By Tom Cowie
No, you haven't been transported back to the 1970s. Roller skates are making a comeback driven by viral videos of young skaters on social media.
Like gym equipment, sales of roller skates have gone through the roof in Melbourne in recent months as people look for fresh ways to stay active without breaking COVID-19 restrictions.
Jessica Maddock wears her skates at St Kilda beach.CREDIT: JASON SOUTH
One skating shop described the demand for products in recent months as "absolutely mad", with skates in pastel colours the big sellers among those looking to lace up and hit the pavement.
The trend has been powered by social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram, where roller skating videos are hugely popular, drawing millions of views.
Ana Coto, one of the new skating stars, has more than two million followers on TikTok. The sun-drenched retro California vibe of her videos is a common theme of the new skating aesthetic.
Flight attendant Jessica Maddock said she took up skating after a visit to the Church Of 8 Wheels roller rink in San Francisco.
The trend was most popular with young women aged in their 20s and 30s, Ms Maddock said. Men, she said, still preferred to roller blade. The introduction of heavy restrictions on outdoor recreation due to the COVID-19 pandemic had only increased the appeal, she said.
"When we went into lockdown, I thought what a great activity to keep fit. Me and everyone else," the 31-year-old said.
"We're kind of restricted, I guess, it's great to get out and do more than go for a walk. I definitely try and get a few times in a week if I can, it's a good challenge."
Another part of the attraction of roller skates was the style aspect, she said, and "the outfits you can match with it".
At Bladeworx in Braeside, which has sold skating equipment since 1993, owner Bill Fortune has been battling to keep up with the boom in demand.
As soon as new stock comes in from his suppliers, it's straight out the door. "It's been mad, absolutely mad," he said.
"It's huge, the spike in demand for roller skates has been breathtaking." Mr Fortune said sales had started taking off at the beginning of the first lockdown and had not slowed down.
It has changed his business. Before the coronavirus pandemic, 90 per cent of sales at Bladeworx came from inline skates or roller blades. Since then, roller skates had accounted for 80 per cent.
He said it was bigger than the roller derby trend of the past decade, comparing it with the roller blading boom of the 1990s.
"Roller blades were huge way back then because it was something new," he said. "It's unprecedented, it's like Christmas from a demand point of view, perhaps even better. There's that kind of desperation among customers, they want their order ASAP."
With the sun coming out and Melbourne hopefully ending its long lockdown in the coming months, there could be even more roller skaters on the streets over summer.
"Everyone sees themselves as a roller girl, it's extraordinary."
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