There is a magical place where wall murals, pop songs and vintage arcade games never die. Disco balls spin, mom is allowed to wear her sequined beret, and kids can order a soda that includes every flavor of the fountain, called a “graveyard,” or spend a quarter on a gobstopper the size of Barbie’s head. Yes, it’s your local roller rink.
For active family fun, the local rink is nothing short of miraculous — especially if you are dealing with high-energy kids, or entertaining a gaggle of surly tweens. Where else can you burn calories, build balance and lift everyone’s spirits? At the rink, dad can sing along with Katy Perry and show off “shooting the duck” and nobody dies of embarrassment.
Getting your boogie on
Like riding a bike, roller skating is a coordination-building exercise: The more you skate, the better you roll. Very few beginners instantly take to skates and blaze laps like Olympian speed skater Apolo Ohno (who began his speed skating career on quads at age 6!), so remind kids that, like riding a two-wheeler, roller-skating takes practice.
The key is exposure. “Give them every opportunity to be on skates,” says Sara Girard, a former roller derby queen (IRockit of the Throttle Rockets) and mother of two young skaters.
“Falling is learning” is Girard’s Zen wisdom. “Put them in pads and helmets, and encourage them to try new things.”
When to start: The prevailing wisdom is that if you can walk like a duck (around ages 3–5), you can learn to skate. Many rinks have a beginner’s class before family skate on weekends, and some have a tot skate for little ones and caregivers during the week.
Quads versus in-lines: Traditional roller skates, or quads, have four wheels and a toe break, and for many people offer more stability than in-lines, the most well-known brand being Rollerblade. (Quad wheels can be tightened on tiny tot skates so that they don’t turn as quickly — ask staff for assistance.) In-lines are lighter, offer more rigid foot and ankle support than quads, and have a heel break. In-lines also are typically more expensive than quads to rent.
Sizing skates: Both quad and in-line skates should fit snugly. You can’t skate well if your foot is sliding around inside the boot. Rental skates are only available in whole sizes, so size down if you need to. Lace quads up tight and stow lace ends inside the boot.
Safety gear: Bring your own helmets, kneepads and wrist guards. Helmets and kneepads may be overkill for social skating, but wrist guards are wise, especially for parents whose livelihoods depend on deft mouse and keyboard skills.
Learning to glide: All of the Seattle area’s local rinks have classes, and some offer private instruction— but here’s a quick tip: focus on the glide. The basic motion of the glide is to slide your right foot forward at an angle, shift your balance, and repeat with the left foot. Mastering the smooth right-left-right-left rhythm is more important than speed.
‘Fall small’ and other life lessons
Skating well depends on finding your center of gravity. Often when you are feeling shaky on your wheels, all you really need to do is tuck your tummy and steady yourself from your core. Skating well socially means being aware of everyone around you. When you fall, “fall small”: Don’t bring others down, and get up quickly.
Sooner or later, everyone falls. Freak accidents do occur, but most of the time you can pick yourself up and skate on like it never happened. It’s good practice for dealing with life’s small failures.
When my kids started skating, we often went to the family skate on Friday nights at the Bitter Lake Community Center Annex in North Seattle (cheapest admission with quad rental in town: $4). Most of the action is in the big gym, but there is a smaller room open just for beginners, where we got over our nervousness. For my family, having a small, judgment-free environment to learn to fall was almost more important than learning to skate with the pack.
For some kids, smaller rinks, such as Everett’s Skate Deck and Southgate Roller Rink, might be good places to learn, while more proficient skaters may prefer the super-smooth wheel-feel of larger rinks such as Bellevue’s Skate King and Pattisons West. Although rinks offer similar amenities — from disco lights to arcade games to gumball machines — each is unique, so try out a few before you settle on a favorite. (See “High rolling” sidebar.)
Family-friendly rinks around Seattle, the Eastside, North and South Sound
Like Xanadu, many of these magical places have limited hours; check the schedule.
Specials: Family skate ($6.50 admission, includes quads) Kid amenities: School holiday special sessions, birthday party packages
Bellevue’s Skate King 301 140th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; 425-641-2047 Specials: Family day ($18 admission for four–six people plus $1.50/quads, $4/in-line rental) Kid amenities: Tiny tot skate (kids younger than 10), school holiday special sessions, birthday party packages
Everett’s Skate Deck 9700 19th Ave. S.E., Everett; 425-337-0202 Specials: Cheap skate ($6 admission, includes quads), group rate ($4 admission, includes quads), family skate ($6 admission, includes quads), family special (three or more, $4 admission, includes quads). Kid amenities: After-school skate, school holiday special sessions, birthday party packages. Also, this rink has a couple of “walkers,” stability aids for beginner skaters — ask staff for assistance.
