Updated: Nov 17, 2020
By Ellie @skatehoopbalance
[Trigger warning: severe mental health, self-harm.]
For those of you that don’t know me, I’m
Ellie (aka Skatehoopbalance on’t’Gram). Yorkshire and proud, and roller skate obsessed. I’ve been skating for about three years but discovered my real passion two years ago when I dropped into a skatepark for the first time and was hooked! Although I dabbled in the odd bit of rink skating, skateparks kind of took over and not much else really got a look in.
I fell in love with the skatepark because of the adrenaline, the people (there’s no community quite like it), the opportunity to learn new things and see my body do things I have never even dreamed of, and I also kind of needed the element of risk – which, (oddly to some) was probably the biggest draw for me. I have had a lifetime plagued by severe mental health problems. I’ve been in and out of hospital, sectioned, nearly died more times than I would like to count, and at one point was clocking up over 200 admissions to A&E per year because of the amount of damage I was doing to myself. I’ve been told I’ll never work again, I’ll never be free of self-harm, I’ll end up losing the function of my legs, that there was nothing they could do for a complex case like me…nothing had really worked to pull me out of that cycle of self-destruction. That is, until the skates came along.
For the first time, I had to keep my body in one piece in order to partake in this new hobby that I loved. I was taking risks, but in a more socially acceptable way. I began to respect my body for what it was capable of doing – rather than punishing it for simply existing. Although other interventions had significantly reduced my level of self-harm, the discovery of skateparks pretty much entirely stopped it.
So, like many others, when lockdown hit on the 23rd of March, I reluctantly hung up my skates, worried about how thick the layer of dust would be by the time we emerged from the other side. But more to the point, I was worried if I would come out of the other end of lockdown in one piece without my main coping mechanism. After a couple of weeks (and one attempt at trying to skate in a closed off skatepark – which got a lot of random abuse from perfect examples of citizenship passing by on their daily hour of “exercise”), I decided I needed to be more creative about how I could get back on my skates.
I work for the NHS and have been continuing to commute to work throughout the lockdown period. Luckily, as the beginning of lockdown coincided with spring, the weather started to be much drier. I would usually get a tram and then a bus to work but because public transport was only operating a skeleton service I decided to cycle to town and just get the one bus up to work. For anyone that knows Sheffield (my city), you will know that it is not blessed with a flat landscape. And to add insult to injury – the quality of the roads and pavements is abysmal. But for some unknown reason one morning I got up feeling particularly energetic and wondered if I could do the bike part of my route on skates.
This didn’t go very well. I have done some outdoor skating – but I deliberately choose smooth bits that I know are fully skateable – but my route to work was not so smooth. Plus, on the first day as I reached the unavoidable hill at the end of my route, it started raining and I found myself embarrassingly sliding back down the hill I was trying to skate up! Still, I wasn’t deterred and I persevered and quickly started learning which routes I needed to take, where I needed to cross over the road for a smoother roll, and where to hop over little obstacles. It felt pretty cool to be able to say my commuter method was roller skating! Even if I did become the laughing stock at work because several times I left the house on skates and forgot to pack my shoes for the day at work!
As time went on, I started challenging myself more and more. I had previously considered Sheffield and its seven hills a lost cause for roller skating, but I found the more I practiced, and the more relaxed I felt in the street, the more things I could skate over without toppling over. Of course, from time to time I still got caught out (always wear knee pads outdoors!) but I’d soon attempt to get pretty much anywhere in the city on skates (even on the bus and tram!).
I was still missing the skatepark though, and as lockdown started easing and we could meet other people, more and more people started to venture outside. Me and my friend Hazel started to spend Sunday afternoons (which we would have spent at the skatepark) exploring the city and finding skate spots. I’ve always been quite anxious of street-style sections at skateparks – so this really pushed me out of my comfort zone – there are not many natural mini ramps around unfortunately! But soon we were jumping onto, over, and off various obstacles.
Finding new places to wall ride, basically viewing the world through a “will it skate?” lens! We’ve found ourselves skating along muddy tracks (not recommended), come across a variety of DIY skate spots around the city, learnt to jump steps, how to wall ride and even tried out some invert-style moves! We’ve had a couple of very near misses (and realised we were getting too complacent not wearing helmets in the street), had so many people shout “wow I used to have a pair of those in the 80s” and had the police be impressed with our chosen past-time. We’ve learnt how to manage up and down hills (backwards is your friend), how to get across those little bumps on a dropped curb and how to quickly recognise whether or not a surface will be skate able or not. I got through 4 sets of toe stops from March-September and more than one set of knee-pads and wrist guards and can shred through a set of laces a couple of days - you definitely have to let go of any ideas of gliding along in pristine, unstuffed skates and perfect white skate socks - this is not the reality of street skating! But what it will give you is a sense of freedom, feeling more at one with your surroundings, and I’m not going to lie - I slight feeling of superiority because you’re having so much more fun getting from A to B than everyone around you!
I’m a natural red head so don’t tan easily but so many people have commented how sun-kissed and healthy my skin looked from being outdoors so much, I’ve never been fitter and never been more confident on my skates. I’ve really enjoyed visiting other skaters in neighbouring areas as the world started to open up again - exploring their city or having them come skate the hidden gems in mine. I can’t wait for next summer - lock down or no lock down I’m definitely going to be taking to the streets again!
Some top tips for street skating:
Protection is cool! I never go in the street without kneepads and wrist guards as a minimum – grazed knees is not the look I’m going for. Also, after a pretty gnarly fall from Hazel – we realised we were being complacent not wearing helmets because we “weren’t in the skatepark”. We were treating the whole city as our skatepark and trying more daring stuff – so lids went on!
Sometimes you will fall: As skaters we all know it’s part of the game, but the general public doesn’t realise this and often either acts with laughter or terror to your falls. A sense of humour and ability to laugh it off is vital!
Staggered stance! Sorry Derby skaters – I know this one is super tricky for you guys but in order not to trip over every little lump and bump you MUST skate in a staggered stance, one foot in front of the other, about a hip-width apart. Skating in a Derby stance with both legs level with one another will not end well.
Weight distribution: Some bits are tricky to navigate and can take a bit of practice (those bobbly bits near crossings) – but they are navigable if you relax yourself and put your weight slightly in your heels as you roll over.
Relax: Keeping soft knees is key – this helps you absorb any unexpected undulations without decking it.
Backwards is your friend: When it comes to hills, believe it or not, going backwards downhill IS easier. You can control your speed by changing the amount of pressure in your toe stops. Just make sure you keep your legs well staggered and look over your shoulder. The ability to be able to turn round quickly so you can stop yourself if you start to build up too much speed skating down a hill forwards is really useful.
Check it out: The world (as much as we would like it to be) isn’t a ready-made skatepark – it has not been safety tested. Don’t jump onto something that you haven’t checked out first. How are you going to get off again? Are there any loose bricks? What is on the other side?
The right equipment: In terms of skates – something you feel confident in and don’t mind getting scuffed is all you need. The most important thing however, is the wheels you choose. Hard wheels will feel AWFUL! Every lump and bump will make your head feel like it’s going to pop off, they will skid and probably get damaged. Its hard work and just not worth the effort! Softer wheels will help you navigate obstacles much more. The hardest wheels I would use outside is Moxi Fundae (which I believe are 92a). But something like the luminous, moxi gummy or radar energy (all in the 78-80s durometer) are much better. If you’re going to invest in anything for the street – make it your wheels!
Photos 1&3: Carla Mundy
Are you inspired by Ellie to take on the challenges of the street? Let us know in the comments below.