Rollergirl in print

Rollergirl
by Kate Zimmerman for Weekend Post and The Province

Lisa Suggitt pumps through the corners with Vancouver’s best skateboarders on old-fashioned four-wheeled roller skates

People call Lisa Suggitt “RollerGirl.”

She thinks it’s because they can’t remember her name. But it’s more likely because the most startling thing about Suggitt is that she’s an “aggressive roller skater.”

That means that what skateboarders do in Vancouver’s legendary boarding bowls, the 25-year-old Suggitt does, only on roller skates. Old-fashioned, four wheeled roller skates.

No wonder everybody remarks on it — she’s the only aggressive roller skater they have ever seen. Some of the boarders she encounters are so young that they have never seen a roller skater, period. And they’re curious.

“People will chase me down on my roller skates to find out where I got them,” says the self-confident Suggitt, who has been four-wheelin’ in one way or another since she turned five.

But it’s not her goal to be the standout, the lonely weirdo slicing and curling around the bowls at Hastings Park and China Creek on her 2 x 2’s, as she tries to do most sunny days. Instead, RollerGirl’s mission, and her online business, consists of spreading the word about roller skating in general and aggressive roller skating (also known as “vert” or vertical skating) in particular.

One thing about Suggitt’s brand of roller skating: It ain’t for sissies. “Aggressive roller skating is any kind of roller skating that pushes your limits,” Suggitt explains — including ramp riding, rotations and carving, terms normally associated with skateboarding.

In Vancouver, she’s often the only female practicing alongside ordinarily rivalrous male skateboarders, BMXers and inline skaters. Suggitt says they accord her respect and space, possibly because of the sheer uniqueness of her pursuit.

She actually likes to skateboard, too. But, she says, “Roller skating demands a higher level of commitment with tricks.” While a skateboarder in flight can kick his board away if a nasty spill looms, a roller skater is firmly laced into her skates. Wherever they go, so does she. “Aggressive skating is inherently dangerous,” Suggitt admits. “I always wear (safety) gear and I know how to fall.”

But she could use a little company. That’s why the former equipment leasing broker, now full-time roller maven, is angling to give lessons at Surrey’s Stardust, the Vancouver area’s only indoor roller skating rink, and the Shred Shed, a downtown indoor boarder hangout. She’s also putting together a team of aggressive “girl” roller skaters with ambitions to cross Canada next summer, showing off at local parks and bowls and selling merchandise from the back of the team’s van.

That should further her online business, a website (www.rollergirl.ca) devoted to aggressive roller skating that also sells different kinds of skates. They will soon include skates Suggitt helped design for vert enthusiasts like herself as well as a new, all-terrain version built to navigate the great, narly outdoors. (Regular rollers have always been designed for smooth indoor rinks.)

The chief difference between standard roller skates and the currently more popular inline skates is that on inline skates, the wheels are positioned in a rigid line, like a blade, and can only go straight forward or backward. On roller skates, the four wheels form a square, and the front and back wheels can turn independently, like a skateboard’s.

“What that gives you is the ability to carve,” Suggitt explains; it also allows the skater to “pump through the corners.” The result is more flexible movement, and a safer ride, in her view, because the rider’s weight is planted on a sturdier base.

In the case of her new all-terrains, the wheels are even wider, like the tires on monster trucks. Because the 2-1/2” wide wheels are also spaced well apart, the skater can “grind,” as well. “There’s never been an all-terrain roller skate,” says Suggitt, whose new product was designed by a Seattle friend. “This is the first one.”

Is there any demand for it? “I’ve been getting e-mails from people from the countryside in Russia. They just don’t have much cement.”

Roller skates have always been amenable to different modes of movement, including terpsichore like that practiced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1937 film Shall We Dance? So for a skateboarder and snowboarder like Suggitt, it wasn’t much of a mental leap to go from regular roller skating to the aggressive style she now favours. Skateboards, after all, were originally made by removing the rollers from skates and topping those wheels with plywood.

Besides, roller skating is a skill that has been in development for more than 250 years. Roller skates were invented in 1760 by a Belgian. The skates were perfected compliments of the German/American space scientist Wernher von Brahn and his colleagues, who came up with an extraordinarily hard, shock-absorbing substance called polyurethane while developing the space program in the 1960s. Polyurethene is now routinely used to make skate wheels. As a result, one of the more practical aspects to roller skates, which in the $150-$375 (Cdn.) price range are not cheap, is that the wheels wear down, but they wear down evenly. They can therefore be used for a long time before being replaced.

But it’s not as though Suggitt is personally trying to persuade some parent to buy a pair of roller skates for his or her adolescent in hopes they will last for years. “I’m not aiming at the kid market yet,” she says. “It’s more the Gen X/Boomer that likes roller skates.”

This is the 30-60-year-old group that is embracing retro sneakers and banana-seat bikes, the trappings of its youth. Roller skates effect the same magic — a rush backward in the time machine. “When people put them on they’re 10 again.”

Except in terms of appearance. In Suggitt’s opinion, today’s female roller skaters look va-va-va-vroom, especially when they also sport retro fashions like hot pants and long socks. Roller skates elongate the legs, she says, “so if you do wear short shorts, they’re from here to the sky.”

Rollergirl.ca caters to the sexing-up scenario by offering skates not only in the classic white boot format and a black version, but also in pink high-top, blue suede, and other funky styles. “Lots of girls just wear them to get cruised. They get dressed up, go down to the beach.”

And if they go to the beach to get cruised often enough, for long enough, they also develop long, lean muscle, says RollerGirl. “So I think girls who skate are really sexy.”

If she does say so herself.

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