In previous blogs, while talking about the skates that might be best for you, we’ve given passing mention to some of the many disciplines of roller skating. If you’re new to the skating world, you may be unfamiliar with the variety of skating you might enjoy. We’ll cover some of them here and try to avoid repeating ourselves.
First, you should know that competitive sports that use inline skates or roller skates are mainly governed by USA Roller Sports (USARS). USARS is recognized by both the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Its bylaws list only “speed,” “artistic,” hockey,” and “roller derby” as disciplines, but membership applications break it down a little more:
- speed (inline speed skating)
- recreation (fitness skating, jam skating)
- aggressive (skateboarding, aggressive inline skating)
- figure (artistic roller skating—including precision, figure, dance, singles, pairs)
- rink hockey (quad skate roller hockey)
- inline hockey (inline skate roller hockey)
- roller derby
We’ll cover each of these in brief, to give you an idea of the diverse possibilities of skating. You can take it from there and figure out what best fits your skills and goals.
Inline Speed Skating
Often called “inline racing” by participants, this sport is much like its cousin—ice speed skating. The similarity is so great that some competitors switch between the two during the appropriate seasons. These skaters will use tactics similar to those used in ice speed skating and bicycle racing, such as forming “pacelines” to save energy or teams designating one skater to hang back and save energy to make a final push for the win while the others try to wear out the competition.
Skates used in inline speed skating are specially designed and crafted for racing. Low-cut to allow for ankle movement, they’re typically made of some combination of leather, aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber, and/or fiberglass. They have three to five wheels, with three- and four-wheeled skates being most commonly seen, and often don’t have brakes.
Fitness skating is largely about long distances. Marathons. Roller skating burns as many calories in one hour as jogging and does about fifty percent less joint damage, making it a superior form of exercise that’s much more forgiving to anyone who’s just starting out.
Fitness skates are similar to inline racing skates, as the central idea is speed, but are typically high-cut. They’re usually three-wheeled, with the wheels being noticeably larger than average. There are some four-wheeled varieties, as well as step-in versions that you can strap over a normal shoe to cut back on how much you have to carry and reduce the time needed to switch between modes of transportation.
While not technically fitness skating, people have also built exercise regimens around skates. Sometimes this is called “rollerobics.”
A form of freestyle skating referred to by many different names, jam skating is dancing and doing dance-style tricks to music. Born more or less in the disco era and often associated with disco music, over time jam skating has branched out to many other genres of music. There are different types of jam skating, including shuffle skating, power (“breakdancing”), ground breaking, and footwork. Jam skating picked up momentum in the early nineties, and there are still competitions for jam skaters to swap techniques, perform, and “battle.”
Originally, jam skaters wore roller skates with artistic high-cut boots and toe stops. In the early eighties, jam skaters found that the low-cut boots of speed skates plus jam plugs for stopping allowed for greater agility. Some jam skaters still use roller skates, but most jam skaters prefer the flexibility of speed skates.
Artistic Roller Skating
Think ice skating, but where participants are wearing roller skates or rollerblades instead. In fact, artistic roller skating and ice skating are so similar that participants routinely switch from one to the other. However, artistic roller skating is thought by many to be more difficult than ice skating because of the weight of the skates, the shallower angle that has to be taken to remain steady, and the lack of tracings. Sub-disciplines in artistic roller skating are diverse:
- Figure (similar to ice skating’s compulsory or “school” figures)
- Freestyle (jumps and spins)
- Pairs (freestyle for two people, includes lifts)
- Dance (couple)
- Solo dance
- Precision (team skating, akin to synchronized ice skating)
- Show teams
- Creative solo/freedance
When it comes to the skates used, this is a form of skating where roller skates dominate. Roller skates were what were first used, and they continue to be preferred over rollerblades. Unlike in some other styles, participants wearing roller skates don’t compete against those wearing rollerblades. And with so many different disciplines, the build of skates varies widely in materials, wheel size, and bearing size.
Quad Skate Roller Hockey
Known by a variety of names the world over, quad hockey consists of two five-person teams (four skaters plus a goalkeeper). Teams have a minimum of six players and a maximum of ten. The five-man team is similar to inline hockey, but a major difference between the two sports is that inline hockey allows more physical contact. It used to be known as “hardball hockey” in the United States until late 2008, at which time the United States Olympic Committee decided to use the more common “rink hockey” to reduce confusion.
There’s minimal regulation for skates when it comes to quad hockey. Skates must have two pairs of wheels, and the diameter of those wheels must be three centimeters or larger. Brakes are permitted on the front of the skates, but they must be no larger than five centimeters.
Inline Skate Roller Hockey
Inline hockey looks virtually identical to ice hockey except for the skates and playing surface. However, that’s where the similarity ends. The rules differ noticeably, and games tend to be faster because there are fewer players than in ice hockey. Teams are comprised of sixteen players, but only four (with the goalie making five) from each team are on the ice at any one time. It’s also much less physical than ice hockey, with stiff penalties for things like body checking, but protective equipment is still required for competitions.
Given the variety of demand this sport puts on rollerblades, there’s currently no special design for it. If you focus on one aspect, you’re bound to sacrifice in another. The best thing to do is start with an off-the-shelf variety and determine if something else is needed.
Born from competitive endurance “derbies,” this contact sport consisting of multiple “jams” (matches) where two teams of five players roller skate counter-clockwise around a track. During each jam, a chosen “jammer” attempts to lap the players on the opposing team; teammates play both offense and defense by attempting to hinder the opposing team while protecting their jammer. Modern roller derby is a sport dominated largely by amateur all-female teams, though there are increasing numbers of male and unisex teams, as well as junior divisions.
Like artistic skating, this is a discipline where roller skates are required for all players. In some rules sets referees are permitted to wear rollerblades, but generally both players and referees wear roller skates. Skates used by players usually have a low-cut boot and are made of tougher material than normal skates because of the demands made on them during competition.
Did You Find Something You Like?
It might seem a little overwhelming at first, but the great diversity of disciplines shows that roller skating is still alive and well despite how little most people hear about it. You may find you enjoy one, two, or more, so pull on your skates and don’t be afraid to try everything!
While we did say that special skates are preferred for these disciplines, the great news is that any of them can be explored with the same sort of roller skates or rollerblades that you can rent at the rink or buy off the shelf of a sports store. Those were the types of skates originally used when these disciplines were in their infancy, after all.
So if something interests you, go for it!