Seattle roller skaters take on the pandemic: 'Reclaiming of joy under any circumstance'
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, roller skating is having a big moment. Skates are flying off shelves across the globe, as thousands pursue the activity in an effort to both stay fit and socialize in a socially distanced manner.
Here in Seattle, the outdoor recreational roller skating community is stronger than ever.
kating is the hottest thing on the planet right now because people are locked in at home,” said Tiffany Mason, founder of the local roller skating collective Roll Around SeaTown.
“Nothing to do but be in their neighborhoods, so they ordered a bunch of skates. The skate manufacturers are sold out.”
In Seattle, roller skating isn’t anything new – but perhaps the community surrounding outdoor skating is. Even before the pandemic, Mason saw an opportunity to bring together both seasoned and new skaters alike. She founded Roll Around SeaTown in 2019.
Several days a week, people gather at the Judkins Park sports courts to skate.
“I wanted an outdoor community for Seattle because we really didn’t have one,” Mason said. She grew up skating and never stopped; she’s been skating in the Seattle area since 1984.
“People have told me, ‘You don’t even realize you’re saving lives,’” Mason said. “And you think about it and you’re like, wow. People say, ‘Thank you so much – I’ve been stressed, Covid has literally brought me to my knees. I come here and it makes me so happy.’”
For Mason, it’s a labor of love.
“Everything I do is for this – for the community. For it to just be a positive place with good vibes. And everybody is welcome. This is come one, come all.”
For Zenobia Taylor, it’s a nice reminder that the world keeps spinning.
“People are going to keep skating and doing what they can do for as long as they can,” Taylor said. “Humans are adaptable and we find ways to create joy wherever we can. And especially Black people – that’s literally all we know.”
“Skating and the history of it, especially jam skating that’s so popular now, is a very historically Black thing,” Taylor said. “So I think that part of where this comes from is just this reclaiming of joy under any circumstance.”
Artemis Peacocke and Naima Pai are the co-founders of Seattle Skates, another outdoor roller skating group to emerge amid the pandemic. They also emphasized a profound sense of community among local roller skaters.
“We definitely have a genuine care for each other and it’s not just random people I like skating with,” Peacocke said. “It’s genuinely a community. I love it so much.”
Peacocke and Pai organize weekly meet-ups at places such as Alki Beach and the White Center Bicycle Playground.
“I thought, it would be amazing if we could just get people together and just have fun,” Peacocke said. “And I wanted to go to different locations too so we could explore the city while on skates.”
“It teaches me discipline and not to be afraid of failing,” Peacocke said about roller skating ahead of a group trail skate along Alki Beach during sunset.
Mason expressed similar sentiments. “You’re only in competition with yourself; your fear, basically. If you can conquer your fear, you can do this,” Mason said. “It’s not about being the best, or competing —it’s about learning and growing.”
JNiyah Williams and Kayan Hanks, a couple, met at Judkins Park skating around during the summer.
"Skating by yourself is really fun, but skating with someone else, you have to get the synchronicity down," said Williams. "It’s really fun, you have to hold hands and it’s kind of awkward at first, but then you start to get each other’s vibe and it gets really fun."
"The community is so uplifting," Williams said. "Everyone is rooting for you, even if you do fall. They are just here to see you develop in your own way. I think that part is really cool — everyone teaching and helping each other."
Jaida Morgan grew up roller skating in Atlanta and said it’s something her family has always done. “It’s got a lot of cultural context — line skating, dance skating, jam skating," Morgan said.
“Your body is your instrument. You can dance, you can slide, you can look like an ice skater, you can pretend to be a ballerina,” she added. “It definitely pulled me through a time and a half.”
“It just reminds me of community so much. You’re teaching each other, you’re watching each other. I’m here for all of it. I think it’s just so much fun.”
A group of physicians in their second year of residency at a Seattle area hospital laced up their skates during a recent Roll Around SeaTown meet-up at the Judkins Park sports courts. The residents work directly with Covid-19 patients and have done so throughout the pandemic.
“Besides really negatively impacting our patients, I feel like it has also had an impact on my mental health," said Dr. Dalila Gittens. "Being concerned about getting Covid, and it’s such a novel thing you really don’t know what could happen."
"I’ve seen residents who have died,” Gittens added. “That’s been scary.”
In light of that trauma, she organized roller skating as a wellness activity for herself and fellow residents.
“It’s also just kind of reclaiming and celebrating BIPOC joy and creating space for that. And then this act of really intentional decolonization of our own physical bodies,” said Dr. Celina Macadangdang, a colleague of Gittens'.
“I think it’s been so therapeutic in that way, to help us to kind of unlearn and unpack all of these things that have shown us how white supremacy and institutionalized racism has really taken claim on our physical bodies," Macadangdang said. "Not just our resources and our access to education and jobs."
“It’s kind of been our own peaceful act of resistance and resilience,” she added. “And to get to know this community too – this is such a vibrant, loving community. It’s a sense of home with strangers.”
The other residents agreed. “Now I skate every day. I find the time to do it. This is a lifetime thing,” Gittens said.
For Dr. Kevin Beene, skating throughout the pandemic has been an inspiration.
“I think to be able to take a step away from that but also to celebrate life for what it is right now and to be able to connect with people in the ways that we can through skating has been, honestly, life changing and lifesaving — absolutely.”