Back in the early ‘90s, the future was bright. Hypercolor bright. There was a young dude in the White House and a Fresh Prince in Bel-Air, and off in the distance, you could just about see the Information Super Highway — this thing that was going to lead mankind toward some mystical Valhalla where if you didn’t know what “Valhalla” meant, you could plug it into Alta Vista and have the answer in about 90 seconds.
It was a time of forward motion — go, go, go — and there was only one way to zoom into the sweet unknown: inline skates, or Rollerblades, as they became known, thanks to the company that popularized them.
Anyone who walked upright during the ‘90s knows how much fun these things were. Inline skates looked like Moon Boots and came in rad, neon colors — and for a few years, they were everywhere. Hockey jocks and skater punks alike loved ‘em as much as their moms did, and when Saturday morning rolled around, there was nothing better than getting jacked up on PopTarts and Sunny D and shredding some pavement. Even babies were doing it.
Now, we’re in the midst of a nostalgia moment (overalls anyone?), and inline skates are making their grand return. Not that they’ve ever gone away; according to Rollerblade, there are still 17.3 million people lacing up and snapping in around the world. That makes it a more popular sport than snowboarding. What’s more, skate sales are up in L.A., NYC, and Atlanta. In Park Slope, Brooklyn — just over the river from Refinery 29's Manhattan HQ — inline skating is definitely on the upswing. Now, in addition to keeping your eyes peeled for bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and stroller-pushing parents, you've got to watch out for eight-wheel enthusiasts.
But, inline skating is no longer the cultural phenomenon it once was, and production has yet to begin on Airborne II. And, that’s a shame (well, not the Airborne II thing), because Rollerblading was, is, and always will be totally freakin' awesome. Inline skates represent everything that was right about the ‘90s. They were innovative and futuristic — kind of like those Ginsu knives you’d see on TV, only better. They were “extreme” — the second-most awesome adjective of the decade, right behind “cyber.” If you were to add a pair of Rollerblades to just about any activity — dancing, Frisbee tossing, open-heart surgery — it suddenly became edgy, cool, and worthy of MTV Sports coverage.
Inline skating was — and still is — great exercise. (There’s even an elliptical machine that mimics the sport’s signature side-to-side glide.) Kacie Cleveland, a 29-year-old gym owner in Washington and Rollerblade-endorsed pro skater, would know: She once spent 47 days and 23 hours skating from California to Florida, beating the men’s coast-to-coast record by 22 days. She’s also ‘bladed the entire 204-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) Bicycle Classic.
In addition to being a demon on wheels, Cleveland is a competitive tower runner and says inline skating is great for athletes in other disciplines. “I do most of my cross-training on inline skates because it’s so easy to get long-distance training in with low impact on my knees and joints,” she explains. “Plus, the natural side-to-side motion strengthens the lower body and core muscles all while enhancing balance.”
And, balance is a beautiful thing. It’s something we’ve lost since the ‘90s — likely the reason for all this pop-culture nostalgia. Back in the day, the world wasn’t as loud. Republicans and Democrats hated each other a little less. The Internet wasn’t always on; we weren’t always reachable. Somewhere along the way, we got knocked off our equilibrium.
Today, we’re more cynical. We know that cruising that information “super highway” isn’t like zipping down the Autobahn at 2 a.m. with a German supermodel in the passenger side of your Porsche. It’s like inching down I-95 at rush hour while people taunt you from the shoulder. Google has replaced Alta Vista, creating a Valhalla for know-it-alls who act like they’ve been experts in Norse mythology all along.
But whatever tomorrow holds, we should skate on with clear minds and strong lower bodies and cores. In 2024, Earth may very well be a scorched desert wasteland, but hey, there are no trees in this vaguely dystopian, vintage Jolly Rancher ad, and yet the inline skating continues. By the looks of it, everyone’s having a pretty extreme time. Better keep those ‘blading skills sharp.
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