GETS HER SKATES ON AND IS TREATED TO A HIGH-ENERGY TOUR OF LONDON’S SIGHTS.
A warm summer evening in central London and Piccadilly Circus is buzzing with life as the weekend swings into action. All of a sudden, the hum of traffic disappears and heads are turned by sounds reminiscent of a street protest or a city carnival. Whistles, whoops, bells and deep repetitive beats signal the start of the Friday Night Skate—the weekly roller-skating rally that has taken the city by storm. The hundreds of skaters that whiz through London on these speedy soirees, bring the city’s streets, momentarily, to a standstill. Accompanied by a portable sound system, pumping out everything from Frank Sinatra to Orbital, the skaters are easily the oddest posse in town. People in the streets turn to cheer and clap and passengers stare from packed buses as the skaters speed past in a flurry of waves and whistles. A moment later, the beats and bells fade into the distance and they are gone.
Although they may seem like a spectacle, most of the Friday Night Skaters are in fact tourists, and Friday Night Skates are fast-becoming an exhilarating form of fun and friendly sightseeing. It’s very hard to discover the true spirit of a city when you are squashed against the window of a tour bus listening to a monotone tour guide; Friday Night Skates in London as well as Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Barcelona offer a very different kind of city tour. Just turn up and go.
Andreas Kolatteck from Citiskate, founder and co-ordinator of the London Friday Night Skate, is keen to explain the unique atmosphere on a roller rally. “Where else can you spend two hours meeting like-minded friendly Londoners, see the capital and look cool in the process,” he laughs. “It’s like you are in a club dancing away on skates, except the scenery keeps changing, and you’ve got loads of people watching you thinking what on earth is this all about.” Andreas started the Friday Night Skate in 2001 wanting to create something unique and inspiring for the city.
It became a massive hit with office workers and tourists eager to kick off their weekend in style. “People of all ages join us,” explains Andreas. “Quad skaters (roller skaters) and inline skaters (rollerbladers) go in abundance. People occasionally cycle too, and in the past scooters, skateboards, wheelchairs, enthusiastic children in trainers, and even a stray dog have joined us.”
The Friday Night Skate always begins at 8pm, on Fridays, at the Duke of Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner. It is worth noting, too, that there are two sections to the skate: blue (intermediates) and black (advanced). In terms of skills, you have to be able to effectively stop (this is a legal requirement), as well as turn and skate at a medium pace to do the blue route and be able to skate fast and have good stamina to do the black route. Each course averages around 20km, so it’s best to save that Friday night pint until afterwards. The routes change each week but usually involve a visit to the west end: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square are just some of the sights you’ll whiz past along the way. Don’t fret if your legs start to wobble, the 1000-watt sound system should get you moving again.
Although London’s Friday Night Skaters are impressive, they pale somewhat in comparison to the thousands that join the Parisian Friday-night skate known as the Paris Roller, considered the Grand Dame of night skates. This weekly ride attracts over 15,000 skaters each week making it the biggest night skate in the world. In September 2001, it attracted a record number of 28,000 skaters snaking across 4km of Parisian streets. The journey begins in front of Montparnasse station at 10pm and, as in London, the roads are closed and teams of marshals guide the skate through the streets. The Paris Roller even has a police escort ensuring it’s a safe and thrilling way to discover the city. Gliding with thousands of others through a moonlit St Germain, across the Seine and past the Louvre, to cries of “Allez. Allez tout le monde,” makes for a memorable night out. “Every Friday is a party for us,” says Tanao Terra, vice president of the Paris Roller. “We meet friends, discover new people and see Paris on skates—it’s a mix of sport and fun that people in cities need in their lives”. Of course, this being the city of romance it’s not just the historical architecture that the skaters are admiring. “I have a lot of friends who find love and end up married after participating in the ‘Friday Night Fever’, as we call it,” explains Tanao. “They start with skates and finish in church.”
The Paris Roller is a faster, more intense experience than the London one. Even the sheer number of fellow skaters is somewhat daunting: you do need to feel confident in your technique if you are going to participate, not least to avoid a particular Parisian street hazard, dog poo. The local “motocrots” from the council do their very best, whizzing about on scooters armed with huge vacuum cleaners that suck up truckloads each day, but be warned, and be aware!
Both skating events manage to capture the spirit and attitude of their city: the Parisians talk about political takeovers, principles and philosophy, while the London posse discuss the delights of their local pub. What they have in common though is that the skate guarantees you become the tourist attraction as well as the tourist: just remember to bring your whistle!
The site www.thefns.com has all the routes and information you need about the Friday Night Skate. There are also easier courses: the Easy Peasy on Saturdays takes place in Battersea Park and is great for kids, www.easypeasyskate.com, and so is the Rollerstroll on Sundays, www.rollerstroll.com. You can rent skates and gear for around £10 a day at Slick Willies, 12 Gloucester Road, www.slickwillies.co.uk.
Check www.pari-roller.com for weekly routes. Hire skates at Nomades, www.nomadeshop.com, Place de la Bastille.
For a more relaxed skating experience, usually ending with a big party on the beach or outside a bar until dawn, visit www..patinar-bcn.org. Meet at Baja Beach Club around 10pm and hire skates from Inercia, www.inercia-shop.com.
Meet at 10pm, at the film museum, and tour around the Amstel river and the Rijksmuseum. And, this being Amsterdam, don’t expect any hills to race down. Hire skates from Vondeltuin, www.vondeltruin.nl or check website www..fridaynightskate.com for further details.
Geneva & Basel
Over 5,000 people turn up for the weekly Monday-night Skate in Geneva and Basel. Visit www.mondaynightskate.ch, and watch out for the new rollerblading police in Geneva.
CITISKATE, CO-ORDINATORS OF THE FRIDAY NIGHT SKATE IN LONDON AND IN-LINE SKATING PROFESSIONALS GIVE THEIR TOP TIPS FOR TAKING PART IN A NIGHT SKATE:
- HELMETS, WRIST, KNEE AND ELBOW PROTECTION IS OPTIONAL BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- EAT WELL BEFORE AND ALWAYS BRING LIQUIDS WITH YOU
- WEAR LIGHTS OR REFLECTIVE CLOTHING
- IF IT’S RAINING OR ROUTES ARE WET THE SKATE IS LIKELY TO BE CANCELLED. CHECK THE WEBSITES
CITISKATE IN LONDON OFFER SKATING COURSES AND PRIVATE TUITION THROUGHOUT THE CAPITAL AND ALSO ORGANISE SKATE TRIPS AND TOURS IN MANY EASYJET DESTINATIONS SUCH AS NICE, BERLIN, AMSTERDAM AND PARIS. CHECK THEIR WEBSITE www.CITISKATE.CO.UK FOR DETAILS.