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Lace your skates and meet the Raumati Rollers, a vibrant community event bringing people of all ages together to roller skate. Charlotte Fielding rolls into the Kāpiti community initiative.
Every Tuesday afternoon, at an ordinary tennis court in Raumati, the kind to be found in suburbs and small towns all over Aotearoa, people of all ages come together to roller skate outdoors. Small children wobble slowly on their first pair of skates, medium-sized children are careening around the courts playing tag and falling over themselves in hysterics. Older children help the little ones, or practise more advanced skills. Adults skate too. Music plays from a large speaker set up at the edge of the court, and there is a lot of excited chatter and laughter.
This is Raumati Rollers, a community event set up by Seaside Skates, New Zealand’s only dedicated roller-skate shop. Seaside Skates in Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti coast was founded by two couples at the end of 2021: Kirsten Slade and Nate McCall, and Georgia Bollinger and Merryn McAulay.
Roller skating boomed in popularity during the pandemic. It’s a socially distanced activity with a low cost of entry that people could do outdoors on an individual basis. And it’s fun. “Friends with skate shops in the States were running through all of their stock,” says Slade. “It was wild here. There was a huge run on skates. You couldn’t get roller skates second hand.”
Challenges sprang up on social media, keeping people connected and stimulated during lockdown. “There was 365 Days of Skate, and people were even just doing little moves in their kitchens. You don’t need a big space to skate if you’re doing dance stuff,” Slade says.
Fellow Seaside Skates founders Georgia and Merryn, who skate for Richter City Roller Derby (their roller derby names are Furious George and Tuff Bikkies), wanted to open a roller sports venue. McCall suggested selling skate gear online to raise funds for a venue, and doing pop-up events to create some buzz around the idea. A warehouse space in Paraparaumu which also happened to have retail space at the front was leased. Thus, New Zealand’s first roller-skate shop was opened.
“We thought maybe we’ll just open it a couple days a week for people to come in and try stuff on,” says Slade. Eighteen months on, and the shop has expanded well beyond expectations. After about six months they hired their first staff member, Chantal Daisy Martin, Seaside Skate’s skate mechanic. Daisy’s daughter Elvira often helps out in the shop, as does Slade and McCall’s son, Dash. It’s a family affair, and that’s the market they set out to serve, too: family and recreational.
When Raumati Rollers first started on Tuesday afternoons at the tennis court, about 20 people attended. These days they regularly see around 80. “The first year or so our friends would come,” Slade says. “And now we have events where we don’t even know the people coming. It feels like there’s a really vibrant skating scene in Wellington.”
For Slade, the focus on community and wellness through skating is personal. In her late 30s, sleep deprived with a colicky preschooler, living in Texas, she says she felt she didn’t know who she was any more. Her older daughter Astrid had joined junior roller derby, and Slade insisted that McCall take Astrid to practices. “I loved skating, and I just thought, if I go to this, it’s going to make me sad. I’m going to want to do it. And I’m too old and I can’t do it,” she says. “So I made sure that I literally had a conflict in my schedule that meant I couldn’t go. Then one day her partner said, “You know, there’s a bunch of women that show up at the end of Astrid’s practice. You’re not too old.”
Slade was sceptical, but learned that there’s a no-contact version of roller derby. She worked up the courage to go along for the exercise, imagining that she might make a few friends who she could skate with occasionally. “Within six months, I was trying out for Texas Rollergirls. It just was such a transformative experience. I felt I had no idea who I was before that. And after roller derby, I felt like I can literally do anything.”
When they started Seaside Skates, years later, Slade was struggling again, and credits the shop and skating itself with saving her life for a second time. Disillusioned with her counselling degree, she had dropped out of her course, and was struggling with depression. “It kind of blew my mind. Like, this is me and my brain, but I am not on my own team. What is going on? And now it feels like all of my life experiences have braided together into this shop and doing all the community events. They’ve given me a purpose.”
