‘Retroskating’: The return of the bygone craze of roller skating

  • Roller skating — in all its retro glory — is making a comeback amidst Covid-ridden Singapore. Cue disco lights, bell-bottom pants, and neon signs.
  • TheHomeGround Asia speaks to the director and coaches of Singapore first and only indoor skating rink for a brief history and evolution of the sport-turned-popular Covid-19 hobby.
(Photo source: Hi Roller Singapore)
(Photo source: Hi Roller Singapore)

Out of the way, inline skaters! The roller skaters are back with a vengeance.

Youths can be seen making reels of themselves shuffling backwards down the streets, overlayed with new-age R&B on social media. And with many indoor rinks shut during the pandemic, more roller skaters have been gliding into parking lots and parks.

Roller skating has seen a revival since the Covid-19 virus hit, with many calling it a “Covid sport”. 

Ms Atiqa, for one, picked up the sport last August when the nation was knee-deep into the pandemic. 

“I needed an active sport. Something free, easy, and something that I can stay committed to,” says the 30-year-old, who fell in love with roller skating after watching Drew Barrymore in the movie, Whip It

Ms Kristianne Fajardo, a 24-year-old interior design student at LASALLE College of the Arts, was inspired by the likes of prolific Instagram skaters Ana Octo and Kamry Lorin

“I always see them on Instagram looking so carefree and relaxed — so different compared to how stressed I was in school and how unsettled I was because of the Coronavirus,” she shares. “So I thought, if they could be so carefree skating, then maybe I should try it too, and have some fun in the middle of a pandemic.” 

“I know I get bored very easily when it comes to hobbies. So the thing that pulled me into roller skating is that there are so many different styles — dance skating, cruising, urban skating, derby, park skating,” she adds. 

Cruisin’ into the past

“Roller skating has been around for twenty to thirty years, both locally, and regionally,” says Ms Daphne Chua, Director of longstanding family-run business Hi-Roller

The Chua family opened its first outlet outdoors along East Coast Park, as “back then, it was definitely an outdoor sport”. 

The Chua family’s first rollerskating rental and merchandise shop along East Coast Park, around from 1999 to 2009. (Photo courtesy of Daphne Chua, Hi Roller)

Land reclamation by the government prompted them to shift to a bigger locale, still at East Coast Park from 2010 to 2017. But the advent of E-commerce and sports franchise Decathlon badly affected retail stores like theirs. 

“The haze also hit us quite badly during that period, as we were facing the beach and no one wanted to go outdoors,” adds Ms Chua. 

In 2019, they decided to take a very different direction when roller skating made a comeback and underwent a rebranding of sorts. 

Enter — or rather, re-enter— 90s retro music, bell-bottom pants, and neon signs. 

The Chua family rode the waves and opened Singapore’s first-ever indoor roller skating rink, complete with disco balls and coloured lights — the ultimate roller disco starter pack. 

They even brought back the two-by-two quad-skates — as opposed to in-line skates, which are more adjusted to the needs of outdoor skating.

“Until recently, roller skating was never seen as an indoor activity. [The sport] works very closely with fashion, culture, and local trends,” says Ms Chua, citing indoor skating rinks like those in Australia and South Korea. Now, the rink has regular themed nights for lovers of different subcultures and music genres. 

“Everyone is wearing the same Uniqlo Airism Size M these days that it’s almost like a uniform,” says Ms Fajardo. “But when it comes to roller skating, you have to make conscious choices to [look the part].” 

“These choices show up in your clothes, your movements, and your expressions,” she adds. It seems roller skating has inadvertently morphed into an art as much as it is a sport.

With safe distancing measures slowly reopening, Ms Fajardo says that the social aspect of skating is a big part of the appeal. 

“Skating is no longer about training your stamina or fitness to go really long distances,” says Ms Chua. “The image is now closer to when a group of girls come together, and they just want to dress up, look pretty, and jam to certain kinds of music.” 

Ms Atiqa, who also coaches at Hi-Roller, adds that she appreciates the strong sense of community among those who practise the sport. 

“I think the community is unique because it has both young and older veteran skaters. You also have new skaters, and we meet regularly and share skating tips with each other,” she says. 

The real OG — ‘veteran’ skaters like Uncle Steven have been skating since the 80s. 

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