You always feel bad for adult beginner skiers. Having grown old enough to develop a sense of fear, they look truly terrified and pained as they make their pizzas down the mountain. Injury could strike with just the slightest turn of the heel, the smallest chunk of ice. Building confidence is quite the endeavor.
You never feel bad for adult beginner roller skaters, however. Because there are so goddamn many of us. You know who we are. We’re those people who never (or rarely) went to the roller or ice rink as children, and now as adults, we are forced to learn balance and grace for one night every five years. Luckily, unlike skiing, roller skating is such a niche sport; no one expects you to be spectacular at it. If you can make it around the rink without falling, you’re golden.
Earlier this week, I was cajoled into going to Skate City for “discount Monday”: $5 to skate for two hours, roller skates or blades included. People have raved about skate night to me countless times, so I knew I had to try it out at some point. I just didn’t have very high hopes for myself.
I don’t consider myself a very coordinated person, especially when it comes to sports like skating, where you really have to maintain an equilibrium. The only sports I regularly do are rock climbing and running, anyway. While I do feel relatively graceful and skilled at climbing, I can’t even say the same for running. In fact, last week, I absolutely destroyed myself running through an intersection of the highway with my roommate. I hit asphalt HARD, and my right elbow and knees are still suffering. Hence my trepidation about putting on shoes with wheels around many other people also wearing shoes with wheels.
Skate City is exactly as you’d imagine it; dated, speckled carpet, sad nachos, retro arcade games, and of course, disco balls. I don’t think the DJ played a single song that was released after 1987. As I laced up my skates, I just prayed that for the next hour or so, I didn’t wipe out catastrophically.
I would characterize my experience as a constant state of low-grade hyperventilating and sweating. While I could make my way around the rink with some speed, skating on the turns was simply out of the question, and I felt an overwhelming alertness. I patted myself on the back a bit for being able to at least participate, but then retracted my sense of pride — I was at about the same level the last time I went skating.
Slight diversion: I had been ice skating. My sister had this romantic idea of going skating at Bear Mountain with my brother and me. A little Christmas-time sibling outing. In principle, I agreed: it sounded cute as hell. The thing is, I’m even less stoked on ice skating. To start, I’m perpetually cold, so why would I spend my time effectively making circles in a freezer? But more importantly: who decided it was a GOOD idea to put sharp blades on people’s feet and then set them free in an enclosed space? In my eyes, it is simply asking for trouble. (I can’t help but think of the scene from Blades of Glory where you see a skater decapitated).
Shockingly, I turned out to be the best skater of the three Laico children (which wasn’t saying much). My brother was definitely the most confident, but the least skilled. So Fletch was wiping out basically the entire time, falling onto the cold, hard ice. Meanwhile, my sister was the least confident, clinging to the side-rails most of the duration. I wasn’t much more confident than Julia, but I was able to circle the rink at a slow, overly-cautious pace, with at least one sharp intake of breath out of panic per lap. Hey, it was a cute idea.
Alright, back to roller skating. I certainly preferred wheels on my feet rather than blades, but I could not escape the fact that I was surrounded by other humans. The struggle with being an adult skater is that you’re expected to have a bit more control of your body than a child is. The thing is, I’m just as spastic as any child skater, but it’s on me to avoid crashing into children, not vice versa. Thankfully, I only had one child collision, and she actually took the blame — cut in front of me, watched me fall on my butt, turned around, and with a genuinely guilty face, said, “Sowwee,” and skated away. At least she apologized.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were those skaters who were good. Like, really good. Like, they probably started skating ironically years ago and then realized they really dug it, then got obsessive and learned to skate backwards, execute dance moves, etc. These people really got to me. When you’re skiing and somebody skilled whips by you, it’s maddening (and scary as hell), but at least they’re gone in seconds and you can shake it off. In skating, these professionals not only whip by you, but they do so with a smug smile on their face — they’re not going that fast, you can see them — and they do it again. And again. And again. You’re in a oval rink, dammit.
All of this said, I honestly didn’t have a terrible time. I skated for just an hour, which admittedly tired me out (I think the high cortisol levels contributed). I don’t think I would’ve survived two full hours of disco balls, laser lights, the uncontrollable kids, the cocky adults, and my own stress. I will say that I could’ve gone for more variety in the music genre, but you can’t have it all. I guess when I become a professional, I can bring my headphones and jam to my own tunes, as I saw so many others do.
But who am I kidding. I will always be a beginner.