How Things Change – The Evolution of Skating

With a history that can be traced back as far as 1760, skating has arguably enjoyed longevity as a popular pastime amongst children and adults alike.

We explore the evolution of skates, starting as a very basic patented roller skate and progressing into new waves such as the skateboard and its latest counterpart.

Roller Skates

The first patented roller skates were not very popular. The invention, by Belgian John Joseph Merlin, was soon out phased by a newer and more sophisticated model.

In 1863 James Pimpton developed the ‘rocking’ skate which provided a vast improvement on the roller skate, allowing the skater to turn. Skaters could turn around corners and calve turns, something which was unimaginable on its predecessor. From the ‘rocking’ skate, roller skating was born.

What started out as a backyard activity has now developed to become a fully fledged a globally recognised sport, even bearing its own Roller Skating Association. The Roller Skating Association, which started out in 1937, works to educate people about roller skating and is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Playing a pivotal role in many competitive sports, such as roller hockey, roller skating is no longer viewed as a simple pastime. Roller skating has even featured in the Olympics, making its debut in 1992. Other competitive sports to feature roller skates include speed skating, figure skating, roller derby. As well as sports, roller skates have been used in global stage shows, such as Starlight Express and made a huge splash in the disco era of the 1980s.


The exact birth date of skateboarding is not known, it is believed to have emerged in the late 1940s to early 1950s. Regarded as a dry land alternative for surfers, the first skateboards started as wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. The boxes then developed to become planks and then further evolved to become pressed layers of wood manufactured by companies. In this era, skateboarding often took the name of ‘Sidewalk Surfing’.

With advances in technology and manufacturing improving the skateboard year on year, Skateboarding grew in popularity. The mid 1970s saw a big peak in popularity for skateboarding and then again in the 1980s.

Today’s skateboarders are predominantly street skaters. Most boards are between seven and eight inches wide and 30 to 32 inches long. The wheels are made of hard polyurethane and are small in size to make the board lighter and the wheel’s inertia quicker. There are a reported 18.5 million skateboarders in the world, 85% of these are under the age of eighteen

Freeline Skates

Freeline Skates offer the latest development in the world of skating. The skates are dual independent skates that combine elements of skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding.

Freeline Skates offer a new experience for gadget lovers to demonstrate their boarding skills by transferring them to a new manner of riding. The skates provide a challenging and innovative way to carve big turns and invent new tricks, whether it’s on the flat, on a hill or on the ramps.

Freeline Skates are ridden in a similar manner to that of a surfboard/snowboard, with riders shifting their weight from heel to toe to change direction allowing them to carve smooth ‘s’ turns while riding downhill.

The skates are independent, but unlike skates and blades they are not strapped to the rider’s feet, this offers an added bonus to riders by allowing them to achieve high levels of traction on the flats and uphill providing a wide range of locations that are suitable for skates.

Artistic Roller Skating

Artistic roller skating is very similar to figure skating and incorporates many of the same moves such as jumps and spins. Although jumps and spins are performed in both disciplines, each discipline has maneuvers that are actually easier to perform for example, on ice the skates can grab an edge when needed to launch a jump, but with that said, many athletes agree that most of the maneuvers are easier to perform with roller skates.

Either type of skate, Quad or In-line can be used with the Artistic style of skating. Separate events are held and separate judging rules apply for each type of skate. Some of the Artistic Disciplines that have competitions are Figure, Single Free, Dance, Solo, Pairs and Precision types of skating.

In Figure Skating as on the ice, the skater must perform a routine of tracing circles, performing jumps and spins. The circle patterns are painted on the floor and can be serpentines, simple circles and/or circle eights requiring three turns. Advanced skaters would include more complex movements such as counters and rockers. The judging would include the tracing of circles, clean takeoffs, edges and correct placement of turns and of course the skaters form and posture.

The Dance discipline encompasses three forms, Compulsory, Original and Free. In the International arena, the Compulsory Dance has steps that must be performed and judged. The required dances include the Imperial Tango, 14 Step, Keats Foxtrot, and the Flirtation Waltz. The American type of Dance performed at the U. S. National level and below emphasizes keeping the upper body upright and free from movement while performing the Glide Waltz, Progressive Tango, and City Blues.

When performing an Original Dance, one must choose two rhythms from a set of authorized rhythms to use as the basis for the performance. The Free dance is similar to what is performed on the ice free dance but Free dance roller skating has some different rules or should we say rule changes. In free dance, spins that are uncommon on ice are emphasized and some of the spins would be impossible to perform on ice. The Jumps are single, double, triple, and even quadruple. In competition lengthy multi-jump combinations are emphasized.

The roller free type of skating is sometimes perceived as being harder than skating on ice due to the heavier skates. However, because of the lower cost of roller skates, a greater number of lower income families and even other countries are able to become involved. Two countries that come to mind, Argentina and Brazil, expect to see some form of artistic roller skating represented in the 2016 Summer Olympics. One of the disciplines being reviewed for Olympic eligibility is Precision Skating. This discipline is becoming very large and is fast growing. Adult competitions usually have teams of 12 to 24 people all skating on the floor constantly moving and flowing together at high speeds. The International Synchronized competitions are scored in Technical and Artistic Impression.

With all types of Sports it is important to have the right equipment to be able to perform at the highest levels. In Artistic Skating this would require knowledge of the proper type of skates, Sole Plates, boots, and even wheels, yes, the size and shapes vary and really matter.

A commercial that recently aired comes to mind that demonstrates some of the fine points of Artistic Roller Skating. This commercial demonstrates age doesn’t matter and skating is popular for any and all age groups. Check out the U-tube video called “Evian Roller Babies”, performing basic artistic skating, different jumps, and precision as well as slalom maneuvers. I think you will enjoy it.