Main image credit: Rollerblade®
At Zephyr, we hold a special place in our heart for inline skating – it’s where we got our start 20 years ago! And we continue to remain true to our roots by offering several skate adventures every year.
As we have done in the past, we’re excited to again be partnering with Rollerblade® on all of our skate tours. Recently, we had the chance to catch up with Thomas Hyser, Product Marketing Manager at Rollerblade, to ask him about where he thinks the sport of inline skating was, is, and will be in the future.
Inline skating boomed in the 1990s but peaked in the latter part of that decade, only to experience a significant decline in participation. Why do you think participation dropped so suddenly?
In the 90’s inline skating was an entirely new activity to most. Everyone got skates because it was a new thing. However, the overall image of inline skating was not cool looking in the late 90’s. Lots of people wore big clumsy pads and images/videos from the skate companies weren’t thinking about how to make skating look cool to kids and teenagers.
Inline kind of lost its edge for a while. It became “safety first” type images everywhere. Inline skating can be fun, fast, and adrenaline filled. However, the skate companies didn’t show this side of the sport. For sure we need to show beginners that skating safe is important but that shouldn’t be the poster in the shop attracting teenagers to skate. This is why ski companies use pictures of skiers dropping off cliffs – most skiers will never ski like that but it’s aspirational.
As a follow-up question, do you think any of these factors affecting the decline in participation have been addressed?
Yes. At Rollerblade, we have been very careful on the imagery we produce in photos and video. We make very high-quality media, that looks good to young people. We make sure every type of skating looks as good as possible, so we can attract younger skaters. Rollerblade is the biggest skate company in the world and we understand that it’s our duty to get more people to skate. Be sure to check out the Authentic Rollerblade YouTube channel. You will see what I am talking about!
Rollerblade has clearly continued to carry the mantle of the inline skating industry in the past almost two decades since participation started to decline. How has it been able to be so faithful to the sport when other manufacturers might have simply abandoned inline skating? Keep in mind that inline skating is still a very popular sport. Just as many people inline skate as other popular sports like snowboarding, etc.
It’s still a good business for Rollerblade and the people at Rollerblade love to skate. Other brands bailed on the scene because the days of making a quick buck off a new thing were gone. Manufacturing, selling and marketing inline skates is not an easy thing to do. You have to believe in what you are doing. We know inline skating is cool and have faith in that. Other brands were in it for the money, not to foster a sport for the long term.
Many people might not realize there are “categories” of inline skating, including kids, racing, recreational, and urban/street/aggressive. Without worrying about the exact definitions of each category, what changes have you seen in participation over the past decade?
We see more people that want to cruise and fitness skate. We have seen aggressive skating morph into what we call urban skating. Urban skating is basically defined as ripping through city environments, like how the sport started. People are using their skates for many different types of skating. Sometimes it’s a pickup game of roller-hockey. The next day that same skater might go for a fitness skate on the bike path. We’ve seen more college-age kids skating too. The social aspect is coming back – going skating with your friends is a blast!
What is your vision for the future? Will skating stay a niche activity or will it see a rebound in popularity?
As I said before, inline skating is still a pretty big sport. People just do it for fun around their neighborhoods and on bike paths around their community, it’s not always a high profile activity that you see on ESPN or something like that. It’s fun and people will always love to skate.
We’ve seen an uptick in everything 90’s and inline skating was a big part of the 90’s. More people want to stay fit and inline skating is one of the best total body workouts you can get. There is no other sport that’s as fun and works your body like inline skating. Check out a person out for a run, they aren’t smiling. When you see a person inline skating, they are almost always smiling – and that is contagious!