Monday, April 18, 2011
Rollerblading in Paris
Remember rollerblading? I certainly do. I had my first pair of rollerblades when I was maybe 6 years old. I had them so I could practice playing hockey off the ice. This further evolved into joining a street hockey team, then secretly signing with their rival. I even got into the inline phase of the mid to late 90's, wearing jnco's and senate t-shirts and trying to grind on curbs and rails (that phase only lasted a few months however). Lastly, I played roller hockey for my school while in grad school. I certainly had a connection to rollerblading growing up, but mainly as a way to play more hockey.
Rollerblading seemed to hit its peak somewhere in the 90's and has slowly tapered off from there. Whenever back in the U.S., it seems rare to see kids rollerblading to school, or playing in pick up street hockey games in the schoolyard. Aggressive inline skating has all but disappeared from the mainstream, as the X-Games, which used to be the pinnacle event for the sport, stopped paying attention to it and even cut the event in 2005. Seems that rollerblading's popularity is on the downswing.
In the U.S. perhaps. Not so in France.
I remember hanging out with a French friend on a Saturday night, and I was asking how long they would be staying at this party. He said he wouldn't stay out too late since the next day him and his friends planned on getting up to rollerblade.
On Sundays behind my apartment in the 15ème arrondissement, there is a gathering of 30-40 people skating very slowly and clumsily around tiny cones that they brought with them for the purpose of having a place to turn. They set up on a big patch of concrete which is reserved for pedestrian traffic. I was jogging yesterday and stopped what I was doing to watch for a few minutes. I was impressed that not only were there little kids out there, but the majority of the skaters were adults, and quite a few were at least in their 50's, if not older. People of all sizes (as there were a couple of bigger ones out there) and ages were parading around in circles on the pavement, having a great time. This is far from the only example of rollerblading in Paris.
On Friday nights, there is a group that gets together and rollerblades at a fairly good pace around the city of Paris. The police even get involved and block off traffic for them.
When I say a group, I don't mean a few friends. There are occasions where 15,000 people will show up for the weekly event. If you don't believe me, look at their website here.
So this is what I would like to understand: how did rollerblading become so popular here? And why now?
It can't be a result of their underlying love of ice hockey, as aside from those in the Alps, most people in France could not care less about the sport. There are a dedicated few who play roller hockey near Pont Alexandre III, as well as a few kids who play near my old office, but other than that, the motive for rollerblading seems to lie somewhere else.
A thought crossed my mind yesterday: Disco was huge here, and by many accounts, is still pretty damn popular here. I never liked disco music in the U.S., and I like it even less now as I hear it more often. Not only that, people don't necessarily cringe when they hear it, they actually seem to enjoy it. What's more is that rollerskating and disco were inextricably linked for a while, as many when to roller discos in the 1970's and 80's. Could this be a continuation on this pastime? Could it be that young people want to emulate their parents by using the modern equivalent of roller skates? Could it be that those in their 40's and 50's want to get back on to some wheels and roll as they did in the days of yesteryear? Maybe this helped the sport to take off in Paris, but it's not what is keeping it going.
The one thing that cannot be argued here is that rollerblading is extremely popular here in Paris. How it became popular, however, is still a mystery to me. If you happen to know, don't hesitate to let me know.