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Skate Daze : The Rink Rats Are on a Roll in Northridge

For The Times

As he skates around the wooden floor past the disc jockey, the flashing lights and the teen-age girls leaning along the rail, David Valdez can’t gain enough speed to jump into an axel. Too many people tonight. Can’t risk getting kicked out this early in the evening. He’ll have to wait for the fast-forward session or sneak in a couple of moves near closing time, when the floor guards have their backs turned.

Now the house lights are up and the music coming from the 16 speakers above the rink plays a slower tune, so Valdez decides to take a break. “I hate this song,” he says before unlacing his roller blades. It’s open skating tonight, and Northridge Skateland is packed with nearly 300 skaters from all over the San Fernando Valley who have come to circle the rink’s hardwood floor in counterclockwise revolutions to the beat of the latest Top 40 pop tunes. Most have come to skate, but some skate to meet members of the opposite sex. The skating rink is the place to be seen.

Skateland DJ Troy Cooper spins a fast rock and roll song to pump up the crowd as he turns down the lights to alter the mood. The floor guards, dressed in referee stripes, circulate among the skaters, keeping an eye out for a knee drop, axel or one of about a dozen other illegal maneuvers that will earn a skater some time on the bench. Three warnings and a skater is out.

Although Skateland can accommodate 1,201 people, attendance is normally thinner, numbering 300 to 400 on a Friday or Saturday night. Session manager Marc Todd, 33, say today’s crowds pale in comparison to the hordes of previous years.

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“If you weren’t here when the doors opened at 7, you didn’t get in,” Todd recalls of his skating heyday in the late 1970s.

The faces at the rink have changed over the years, but the enthusiasm for skating hasn’t. The rink rats--kids who hang out at the rink every day during the summer--number about 200 and help keep the rink alive. Music, fashions and skates have evolved and modernized. Roller blades are in vogue today, and speed skates have replaced the clay-wheeled block skates of yesteryear. Baggy shorts and big shirts are the hot fashion items, and the DJs track the latest alternative music.

Admission prices are still less than a movie ticket, and skate rental is only $1.50 a pair. One only has to lace up and hit the wood.


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