Lynnwood Bowl & Skate 6210 200 St. S.W., Lynnwood; 425-778-3133 Specials: Sunday skate ($7 admission, includes quads) Kid amenities: Teen night skate (ages 10–18 only), birthday party packages
Bremerton Skateland 1740 N.E. Fuson Road, Bremerton, 360-479-7655 Specials: Family night: $6 admission includes quads; no immediate family charged more than $18. Classes: Beginner roller hockey classes: $1 with own equipment; skates and sticks available. Kid amenities: Tiny tot skate, school holiday special sessions, birthday party packages.
Auburn Skate Connection 1825 Howard Road, Auburn; 253-833-4990 Specials: Cheap skate ($5 admission with quad rental, $4 with own skates), family nights ($14 admission for four) Kid amenities: Tiny tot skate (8 years and younger), home school skate, birthday party packages
Tacoma’s Rollin’ 253 Skate Center 2101 W. Mildred St., Tacoma; 253-292-2324 Specials: Dollar night ($1 admission, $3 skate rental), Saturday at the Matinee skate ($8 admission, free skate rental) Kid amenities: Birthday party packages
Pattisons West Family Skate Center in Federal Way 34222 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way, 253-838-7442 Specials: Sunday family nights: $5 admission, includes skate rentals. During regular skating sessions, groups of 15 or more save $1 per person. Classes: Beginners skating and speed skating classes: $7 includes skate rental. Kid amenities: School holiday special sessions, birthday party packages.
Tiffany's Skate Inn, Puyallup 1113 N. Meridian, Puyallup, 253-848-1153 Specials: $2 Tuesdays, Learn to Skate on Saturdays (preregister for savings), and Homeschool sessions on Wednesday. Tiffany's is also affiliated with KidSkateFree.com; register here for skating deals. Kid amenities: An arcade, many special sessions; check Facebook page for more.
Skateland in Olympia 2725 12th Ave. N.E., Olympia, 360-352-9943 Specials: Family night: $4 admission includes quads. Dollar night: $1 with skates; $2 rental. Classes: Beginners skating and beginner speed skating classes, $40/4 weekly lessons. Kid amenities: School holiday special sessions and birthday party packages.
Skate out: 5 roller-friendly parks
Skate-friendly parks and paths abound in the Seattle area. Rat City Rollergirls founder and veteran trail skater Jennifer Warnick recommends wearing safety gear while trail skating, and — if skating with quads — getting outdoor wheels.
Jefferson Park 3801 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle Enjoy views of downtown Seattle, the Duwamish and the Olympics while skating the paths around the playground and at the skate dot (a small skate park). Along with many nice, flat stretches of pavement for beginners to test their wheels, there are also gentle slopes for those who yearn for speed.
Maple Leaf Reservoir Park 1020 N.E. 82nd St., Seattle Recently completed, this lid park has stunning views of the city, the Cascades and, when it’s out, Mount Rainier. The outer loop is about a half-mile around and makes a reasonable lap; also, there is a circular paved path at the newly renovated playground (in the park just south of the reservoir park) that is great for beginner skaters.
Magnuson Park’s Beach Walk 7400 Sandpoint Way N.E., Seattle You will find many quiet places to skate in this former naval base, but you can really get your boogie on via the beach walk, the paved path that extends from Magnuson’s boat launch to the northwest gate of the off-leash dog beach.
McKinley Park 907 Upper Park St., Tacoma This historic Tacoma park has changed a lot since 1901. Recent upgrades favor skaters with smooth sidewalks around the skate plaza and two playgrounds.
Alki Beach Park Trail 1702 Alki Ave. S.W., Seattle Skating at the beach! On a sunny day, walkers, cyclists and skaters throng to this paved trail — so depending on skating ability, you may want to wait for clouds and lighter traffic.
For an extensive list of in-line skating trails in Washington, see the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.
Jamming with the junior derby
Your kid may be content just holding hands with her best friend and skating in an endless loop. (Awesome!) But if she lives to whip around the rink, she could grow up to be a jammer for one of our local derby teams — a shout-out to the Rat City Rollergirls (Seattle), Dockyard Derby Dames (Tacoma), Oly Rollers (Olympia) and Jet City Rollergirls (Snohomish County)!
Roller derby’s gender bias does skew toward the female, but there are a number of coed junior teams, and even a local men’s league, the Puget Sound Outcast Derby. As derby rises in popularity, there are more opportunities on the flat track for boys.
Parents, be forewarned — roller derby is a full-contact, competitive sport that requires an array of body armor and protective gear. Bodily injury is not the only concern: There is serious competition, so expect some emotional bruising if your kid doesn’t make the cut.
“There are moments of glory and sadness,” reflects Sara Girard, formerly of the Throttle Rockets, whose young son is learning roller derby, “but after everything, all you want to do is get back on the track.”
And as with skating itself, roller derby offers life lessons. “You learn to be the best you can be in order to be a reliable member of your team,” says Mama IRockit. “Derby teaches confidence and knowledge of just how much you can push yourself. And it gives great rewards for working hard.”