Eight months ago, Mohamed Jasem Alzaabi was a novice when it came to roller skating.
That was before he was introduced to the Madrollers, a community in the UAE that meets up regularly to bust some moves on wheels. The group helped him gain experience and taught him new skills. Today, Alzaabi considers himself a "speed skater", perfectly comfortable exploring Dubai on wheels with the rest of the community.
Alzaabi is just one of the many people who have rediscovered their love for the sport over the past year. Long considered a children’s activity, today roller skating is enjoying something of a revival due to its ability to blend exercise and fun – and communities like the Madrollers are wheeling it into the limelight.
The group was launched in Dubai in 2015 by Kamran "Kami" Ahmad, who previously spent years skating alone. It began with him and two friends, who would meet up to practise their skills. They launched Facebook and WhatsApp groups, and started encouraging more people to join in.
Today, the group has 700 to 800 active members on social media. They like to meet three to four times a week, with anywhere between five and 25 members typically making it to a session. A week usually has one session for advanced skaters, one for street skating and two for beginners, with more advanced skaters providing training for novices. The community is free to join and open to all.
“Our first question always is ‘do you have skates?’” says Ahmad, who adds that they can also advise new members on the right type of roller skates or blades.
“We train new skaters and, the minute they are ready to roll, introduce them to the larger community to explore the city. Since we’ve started, the Dubai community has become really big – we have these precautions because safety is of the utmost importance.
“One of the easiest places to skate is the Dubai Water Canal because it has flat surfaces. There’s the Downtown area, although the pavements can be narrow for large groups. We go to Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Jumeirah Beach Residences. We have skated from the Burj Khalifa to Burj Al Arab and back – the whole thing takes about three to four hours,” he adds.
The best part about skating through the city? “The freedom!” says Ahmad. “You can literally go anywhere you want. You can skate up to The Dubai Mall and then put your skates in a backpack and explore the mall. No other sport gives you that flexibility.”
Launching an Abu Dhabi chapter
In 2018, Jay A, an Emirati roller skating enthusiast living in Abu Dhabi, was invited to join the Dubai community after some members saw him skating solo. He was struck by the group's tight bond.
“At that time, there were about 15 to 20 people who used to meet and skate together. They were like a family; there was this lovely harmony between them. Not only would they skate, they would have lunch or dinner together and take part in other activities. I was living in Abu Dhabi, working in Al Ain, and I would go to Dubai after work to skate with them three times a week.”
Inspired by the community, Jay launched the Abu Dhabi chapter of Madrollers in 2018. Today, the group has roughly 300 members and regularly holds midweek events with roughly 20 people, and weekend events where numbers reacher even higher. He adds that the group keeps social distancing in mind while skating.
“Sometimes we all gather in one place and do stunts with music. Sometimes it’s more like a tour – we meet at a starting point, go through a route that allows us to see some landmarks and then finish at the same starting point.
“All of our recent events are about exploration, with the minimum distance being eight kilometres. Skating has allowed us to explore our city,” he says.
The group has toured areas such as Yas Island, Saadiyat Island and Al Raha Beach. They usually meet about 6pm during the summer months and about 3pm in the winter. Sometimes, they even have events that combine skating with other activities like yoga or meditation.
The community is growing
With members from the Madrollers community hailing from all over the world, it's only natural that some have launched similar skating events in their home countries. According to Ahmad, there have been Madroller events in Bahrain, the Philippines and Ghana.
Out of the 300 members in Abu Dhabi’s chapter of Madrollers, roughly 100 have joined since February. Jay believes that Covid-19 may have been a factor in the increased interest in roller skating as a hobby.
"Earlier, roller skating was simply not something that was prioritised; people had a lot of things to do. But during the pandemic, people are looking for ways to keep busy. A lot of them were stressed about the current uncertain climate, or about losing their jobs – they just want to skate and have some fun."
Ahmad agrees that the pandemic has led to a resurgence in roller skating. “It could be because many people have stopped going to gyms as much as they used to. I see more people outside, walking, jogging or skating,” he adds.
According to Jay, more than the health benefits skating offers or the events organised, it's the people who make Madrollers so special. The UAE community includes people of various nationalities, skill sets and ages (the youngest in the Abu Dhabi chapter is 10 years old while the oldest is 59).
“If you asked me to skate alone today, I wouldn’t do it,” he says. “It’s all about that harmony with others. When people come to skate together, they leave all their negativity behind. It is like one large family meeting.”
For more information on Madrollers and their coming events, follow them on Facebook or Instagram