Wheel good fun: How old-school roller skates became the perfect pandemic pastime

A photo illustration of Sure-Grip's Fame Skates in pink passion.
Sure-Grip’s Fame Skates in pink passion.
(Photo illustration by Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times; Ryan Gladney )

This summer, rollerskating made headlines across the globe. With people’s daily schedules sent into a tailspin and their restless minds (and bodies) needing a release, skating emerged as a go-to trendy activity. The retro pastime provided a pleasant distraction, a hit of whimsical nostalgia and a way to work off quarantine weight gain.

Newbies who were a bit wobbly could sign up for skate lessons via Zoom and leg-limbering classes such as yoga for skater flexibility. Meanwhile, those who were already well-rehearsed in wheeling showed off their moves across social media.

For the record:

9:21 a.m. Dec. 12, 2020A previous version of this story said that Long Beach-based Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop was closing its doors permanently. The shop will temporarily close.

In June, a video of lithe and rhythmically blessed skater Oumi Janta went viral. Filmed in a sunny Berlin plaza, Janta jammed to a disco beat, showing off fluid skate-dance moves executed with enviable ease. In no time at all, publications from InStyle to Condé Nast Traveler helped to elevate her to the level of international star. At the time of this reporting, Google search results for “rollerskating” showed Janta, in midskate, as the lead image.

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Thanks to clips uploaded onto Instagram and TikTok, other social media skaters, including Ana Coto, Marician Dedeaux Brown and Sarah Haywood, started rolling into the spotlight.

But skating is hardly a new trend, especially in Los Angeles. An August article in Los Angeles Magazine reminded its readers not to call it a “comeback” because the city’s Black skate culture has been here for years. This fact was made abundantly clear in HBO’s 2018 documentary “United Skates,” a cinematic love letter to Black roller rink culture. As the trend grew stronger this year, there were more and more calls to include Black skaters in the narrative, many of whom have been skating for decades.


With indoor rinks closed because of COVID-19, newbies and veterans made do with residential streets, boardwalks and vacant parking lots. Some Angelenos laced up their skates and rolled into social justice protests.

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Moxi, Impala and C7 emerged as favorite brands on such lifestyle websites as Popsugar and Refinery29. Popular styles featured twee pastels, punchy neons, floral prints and, of course, the classic white leather models. For those thinking outside the box, L.A. shop SK8 Fanatics could transform your favorite kicks — from Nike sneakers to Dr. Martens boots — into skates.

Pairs of skates weren’t the only must-have items; your spree was incomplete if you didn’t also cop such accessories as colored laces, ornamental toe caps, skate leashes, protective pads and helmets.

Shoppers could score a pair at retailers such as Tillys, Target and Urban Outfitters. That is, if they were lucky. Skates were frequently sold out or on back order, both online and at bricks-and-mortar stores.

A woman in Sure-Grip's Fame Skates in Pink Passion
Sure-Grip’s Fame Skates have been the second best-selling skate at Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop in Long Beach.

By mid-July, Long Beach-based Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop found itself swarmed by hundreds of local skate seekers. The store’s owner, Shayna “Pigeon” Meikle, estimates that she had more than 1,000 customers in one three-day span. She said the store’s main customer base was women of all ethnic backgrounds, ages 18 to 40, most of whom were after her bestselling items: the Moxi Lolly Roller Skates, which sell for about $299; and light-up wheels, which cost $80.

By the end of September, Meikle reported the demand was high, her stock was low and her store — kneecapped by the pandemic — was open for only four hours, four days a week, offering walk-up counter service. Even then, she said there would still be at least 50 people lined up outside each day. In the absence of skates, customers would buy accessories, wheels and safety gear.

“There is no reason that people cannot pick up roller skating like they did skateboarding, biking and CrossFitting,” Meikle said. “Roller skating has become a household name again.”

Then again, trends and moments come and go. As of early December, Meikle announced the bricks-and-mortar store would close temporarily, leaving her online shop open for business.

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“We are taking a huge hit by closing our shop during the holiday season, during the greatest roller skate boom of my time, but it’s for the greater good,” Meikle said. She cited the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases and retail restrictions as reasons for the decision.

Whether the mood-elevating exercise will maintain its buzzworthy social media status into 2021 remains to be seen. But with skate-themed pop-up events and outdoor rink openings cropping up across the nation this fall, the hobby seems poised to roll on.

Some people turned to sourdough. Others became plant parents. My pandemic hobby of choice? Roller skating.

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