The Connected History and Popular Regrowth of Roller Skating
Hundreds of people lined up on July 16th in Long Beach, CA, and no, it was not for a COVID-19 test. Instead, crowds assembled (hopefully socially distancing, of course!) in hopes of buying a new pair of roller skates from Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop during its flash sale.(1) With shelter-in-place and work-from-home initiatives, many Americans have more free time than ever. As people have begun picking up hobbies new and old, specially those involving the outdoors, it is only natural that many have turned to one of America’s most beloved pastimes from earlier decades: roller skating.
Social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, have been dominated with roller skating posts, accelerating the trend even further.(2)
Roller skating became popular in the 1930s and experienced surging popularity at various times, including in the ’60s through the ’90s. However, roller skating was more than an erratic trend in mainstream culture. United Skates, a 2019 documentary film highlighting the history of black roller skating rinks, tells a narrative deeply entrenched in the civil rights movement. Ledger Smith, known as “Roller Man,” skated 685 miles from Chicago to D.C. to attend the March on Washington, wearing a placard that read “FREEDOM” around his neck.(3) Popular actress Ana Octo has spent time in the recent past protesting (in roller skates) in support of Black Lives Matter and posting historical information about Ledger Smith to her 65,000 followers. (Her Instagram bio reads, “Don’t hate, roller-skate.”).(4)
Roller skating finally peaked in mainstream popularity in 2000 when 22 million Americans reported they skated at least once a year. In comparison, only 17 million people reported playing baseball.(5) Roller skates and skateboards led the U.S. alternative sports market in 2017 with $11 billion in revenue, which is expected to continue growing steadily over the next few years.(6) Bauer, a leading performance sports manufacturer, reported a 723% year-over-year online search traffic increase for inline skates.(5) Many retailers cannot keep skates in stock due to limited production, factory shutdowns, and sudden increased demand. Is 2020 the renaissance of roller skates?
As consumer investment bankers with significant experience working with clients in the outdoor and enthusiast products’ sectors, we are eager to watch this trend unfold, as well as the recent increase in biking, and see whether ”wheeled activity” will remain popular post-COVID or take a back seat to other activities once restrictions lift. Meanwhile, you can find us dusting off our old skates until we can get our hands on some new handmade Moxi skates, which currently take a whopping 10-14 weeks to ship due to factory shutdowns.