Slade isn’t the only one finding joy and purpose in skating. One of Seaside Skates’ largest customer groups is women aged 30 and over, many of whom are brand new to the sport. “There’s nothing like showing up to the skate park with your 40-and 50-year-old mates, and the kids just get out of the way for you.” Part of the appeal is the creativity of skating, as well as the supportive atmosphere and encouragement from fellow skaters.
Skating is great for children, Slade says. “Kids have so many demands on their time, and things like a skate park and even jam skating, which is not the same thing as artistic skating or figure skating where it’s very prescribed and regimented, are great for them,” Slade says. “Kids’ time is structured enough. The skate park gives you a sense of that creative flow, and that flow state is so important. It’s the same type of flow state that video games are good for.” At the skatepark, kids on roller skates, scooters, and skateboards support each other, and this was evident at Raumati Rollers, too, with kids on bikes, scooters, and inline skates as well as roller skates. Slade says kids on their scooters or skateboards will clap their decks if a roller skater has just done something “particularly epic”.
All body types and genders are welcome in skating. Slade says when she was playing roller derby she went to a nutritionist for advice to bulk up. “I needed to take up more space on the track,” she says. “Build muscle back. And you know, there’s football and there’s women’s football and there’s basketball and women’s basketball and then there’s roller derby and men’s roller derby.”
One of Slade’s favourite things about the retail side of the business is the collaboration between the small skater-owned companies. The feedback loop from customers to Seaside Skates to the manufacturers is really quick. She gives the example of WIFA skates, an Austrian company that has been hand-building boots for ice skating and roller skating for over 100 years. The skate park is a relatively new environment, and there was one section on the skates where the stitching would start to come undone when they were used by skaters landing flips at the park. Ivy Bates (known as Ivy K’nivey in roller derby), a coaching partner of Seaside Skates, is in the New Zealand squad for the next roller derby world cup. Ivy has a textiles degree, and recommended a different thread for more durability. The next batch of boots used the suggested thread. “It feels cool to be part of that innovation, that little loop,” says Slade.
As well as the indoor roller venue, which is still a primary goal, plans are in the works to create the first New Zealand owned and manufactured roller skate.
Advocating for skaters and consulting with the council is also part of what Seaside Skates do. “It’s that overlap of wellness, where you’re exercising but also playing along the way,” Slade says. “It’s not just about having great playgrounds or great resources but having people be able to be active in their own neighbourhood, or choosing to skate or ride their bike to the supermarket because it’s a beautiful ride as opposed to just because it’s good exercise.” There’s some overlap with disability access as well, in making paths skatable rather than gravelled. They have found the Kāpiti Coast District Council “really great” and receptive. “They’re redoing the transit hub at Paraparaumu station and they know that that’s the type of area that skaters are drawn to,” says Slade. “So instead of asking, ‘How can we keep them away?’ with hostile architecture, the plans include skatable features with reinforced materials.”
Ultimately, for Slade and the other founders of Seaside Skates, its about community and people’s experiences. “You want people to have a positive experience. I’m not interested in just selling skates. I want to make sure it’s something that they’re actually going to enjoy. We get so many people who come in here and say, ‘I tried skating once, I got a pair of skates and I fell over and I must have terrible balance. It’s not for me.’ And I ask, ‘Did you take a lesson?’”
Slade says Raumati Rollers is her favourite day of the week. “Skating with friends feels quite dynamic – avoiding obstacles, having an impromptu little race, letting the wind push you around the bays, stopping for a little dance break or to wait for someone who has fallen behind. It’s about showing up at the skatepark (with mates who are in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond – shout out to 70-something year old Nick, who we run into at Tawa and Maidstone) and getting to just play, to feel the joy of unlocking a new skill or getting to be there when a friend does the same. Sometimes, when I’m cruising along a footpath, creating my own breeze, I hear that regular thunk, thunk, thunk of wheels rolling over the pavement cracks – it’s the soundtrack of my life, I’ve been hearing that for decades now, and it’s still thrilling.”