Inline's Future: Where Skating, Cycling, and Running Meet, and We All Benefit

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule and Speedskating Times, both in March 1993.

I recently had the opportunity to attend and address the monthly meeting of the Bay Area Inline Racers. This is a low-key but deadly serious group of inline enthusiasts who meet regularly with the explicit raison d'etre of promoting and shaping the present and future state of affairs in their chosen sport and lifestyle. This is no small or unworthy task. Nation-wide, over 25 million people own inline skates, with seven million of these being avid participants. Sounds impressive, and it is, but still the sport stands at a critical juncture. Interestingly, running and cycling may be in the position to both help and benefit from this turning point.

According to many, the people who have controlled this relatively new industry have totally lost touch with the sport's needs. Interest in speedy cash turnaround has engendered what is in part a fad sport. Short-sightedly, the powers that be have not sought to promote an inline lifestyle to pull in lifetime inliners. This is not good for the industry or for those millions who could have made inline skating an integral part of a more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

"The future of the sport must now be in the hands of the creative, small inline companies, not with the big OEMs. It's up to skaters like us to broaden the horizons both technologically and culturally," say the BAIR folks. The plan to renovate "a sport at a standstill" includes coaching, education, community outreach, reasonably priced quality products, and promoting participatory events. What will specificly be avoided is hype, trendiness, and commercialism gone overboard.

Inline skating's growing pains are strikingly similar to those of running and cycling from days gone by: Inline skating needs to be promoted and construed by the public not as a circus, but as a serious athletic endeavour. Attention needs to be given to the backbone of the sport, to the millions of enthusiasts who could and should be participating in varied types of events. Otherwise, "exclusive focus on the top of the pyramid makes the bottom fall out."

How to go about building the image and backbone of the sport? Organize fun and entertaining events where the focus is on heroics from finishing an interesting course. Produce the events professionally. Mail out 100% complete finishing results shortly after the race. Provide neat finishing prizes, random prizes for various middle of the packers, and of course recognition for top finishers, 10 deep male and female. These needn't be spendy awards, but original and creative. Instead of the ubiquitious t-shirt, why not a headband, visor, even a beach ball instead? These efforts will bring in new inline skaters, plus the all-important repeat participants. But there's still more that can be done...

Cycling and running events stand in an excellent position to reach out to the inline skating millions by opening up an inline division at their existing venue. And get this: the inliners themselves are willing and able to help make this happen with a dedicated, hands-on effort. They're willing to get into the trenches in every way: working with event organizers with promotion, course design, start/finish line logistics, monitoring the course, and all the other nuts and bolts that go into a smooth and successful event.

Like cyclists and runners, inliners want and need something beyond the intimidating criterium-style, multi-lap events that are currently common in skating. (These are quite dangerous, plus give all but the top three finishers absolutely no sense of accomplishment for finishing. Who wants to be lapped again and again by the pro racers or elbowed into the curb during a high speed 90 degree turn every 200 yards?) This means that single loop or point to point courses are especially desirable for inline skating. Thus innumerable events in the running and cycling world could add an inline divsion: the usual running distances from 5K to marathon and longer, plus cycling's many fun ride (and race) distances from 10 mile to 50 mile, even up to the full century distance would be great for inlining. (FYI, inliners cruise at 22mph and up and cover the 10K in 16 to 20-some minutes and the marathon in 1:20 to three hours.)

A few details: Inliners could be given a two minute headstart at mass start running events. Their lead vehicle should be a motorcycle. Finish lines are ideally on an uphill or gradual upgrade. Finishing chutes should be longer and could have railings for slowing down. Insurance can be had easily and cheaply through the USAC. (Insurance can even be had for free for nonprofit events.) Helmets must be mandatory and wrist guards at least "highly advised." Three classes naturally distinguish themselves: elite racers, age group sport skaters, and recreational skaters with four or less wheels per skate.

Many, if not most, of the existing events that fit the format bill could quickly and easily add inliners to their forum. In so doing, they'd increase total participation numbers, promote health and fitness to a wider cross-section of the public, plus bring in more exposure, publicity, and interest in their entire event AND ITS SPONSORS.

The Nineties is about cross-training and accomodating one's neighbor, about seeing the interconnectedness in all things. Inline skating isn't just a close cousin to our running and cycling worlds, it's a part of us. Let's embrace it with open arms, for the resultant success story would be shared mutually, as it should be.