Sidney Baker adjusts her Hello Kitty ring before balancing on the stoppers at the front of her roller skates. Following a deep breath, the 8-year-old lunges herself forward and turns a cartwheel, with a smooth landing on all eight wheels.
“I’m not afraid of falling anymore,” said Sidney, a regular weekend skater. “I fell a lot when I first started. I cried sometimes. I saw a bunch of other people learning how to skate and I got the hang of it pretty quickly so I decided that if I was like them maybe I could get a little bit better and maybe even better than them.”
In a little less than a year, Sidney has become a strong skater and is proud of how fast she can do a lap around the rink at Johnson City Family Skate Center, 930 W. Watauga Ave. She straps into a pair of roller skates every other weekend and sometimes on Tuesday nights.
“It’s a good activity and I have a bunch of friends here,” she said with a big grin. “I like speed skating because you get to go fast. I like to out-lap people.”
Speed skating, the limbo, hokey pokey and chicken dance are all popular activities that break up the typical round-about skating routine. To keep kids interested in roller skating, owners of the Johnson City Family Skate Center are always looking at new ways to improve the lighting features that move across the floors and walls of the rink. They also make sure the disk jockey is playing the hottest tunes.
“I’d rather be here skating because I’d be cooped up in the house,” Sidney said.
Randy Medley, co-owner of Johnson City Family Skate Center, says roller skating has been gaining in popularity during the last five years. The 1970s and early ’80s were the glory days of skating, but recent commercials and movies featuring roller skaters has brought it back into the minds of youngsters.
“Skating is on the incline, but it’s seasonal,” said Randy. “October to the end of April is prime time, then it slows down for the summer.”
The majority of skaters who hang out at the rink each weekend are between the ages of 5 and 15. They come to “Super Skate” and “Jam Skate” Fridays and Saturdays from 7-11 p.m., often without their parents.
“It’s a chance for everyone to have a meeting place with friends,” Randy said. “We have a lot of parents who say they like what we’re doing because we’re strict on the kids and don’t let them leave.”
While many youth get their independence on Friday and Saturday nights, families also enjoy skating a few laps together.
“It’s exercise for family and they can be together at the same time and interact, have fun,” Randy said.
The Johnson City Family Skate Center also hosts an “All Night Skate” four times a year and “Retro Night” on Tuesdays from 6-8:30 p.m., which is popular with adults.
On a typical Saturday, however, Sidney and her friends compare tricks and turns as they skate to the beat of the music. Chris Rhea, who comes to rink every weekend, can do a backflip and roundoff on skates.
“I like coming here,” said Chris, 15. “The competitive side comes out. We push each other to do better. It’s just one of those things that guys do. We want to prove each other wrong.”
Jam and rhythm skate events are some of Chris’ favorites. His definition of jam skating is “break dancing on skates,” while rhythm skating involves more turns. He’s a self-taught skater who spends eight hours each weekend perfecting his skills.
“It’s fun, but it take a lot of practice,” Chris said. “You can’t come in one weekend and expect to get it.”
Experienced skaters like Chris and Sidney enjoy watching people learn to glide on wheels for the first time. Sidney tries to stay out of their way and let them learn, unless they ask for her help.
“Start on your stopper and push yourself,” Sidney said as her first words of advice. “When I first started I held onto the wall and pulled myself.”
For a calendar of events and hours at the Johnson City Family Skate Center, visit www.jcskatecenter.com or call 926-2726.