I never mastered the skateboard and I didn’t have the coordination to stay upright on a scooter but I was the queen of the roller boot. I practically lived in my pair and had my career mapped out at a young age: I was going to be that waitress in the Martini advert (poutingly played by actress Nicolette Sheridan of Knots Landing and Desperate Housewives fame) that skated smoothly in and out of the crowd holding a tray of drinks. Looking back I’m not sure how much call there would have been for one of those in Basingstoke but it was a harmless dream at the time.
There are plenty of different styles of roller boots around nowadays, but in the 1980s it seemed as though there were only two designs. I personally had the bright blue roller boots with yellow stars and my best friend had the slightly darker blue boots with darker yellow flashes. Go out for a whizz up and down your street on a summer night and you would see everybody else you knew also zooming around , generally in one of those pairs as well.
The wheels were yellow too and so was the fairly useless rubber stopper at the front. I say useless because you could only really use them to help you stop if you were going pretty slowly – in which case it was simpler to just stop skating and come to a fairly safe halt by yourself. Trying to use the stoppers when you were going any faster was just foolhardy: if you bent your knees and leant forward enough for them to touch the pavement when you were going at speed you would end up doing an extremely painful somersault. The more confident skaters could, of course, employ the ‘swish your heels round to the side and come to a skidding sort of a stop’ (the kind that looks more effective on skis, so you can spray everybody with a layer of snow); I personally found it easier to use the ‘aim yourself at an immovable object and grab on to it’ technique.
The roller boot looked so sophisticated compared to the earlier roller skates that we’d had, which was basically just a metal base on wheels that you attached on to your shoes with red leather straps. Whilst these were fun (purely because we had nothing else like them at the time) they never really worked as methods of transportation. The wheels weren’t particularly smooth and the straps never really held them on tight to your shoe, so most of the time you were just executing a sort of rolling-along-wobbly-walk type of gait. And you could never even contemplate skating on any surface that was remotely bumpy – ow! On the roller boot, however, the boot and the wheels were one unit so it was a lot more stable and able to take a little bit of rough ground in its stride. Once you had the hang of the movement needed to propel yourself you could glide along in some style. You could get up quite a good speed under the right circumstances.
The only drawback of roller boots was the fact that because the boot part was attached to the wheels then if you were using the boots to get you somewhere, you either had to carry another pair of non-wheeled shoes as you skated or walk around in your socks once you got there. Still, that was a small price to pay for looking that cool as you swished along.
Writing about roller boots has given me a real itch for my old pair. A quick look on the internet reveals hundreds of sites which sell retro roller boots – including ones with flashy light up wheels. Hmm, where’s my nearest roller disco?