Rollerblading reimagined

Words by Dewald Botha | | Photos by various contributors

“In addition to speed, fitness, artistic, or recreational skating, some skaters prefer to skate aggressively. Aggressive skating is referred to by participants as rollerblading, blading, skating or rolling and includes a variety of grinds, airs, slides and other advanced skating maneuvers. Types of aggressive skating include park, vert and street.” Wikipedia. This is the Wikipedia definition and sure, from a clinical point of view it is exactly that. But the definition that prevails is not so much the dictionary definition, but rather the perceptual definition. So what comes to your mind when you hear the word rollerblading?

Photo credit: Eric Palmer

For many, it may conjure up images of kids in tights, neon graphics, ice-ice baby and basically everything from the '90s. This is understandable as rollerblading’s popularity peaked in the mid '90s when it featured in movies like Airborne, Hackers and Power Rangers: The Movie. But this is a misconception, and also a blessing because it gives us the opportunity to show you what we can do. And when you see it for the first time, you won’t believe your eyes.

Modern day rollerblading originated in the '80s when Scott and Brennan Olsen wanted to practise ice hockey during summer times. Modifying the blade of an ice skate and fitting it with eight in-line wheels, they unknowingly started a brand new action sport that would change the lives of people the world over.

Then in the early ‘90s, a small group of kids (Chris Edwards, Angie Walton, Arlo Eisenberg and Brooke Howard-Smith to name a few) in America wanted to do more with their skates, and what they did changed the future of rollerblading forever. They started jumping off stairs and did flips and spins, and in '91 Chris Edwards, ‘the godfather of blading’, strapped on his skates and jumped onto a handrail, effectively doing the first grind in rollerblading history. Since then, the popularity of rollerblading has grown to such an extent throughout the world that it has been included in the X-Games and features in television shows and various competitions.

Rollerblading also hit South African shores in the early '90s and became extremely popular amongst the youth. In 1995 the first ever Rollerblading National was organised by Brett and Melody Tuson at the Sun City Bowl, and it was a great success. The introduction of national competitions have served to highlight the sport and even more youngsters, from all over the country, are getting into it. With such growth, it is not surprising that it has proved a hit amongst the so-called counter culture. The energy levels and vibe at these competitions are extremely high and as a result, it has become a definitive ‘must-go-to’ event for every rollerblader in the country.

Since its introduction, South Africa has produced a number of talented rollerbladers who have competed on the world circuit on numerous occasions. To name a few, there's Clifford Viljoen (rider for Roces International and Red Bull) who represented South Africa in the world championship competitions from 1997 to 2003. More recent is Chris van der Merwe (flow rider for Xsjado International) who has been competing in the Asian X-Games and had tremendous success this year, placing sixth in the finals against strong competition from the international professionals.

So what exactly is rollerblading you may ask?

Rollerblading is all about good clean fun, meeting up with friends and busting out tricks that would melt any pre-conceived notions of what is possible on a pair of skates. It's about the way we look at things like rails, curbs, ledges, stairs, roofs, gaps and every possible obstacle as a means to do a trick on. Instead of walking past and barely noticing a handrail, that handrail is like a flashing beacon to us and we dream about what tricks are possible on it.

Photo credit: Eric Palmer

When it comes to equipment, rollerblading is done on a specific type, usually referred to as aggressive skates. These skates are specially designed to allow us to do what we do, while providing maximum comfort and support to our ankles and feet. It is highly recommended that when getting into this sport you gear up with these skates because recreational skates don't provide the necessary support where it's needed. An aggressive skate is characterised by having a wider sole piece (the bottom part of the skate) that you can grind on. It has a specific type of frame on which the wheels are mounted, and provides excellent ankle support whilst still offering the best possible feeling in terms of comfort and flexibility, to achieve extreme airs, grinds and other tricks. There are a few brands to choose from, each with its own style and feel, and these brands include Remz, Xsjado, Razors, Valo and USD. Locally, we have two distributors that sell and import these major brands; Rolling SA Distribution and Uneek Mvmnt.

Rollerblading is also a lot of fun and a great sport to do in groups, as we constantly learn from, support and motivate each other. We also take tremendous pride in knowing that the present South African rollerbladers are firmly behind growing and promoting the sport on all levels, and are involved in our local communities in the following ways:

• Chris van der Merwe and Earl Abrahams, from Cape Town, are doing a great job of encouraging youngsters from disadvantaged communities to get involved in rollerblading by hosting clinics, workshops and demos all over Cape Town.

• Chris van der Merwe also runs the 'Inspired to Become' initiative, which targets young people who are often over looked and don’t enjoy the same opportunities as those more fortunate do, by getting them involved in alternative sports. The aim is to inspire these youngsters through positive role modelling, relationship building, coaching, mentoring in life skills and creating opportunities.

• I hold weekly rollerblading clinics at Thrashers Skate Park in Pretoria and teach young or new rollerbladers about the sport and how to do basic tricks.

Rollerblading is a dynamic and very rewarding sport. It may look easy, but once you start rolling and getting into it, the more challenging and exhilarating it becomes. Landing your first few tricks sparks a series of addictions to get better and better.

This sport is on the rise and we have the right people in the right places to help it grow even bigger and better than it ever was. It is our extreme sport revolution. Our reimagining of what is possible on skates. So come join us and be a part of this extreme sport explosion!


To find out more about rollerblading, getting involved and the projects we are involved in, check out these sites:,, and

Brand info:

Remz (, Valo (
Xsjado (,
Razors (,
and USD (

Distributor info:

Rolling SA Distribution
( and Uneek Mvmnt (