On a recent weekday evening, just as the sun was beginning to set, members of a Columbia roller skating club gathered at a popular skate park with hugs and high-fives, laced up their skates and began to roll.
Swooping up and down the concrete bowls on four wheels at Owens Field Skate Park, 20 skaters cheered each other on and challenged each other to new tricks.
Katelyn Kenney moved halfway across the country to Columbia just two months before the COVID-19 pandemic. She was looking for opportunities to meet new people and try something new when she bought a pair of roller skates.
“When the pandemic started, I thought it would be a good time to finally dive into this hobby that I’ve wanted to try for a long time,” Kenney, who moved from Texas, said.
Her new hobby brought her a new home at the park at 1351 Jim Hamilton Blvd. and a family of skating friends in a local roller skating club, Community in Bowls.
Community in Bowls, or C.I.B., is an international organization that encourages roller skaters to meet and challenge each other to improve their skating skills. Carly Wilson started the C.I.B. soda city chapter in 2019 and hosts meet-ups for park roller skaters at Owens Field Skate Park.
After seeing a post in a Facebook group, Kenney joined the other Soda City rollers. Just a year later Kenney said the group “has given me a community when we are in a time when building community is really difficult, and so that has been an amazing blessing for me.”
Wilson said she has seen new skaters at almost every C.I.B. meet-up since the pandemic began.
Kenney said she is also one of the many new skaters across the nation who was inspired by the surge of roller skating posts on social media platforms in the midst of the pandemic.
The roller skating page on Tik Tok has more than 5 million views and features confident skaters showing off their skills. Scrolling through Instagram, skaters can find over 2.2 million posts under #rollerskating.
“A lot of people start Instagrams doing a diary of their skate journey,” she said. It helps to see “Tik Tok blowing up [and] just having a ton of viral skate videos.”
June Webb, a ninth grader, began skating with her father William Webb at the beginning of the pandemic as a way to spend time together and challenge each other. Both Webb and her father are new pandemic skaters but were very glad they had bought their skates when they did.
“When it got further into Corona, a lot of people went into roller skating, so we kind of got our skates at the perfect time because now they are all sold out,” Webb said.
Online retailer Moxi Roller Skates has increased sales of roller skates 12 times over and saw website traffic increase over 300% according to Michelle Steilen, the owner and founder of Moxi Roller Skates and Moxi Shop.
Less than two miles from Owen’s Field Skate Park, Salty’s Board Shop has sold skate gear for almost 20 years. Paul Goff, long-time owner of Salty’s, said he was nervous for his business when the pandemic hit, but he was unable to keep skate gear in stock due to the high demand from new skaters during the pandemic.
“It was a good problem to have,” Goff said.