If TikTok and Instagram are any indication, roller skating may very well be the unofficial sport of 2020. Amidst a global pandemic where people are hungry for new hobbies to escape their homes, Google searches for “roller skates” peaked in May, reaching 100 on the Google Trends interest-over-time chart, the highest it’s been in five years.
Local runner-turned-skater Allie Swanson, 22, is one of many new people to break into the flourishing scene. A South Carolina native and recent graduate of Rhodes College, Allie’s athletic background primed her for her recent transition to roller skating. She danced for 10 years and has been a serious runner since 2018, even completing the St. Jude Half Marathon last year.
Although Allie dabbled in roller skating in her childhood and college years, and occasionally visited skating rinks, she had her first true foray into the culture during a trip to San Francisco in 2019. “One weekend, we went to this skate rink called Church of 8 Wheels. It was an old church-turned-skate rink—a gorgeous old beautiful building with just a really groovy and hip atmosphere,” she recalls. “It was one of the most fun nights of my life.” Allie was drawn in by the diverse crowd, amazing music, and welcoming environment. She couldn’t stop thinking about that night, even after she returned home.
Although she went to the rink a few times in Memphis, Allie had a hard time making it a habit. The rinks were far away, and none of her friends shared her interest. However, that all changed in April. Inspired by her best friend afar, Allie purchased her first pair of skates right before they began selling out. “She was having such a good time with hers that I had to get some,” Allie laughs. “I just immediately loved it and could feel myself getting better each day.”
Allie’s newfound hobby was quick to became a full-fledged lifestyle. “It has really become a passion in the short time that I’ve been doing it,” she says. “It just puts me in the best mood. It’s such a smooth and peaceful movement, but it’s also working your body so you feel those endorphins.”
While her fitness routine used to primarily focus on running, she now runs two to three times a week and does a long skate, 45 to 90 minutes, every day that she doesn’t run. “My body feels like I just did a hard workout after most skate sessions,” Allie says. “I can definitely see and tell that my quads and glutes are getting stronger, and my legs are just all around stronger and more toned.”
Skating is more than just a workout for Allie. She has immersed herself in the culture, especially when it comes to social media. “I follow a lot of skate accounts on Instagram,” she says. “Lots of beginner quarantine skaters have made IG accounts to track their progress, and those have been crazily popular and really fun to follow.”
Some of Allie’s favorite Instagram accounts:
- @Estrojen– The founder of renowned roller skating brand Moxie, a park skater with an inspiring background.
- @Oumi_janta– A Berlin-based jam skater
- @Kellllllllllls– A smooth, stylistic skater in LA
- @Dee_upshaw– An old school disco skater
- @Gysetcity– Skate yoga instructor with great style
As skating becomes trendier by the day, Allie reminds us that it’s important to remember where it originated. “Skating never really died out, especially in Black communities and rinks in cities across the U.S.,” she says. She recommends the documentary United Skates, as it traces some of the history and the recent closure of rinks in the U.S. in predominantly Black communities. “The resurgence of outdoor roller skating has been so cool to see, but there is an important history to everything. It goes way beyond TikTok and Instagram.”
Allie’s advice to new skaters? Don’t take yourself too seriously and remember that the skaters you see on TikTok have put in countless hours. “You are going to fall! I fell on the street the other day in front of some cars, and I was so embarrassed for like two seconds,” she recalls. “Then I remembered I am way too cool to be embarrassed. All of those people are in cars and I have eight wheels underneath my feet.”
By Lucy Harrison
Photography by Tindall Stephens