If there's one thing most of us can say about 2020, it's that it has given us an appreciation for the simpler things in life. Over the past few months, niche hobbies such as embroidery and origami have shot into the limelight, while baking has become a favourite pastime for many. And it isn't just indoor activities that have risen in popularity, either; roller skating has made quite the comeback. Social media feeds are bursting with related videos and Google Trends reported a surge of online searches for roller skates in May.
In a way, roller skating is the perfect pandemic activity: it can be enjoyed solo, does not involve touching too much equipment, takes place in big open spaces and is the perfect blend of exercise and fun. Add to the fact that parking lots around the world are emptier than usual, and one can see its allure.
TikTok is another big contributor to the trend. Over the past few months, the social media platform has been inundated with videos of TikTok stars on wheels. Ana Coto, an actress in Los Angeles, has gone viral for her suave moves, so much so that she’s being credited with bringing the trend back.
If you'd like to hop on to the roller-skating bandwagon now that the weather is getting cooler, here's what you need to know about picking up the hobby in the UAE.
Which skates to buy
Skates can be broadly divided into two types. Roller skates or quad skates are the classic, old-school four-wheel skates that most people are familiar with. Kamran “Kami” Ahmad, founder of UAE skating community Madrollers, says these skates are good for smooth surfaces, dancing and tricks.
UAE singer and skating enthusiast Claudia Lang-Lenton adds that they are more versatile. “Although you’re likely to fall on your back on your first few attempts, and stopping is not so obvious, they let you do everything others can and are also ideal for dancing. Let’s not forget that they are also super-cute. For stability and reliability, I do not recommend those that attach to the shoe. Roller skates can be a low or high boot, with the latter being more common and offering the best support.”
However, one of the cons of quad skates is that they are not the best for long distances, says Ahmad.
Rollerblades or inline skates are skating shoes where the wheels are fixed in a line. Lang-Lenton says these are more accessible and the usual choice for street and aggressive skating (which focuses on the execution of tricks). “They are faster and a bit more stable when skating for the first time.”
Inline skates come with different wheel counts and diameters. Ahmad breaks it down further: “Two and four wheelers can be good for aggressive skating – mostly for tricks and low-speed skating,” he says.
“Three wheelers are really good for speed skating, but you will have less control. Five wheelers are good for really high-speed skating and long distances.
“Four-wheel inline skating shoes, which most of us are familiar with it, have great control and good speed. That’s why most skaters around the world use these,” he explains.
Where to buy skates in the UAE
Skates are available to buy at branches of Decathlon and HQ Adventure. They can also be purchased online on locoskates.com and inlinewarehouse.com. Don't forget to add safety gear, such as helmets, wrist and elbow guards and knee pads.
Jay A, who founded the Abu Dhabi chapter of Madrollers, says the community also offers free consultations to anyone interested in buying skates.
Where to skate in Dubai
“To have an easy-going and pleasant street-skating experience you need no cars, a smooth floor (beware of interlock tiles), no sand and plenty of space. Most importantly, skating should be permitted,” says Lang-Lenton.
Here’s a look at some of the places in Dubai that meet Lang-Lenton and Ahmad's approval.
Dubai Water Canal: It offers ample space and the ground is smooth. Add in views of Business Bay and Downtown Dubai, and you have the perfect skating location for beginners. However, the area after Sheikh Zayed Road bridge is off-limits to skaters.
Downtown Dubai Boulevard: The ground is extremely smooth and it has views of Burj Khalifa. However, it's best to go with someone who knows the area well to avoid construction zones.
Jumeirah Lakes Towers: A great place to skate if you want a backdrop of skyscrapers, plenty of restaurants and a lake by your feet. The surface is mostly even, however, there are some breaks in the tiles that need a little bit of focus.
Dubai Marina: Another lovely area for its liveliness and water views. However, the floor is not the most pleasant for skating, and will be particularly difficult for quad skaters.
Mushrif Park: Located closer to Mirdif, this park has a track that is perfect for cyclists and skaters. However, it does have some steep slopes that are not recommended for beginners.
Al Mamzar Park: Located along the beach, the park is a good place for aggressive skaters, complete with a big ramp popular with those who enjoy an adrenalin rush.
Bay Avenue Skatepark: The open-air skate park features small concrete slopes, making it perfect for skateboarders and skaters. The Burj Khalifa views are a bonus.
XDubai Skatepark: Located on Kite Beach, the park features a range of ledges, rails, ramps, banks and blocks, as well as the XBowl, for skaters who want to practise tricks. Entry costs Dh45 (for one park user and one spectator) while three months of unlimited access costs Dh399.
Where not to skate in Dubai
While some of Dubai’s well-maintained, smooth streets might tempt enthusiasts to bust out their wheels, know that not all places permit it. Some areas where roller skating is not allowed are Palm Jumeirah Crescent, the rest of Kite Beach, La Mer and Al Seef.
Where to skate in Abu Dhabi
Jay, of Madrollers Abu Dhabi, lists the following locations.
Al Reem Skateboard Park: Located on Reem Island, the destination features a colourful area dedicated to skateboarders and skaters. It's particularly good for aggressive skaters.
Corniche Skatepark: A smooth area with plenty of ramps and rails, this is good those who want to practise slalom skating – a type of freestyle skating involving tricks around a straight line.
Al Wathba Bicycle Track: Surrounded by desert vistas on either side, the 16km-long Al Wathba Bicycle Track is perfect for speed skaters.
Masdar Park: Al Mamsha trail in Masdar Park stretches on for 5.6km around Masdar City, and is for another good destination for speed skaters.
“In Madrollers, we try to incorporate nice views, music and atmosphere for our skaters. We also skate in Al Bandar, Corniche and Marsa Mina – all with marshals guiding the crowed and ensuring a safe skating experience,” adds Jay.