Ready to Roll

Jacksonville’s roller skating scene gains momentum and shows us how to love thy bearings

Roller skating has been a cherished American pastime for decades: In the ’70s, roller disco became a nationwide sensation with many kids growing up at the turn of the millennium christening their weekends with a group of friends at their local roller rink. As the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the globe in 2020, roller skating experienced an unexpected and explosive comeback. Many of the skaters who picked up the hobby during quarantine now skate daily, go to meets or are members of established local skate crews.

Glenn Hannah, one of the members of local skate crew The River City Rolling Group (RCRG), an all-level, inclusive group, sits at one of the booths that line the roller rink of Skate Station Mandarin. The overhead strobes dance rainbows across his hands as he slides into his quad skates, a daily routine he looks forward to. Hannah is an experienced skater. “I purchased a pair of skates seven years ago and have been skating ever since,” he said. Like Hannah, there are other frequent flyers between the Skate Station Mandarin and Skate Station Orange Park who call the hardwood track home.

The regulars at the rink have varied experience and approach their passion differently. Some of them began lacing up their skates around the time they learned how to tie their shoes. “I started when I was really, really young…I started taking lessons when I was, like, 5,” said Sutherland Beever, whose specialties are jam and dance skating. Beever originally hails from Franklin, Indiana, a small Midwest town that “had a Dairy Queen…the extent of exciting things there, with the exception of a roller rink.” Excited to pick up a new hobby, her father started bringing her to lessons, and Beever has been hooked ever since, using her experience with rollerskating to become a certified instructor. In addition to teaching classes at the rink, she also teaches virtual lessons via Roller Skate Victoria, a Canadian roller skating school. Beever finds skating a great way to help others find confidence, “feel beautiful” and adopt a unique personality in the rink. “It’s an easy way to make people happy,” she said.

Janisha Ocaña has been skating since she was a kid but began actively going to the rink roughly 10 years ago. “It’s awesome; good people, good exercise, good people and good music,” she said. Another member of the RCRG, Ocaña, who is “not a fan” of quad skates, has adopted a signature style and personality to her skating. Early on she switched to in-line skates (aka Rollerblades), “then I saw this really cool skating style called slalom freestyle,” she said. “It’s very technical and precise, and just lots of fun.”

Dubbed “Lonely Blade,” Ocaña is the only member of the skating crew, and one of the few regulars at the rink, who favors in-line blades over quads. Outside of skating, she is a graphic design student at UNF who is passionate about art. 

Another skater with a blend of talent is Katie Swider, who enjoys musical theater and incorporates her background into skating. “I skate to musical theater and things like that…my favorite musical is Company by Stephen Sondheim.” Swider started skating in August 2020 at the height of the pandemic. “I saw one of my friends on TikTok rollerskating. I was like, ‘Wow, that looks really fun and a way to get fit, too.’ It quickly took over my life,” she said. On Thursday nights, which is adult skate night at Mandarin, you can find Swider dancing and gliding around the rink. Her motto: “Skate for you.”

Thursday may be adult skate night, but the rink is a family affair. Megan Henry brings her 7-year-old daughter skating as often as she can. “She picked it up really quickly. She’s a Leo and so she’s got, like, a Mayan heart, and she wants to learn all of the things the same way I attacked skating,” she said. “She kind of attacked skating too…it’s awesome I get to share it with her.” Henry, a self-described “equipment nerd” enjoys the technical aspect of skating and polishing her skills. “I learned to skate backwards in February of 2021. Once I learned how to skate backwards, I fell in love with skating.” Henry, who hopes to continue to further her skating abilities while helping her daughter improve her skills, also enjoys the community aspect of the scene. “I’ve met a lot of people at the rink and have made a lot of friendships,” she said.

As Jacksonville’s skating scene continues to grow and gain local recognition, its members are animated and excited at the prospect of welcoming more skaters. You don’t have to be a professional skater to hop into the rink: Skating, like any hobby, takes dedication and time, but comes with social and physical pay-off.

Regulars at both of the rinks have advice to offer to novice skaters or those looking to give it a try. “Be patient with yourself,” Beever said. “’It’s really easy to see videos online of these amazing skaters, and you put the skates on and you’re like, ‘I’m gonna be able to do that.’ But what you don’t realize is the people that are doing the backflips, doing these spins and doing these really incredible moves, we’ve been doing this a really long time. So just give yourself patience and grace.” Hannah believes you should enjoy yourself first. “Have fun. Don’t work on getting better,” she said. “Trying to get better only leads to disappointment. You get better if you have fun.”

About Casey Craig