Why Filipinos Are Turning To Roller Skating As The New Pandemic Exercise
Girls and boys, young and old, are putting on their wheels to skate for their physical and mental health, and as a means to cope this pandemic. Support is coming in—but is it enough?
Roller skating was one of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s. It was then when the Baguio Skating Rink at Burnham Park was erected, and when in place of the now Lapu-Lapu monument at Rizal Park was a skating rink surrounding a globe fountain. It was precisely because of the growth and interest in roller skating that figure skating was made possible in a tropical country, in the form of mall rinks inside SM Megamall and SM Mall of Asia.
While figure skating continued to thrive—creating national figure skating athletes and enabling the Philippines to send Michael Martinez, the first Southeast Asian, to the Olympics—roller skating began to fade in the background. That is until the pandemic broke out in 2020.
The rebirth of roller skating
2020 was a year the world will never forget. Needless to say, the Covid-19 pandemic upended the lives of everyone, leaving in its wake a brand-new world order where work-from-home and study-at-home are the new normal, and social media apps became the ultimate source of connection between people.
It’s undeniable that the pandemic played a huge role in the rising popularity of roller skates. And it was a mix of Tiktok roller skating dance trends; the closure of many sporting facilities like basketball, figure skating, and bowling; and the rise of wheels like bikes and skates as personal mobility devices (PMDs) that ultimately greased the wheels that led to the rebirth of the roller-skating culture in the Philippines.
And from the phoenix of the roller-skating culture, a new community came to be: Everywhere We Skate PH, “a place for roller skaters, by roller skaters."
The Everywhere We Skate PH (EWSPH) family
“The group started out as a pasabuy group chat for roller skates I could source in Hong Kong,” said Chai Timbungco, one of the admins that started the EWSPH Facebook group and page. “I posted a photo wearing quads and immediately, people were asking for help to get them.”
Soon, her friends Cloe Cabral and Patricia Epistola would help start the Facebook group that has now more than 7,000 members and counting.
“I decided to call it ‘Everywhere We Skate PH’ because historically, skaters have taken to the streets because of the lack of proper skating venues, and so they make do with street fixtures, skating anywhere and everywhere. And most importantly, since there are difficulties meeting up locally due to the pandemic, nowadays, skating ‘together’ can mean skating simultaneously while in different cities,” says Chai.
The EWSPH Facebook group may not be as huge as other hobby groups, but it is definitely one of the most active, given that it just started a year ago, on June 2020. Browse the group feed and you’ll see roller skate OOTDs, skating videos, tips and tricks, and budol pasabuys.
In fact, more than just a place to flex hard tricks or brand-new skates and accessories, the group has actually become a safe place for newbies and long-time skaters to connect with their fellow skaters, find inspiration, and stay motivated to pursue the sport.
“I only personally pursued skating recently because I could never pursue it before due to budget constraints, lack of options, and lack of venues,” says Chai. And her story echoes many skaters’ stories as well—some saying it has been their childhood dream to skate, some blaming Tiktok, some sharing it has become a way for them to stay in shape, and many turning to wheels as a way of coping with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.
An unexpected pandemic medicine
Roller skating is pandemic cardio at its finest. And regular cardio is always a good idea, especially when people are stuck at home with limited to no access to regular physical activities.
In fact, you can say it’s one of the most pandemic-friendly exercises. It’s something you can do at home with some space, maybe in front of your house in your village’s streets, or for the more adventurous ones, in parks and streets across the country. It’s non-contact, encourages social distancing (because you wouldn’t like to run another person over while skating!), and is best enjoyed al fresco.
But more than just an exercise for the body, skating has also become a happy pill for many people—a reprieve from the constant anxiety and burnout caused by the pandemic, and a way for people to express themselves inside the limited walls of their rooms and homes.
“You can do it as a group sport or on your own, you can branch out to different specializations or do it recreationally. But I think we all do it for mental health reasons. One way or another, skating helps give us a better sense of the world—both in learning to navigate your surroundings, and in bringing out new things you didn’t know were in you,” says Chai.
Chaser Action Sports—a welcome roller-skating ally
Undeniably, one of the most popular topics you’ll see on the EWSPH feed is this: “Where can I buy skates?” Even with online shopping reaching its peak this pandemic, international shipping continues to be a major cause of headache for many people who are into niche hobbies like roller skating. Just thinking about the customs fee, the mode of delivery, the waiting time—everything about ordering abroad makes a lot of people shy away from roller skating.
But if there’s one brand that really helped bolster the newbie skating community, it’s Chaser Action Sports.
Chaser Action Sports started in 2014 selling mini cruisers, wooden skateboards, and riding accessories. They then began adding more activities and items to their lineup, eventually introducing roller skates in 2017.
“We have always believed in experimenting and trying out things, being the first in many niche categories like roller skating. Back in 2017, roller skating was so novel in the market, especially for the Gen Y and Z. Most of the people familiar will roller skating are the Millenials or those who grew up in the 90s,” said Gretchen Ty, brand manager at Chaser Action Sports. “And then in 2020, it finally received major attention because of the pandemic and the rise of TikTok.”
