the impact of fast stride and high jumps. Do I require to follow any safety measures before I start serious rollerblading? Yes, if you intend to be a serious rollerblader, the first step is to ensure safety. When you buy your rollerblades, you should also purchase a decent safety gear including a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, mouthguard, and gloves. It is also extremely important to learn about the rules of the roads before you hit the streets.