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Roller skating alive and well

Each week this summer, Times staff writer Emily Nipps will attempt an off-beat sport or attend a unique event.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 6, 2002

Each week this summer, Times staff writer Emily Nipps will attempt an off-beat sport or attend a unique event.

A guy wearing baggy jeans, a basketball jersey and a visor glided along gracefully, bobbing to the beat and throwing in the occasional pirouette.

A teenage girl floated past, her hands stuffed in her jeans pockets and her long, curly hair flying behind her.

Meanwhile, I clumsily plodded along in my rented roller skates -- yep, the kind with four wheels -- and shied away from the crowd.

It's not that I felt silly. I felt so ... in the way.

How could I have known so many people still packed roller skating rinks? Who still did this sort of thing?

At United Skates of America on Armenia Avenue, old-fashioned roller skating is alive and well. With the explosion of roller hockey leagues and the large number of preteens with nothing to do, it's no wonder the rinks stay in business.

But this was "Adult Night," when no one under 17 was admitted and the average skater was around 30.

Remember the carpeted walls, the heavy leather skates, the disco ball? Remember Lionel Richie songs, "couples skate," and Slush Puppies?

Some things never change. But some things had to.

The walls are still carpeted, thank goodness, for those who never figured out toestops. The skates are still made of brown leather and, impressively, look almost new.

The disco ball has been replaced by snaking neon lights, the music is a mix of hip-hop and techno and the new, hot thing is a sort of line-dancing on skates.

A clear sign of the times, and something I don't remember from my Lionel Richie days, was the waiver I had to sign before entering the rink. The pink card made me promise not to sue United Skates should I injure myself. There was also a $5 fine for chewing gum.

But at Adult Night, the rules relax a bit and the "officials" in striped shirts can actually have a good time rather than chase hooligans.

It is amazing four-wheel roller skates survived the in-line craze, though it is no surprise roller rinks attract the same types of people.

There's the "loner skater," the guy who comes by himself, has his own skates and faithfully shows up every Wednesday night to skate ... alone. The "flashy skater," -- not to be confused with the loner -- also has his or her own skates and is too good to mix with the others.

The "skating clique," usually a bit younger, manages to stay in a cluster as it moves around the one-way rink. The "skating twins," once they get warmed up, are inseparable and can only skate in unison.

The "wallflower skaters" just like to watch, the "cutting edge skaters" always show up with new moves, and the "skater haters" don't even wear skates. They play Frogger and eat nachos.

Then there are people like me, just visiting for the night and trying to keep balance. I loved the feeling, though, of air swishing around as people whizzed by me.

Basically, Adult Night was like a night club with no alcohol. On wheels.

Which is great ... if you know how to skate. As the night wore on and more skaters crowded the floor, the skating got faster, more frenzied and more ostentatious.

For those who can handle it, knock yourself out.

For those who can't?

Stick to Bayshore Boulevard.

-- Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 226-3368.

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