Any roller skater now would know of the Chaser Whip—Chaser’s very own roller skates line. “We have the best beginner boots. And of course, we are the most stylish in the market for beginner skates. We want to give customers the best value for their money,” adds Gretchen. And this claim definitely has merit, because Chaser Whip became every beginner skater’s entry wheels into the sport. They gave many Filipinos with limited budget an affordable entry point, and encouraged a lot of newcomers to finally give roller-skating a try.
The Chaser Whip was not too fancy, not too pricey, and it gave a lot of bang for your buck. The boots had enough ankle support for beginners, the stock wheels skated nicely on smooth surfaces, and Chaser is always nice enough to entertain customer questions and problems.
In fact, they did not just stop there. Because they were seeing a growth in more advanced skaters looking to overseas websites for better boots and wheels, they eventually decided to carry Chaya and Rio roller skates—some of the most popular and reliable roller-skating brands internationally.
With the growth of the roller-skating community, Chaser Action Sports is excited to do more to serve this market. They revealed that some of the most in-demand brands—Impala skates and Luna Skates—are also coming to their stores by third quarter of this year.
“We are the pioneer in roller skates in the Philippines and we will continue to do our best in innovating our product range,” says Gretchen. “In fact, we have several brand ambassadors already creating content, tutorials, and earning with us. All we can say is we will grow with our customers, and we will never stop innovating just like when we started back in 2014.”
Robinsons Metro East—finally, a place for skaters
The skaters are all assembled, the boots are taken care of. Now the only thing missing is the place where skaters can finally skate in peace.
There’s no other way to say it but Metro Manila is generally not very friendly towards skaters—or anyone in wheels, to be honest. While a lot has already been said, made, and done to lobby for government action in terms of making the city friendlier towards PMDs and non-motorized transport, skaters are still left in a very awkward position.
Without any venue or rink dedicated to roller-skating, skaters turn to open areas for a roll-out. But a lot of streets, malls, and even parks do not welcome or tolerate skating. While basketball and tennis courts have begun to reopen, many do not allow skating. Skaters everywhere are always on the lookout for guards who will tell them to go away because “skating is not permitted here.” While jogging is encouraged as an outdoor, socially distant exercise, wheels are immediately a no-no even though they mainly operate on the same spatial level.
Thankfully, in a city that’s so hostile to skaters, a new ally finally emerged—in the form of Robinsons Metro East Deck.
“With this pandemic, we feel that our customers are in need of a good, open, and safe outdoor space for their usual fitness routines and activities. This is why we redeveloped our existing roof deck parking into an outdoor lifestyle hub where people can jog, exercise, relax, and spend time with their families and friends—and even bring their pets,” says Vitoria Castro Chua, Regional Marketing Manager of Robinsons Malls.
While the East Deck wasn’t made “primarily” for skaters, Vitoria says it was a welcome surprise when skaters began to approach them to ask for permission to skate in the area.
“It was 2 days after we opened when a group of skaters came to us and asked if they can skate at the East Deck. Of course we said yes since East Deck is open to anyone who loves outdoor activities! We are very happy that we see skaters who visit on a daily basis and that there is a growing community who enjoys this activity. We can guarantee that the area is safe and secured, and they don’t need to worry about passing cars or uneven surfaces,” shares Vitoria.
A safe skating space has always stopped many skaters from enjoying the sport, and Robinsons Metro East’s friendliness towards the community has made so many EWSPH members excited for the future of the sport.
In fact, the East Deck does not just provide an expansive space with an amazing view of the Antipolo mountains for skaters. There’s also a jogging track, a crazy cart track, an RC cars playground, bike lessons, pet park, and a hangout area for chilling and dining. And in these times where open areas and fresh air feel like luxuries, spaces like the East Deck can make life a little bit more fun and bearable for many Filipinos who are doing their best to survive the pandemic.
Vitoria also emphasizes that safety protocols are strictly enforced at the East Deck to make sure that the place is both fun and safe for everyone: “Upon entry, customers are required to check their temperature and scan the Pasig pass for contact tracing. We have safety marshals and roving guards to make sure that people follow Covid protocols and maintain social distancing. We also require all operators of the East Deck to follow Covid protocols and ensure that customers have proper safety gears and equipment such as helmets.”
Freedom to skate
“One of the most common feedback you’d hear is that ‘skating feels so liberating’ and that’s the reality of it,” says Chai. And indeed, roller-skating has become an avenue for people to re-experience freedom in a Covid-battered country that’s been restricted with so many rules and limitations.
The new roller-skating community in the country is just regrowing—but in an amazingly exponential pace. And if there’s one thing that all skaters and stakeholders are waiting for, is that for the local and national government to be more sensitive and responsive to the needs of its constituents so we can grow the roller-skating culture once again—not just to restore it to its former glory, but to grow it even further and make the international competitive stage.
With enough private and public support, skaters can hope to finally have a safe place in the Metro and maybe a new Olympic skater will emerge—this time on wheels.
Chaser Action Sports has stores at SM Mall of Asia, SM City North Edsa (Annex), Glorietta 3, Market! Market!, U.P. Town Center, and Alabang Town Center. Customers can also order roller skates via www.squadskates.com or through the Chaser official Lazada and Shopee online stores.
Check out the Robinsons Metro East Deck on Facebook at @RobMetroEast.