Well, now that the winter is on the wain, and after hernia surgery and subsequent physical therapy I am on the mend, my thoughts turn to getting back into my favorite physical activity: inline skating. I began skating on conventional quadratic skates in the late 1980s, switched over to inline skates in 1993, and have been skating ever since. In recent years I have gotten away from skating, but am looking forward to starting again as soon as the weather is warm enough.
I am fortunate in the sense that New York City is probably the best place to skate outdoors in the United States, and perhaps the world. Notice I say outdoors - I am not a rollerrink rat. I enjoy skating outdoors, where I not only get exercise from skating, but also varying terrain and the challenges and fun that go with that.
However, while I love skating outdoors, you will not find me, for the most part, on the streets. While I wear full protective gear - helmet, wristguards, knee and elbow pads - I stay away from the streets. There are enough places to skate in New York City away from the traffic - more on that later - and drivers have enough to worry about in New York without having to avoid skaters weaving in and out among the cars and buses.
For those who love to skate and haven't been to New York City, I thought it might be interesting to talk about the many resources for skating here. This will also give me a chance to talk more about the many things I love about skating here.
First of all, the best resource for information on skating in New York City is NYC SK8: http://www.skatecity.com/nyc/. There you can find information on all the places set aside for skating throughout NYC's five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. And there's lots of other information there as well: on clubs & leagues, skate shops, lessons and a calendar of skate-related events.
Since I've lived in four of the five boroughs of NYC, I have also skated there as well. When I first started, I lived in Staten Island, and broke my wheels in skating a rather smooth loop in Silver Lake Park. Later, when I switched to inline skates, I lived in Manhattan's East Village, and honed my techique tearing up and down East River Park. Then I got married and moved to Flushing, Queens where I marveled at migrating flocks of birds passing over while skating in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
In 2002, I separated from my then-wife and moved to the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, where I could walk to Prospect Park, which has a nice loop for skating. And now I am back in Manhattan, living on the Upper Westside, on Riverside Boulevard to be exact, just across the street from a path that leads down to the Hudson River paths. Running from the Battery all the way to Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, the Hudson River trail (http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=XFA046-002) is pretty flat, but there is enough variety, I think, to make it fun. And you are usually right next to the waterfront, with the breeze and sun to keep you company.
The one negative is that when the wind is strong, it presents a formidable challenge. Some may like it, since you get a better workout when the wind is blasting you in the face, slowing progress, at times, to almost a standstill. But for me, I like to get somewhere when I am skating, so when it is really windy, you may find me skating somewhere else.
The eastern shore of Manhattan also has a trail; however, during some stretches of that trail you will find yourself skating in traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular. See the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway map for details: http://www.nyc.gov/html/edc/pdf/greenway_mapside.pdf. Personally, I find stepping up and down curbs and crossing streets and such a nuisance, so I prefer to stay on the westside waterfront.
Of course, the pinnacle of skating in New York City is Central Park. The whole time I have been skating, I have always measured my progress as a skater by whether I could skate the entire loop in Central Park - and if I could, I would measure myself by how fast I could get all the way around. When you get to the northern tip of the loop, there is a steep hill nicknamed Cardiac Hill that challenges even a good skater, and then coming down the westside, there are several more hills. By the time you get to Columbus Circle, if you are not totally wiped from climbing all those hills, you are one serious skater!
Central Park is enough of a mecca for skating that you can find places to rent or buy skates not far from the park. For example, there's Blades (http://www.blades.com/) on 72nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam, just 1-1/2 blocks from Central Park. I bought my last pair of skates there, and a helmet as well.
Generally speaking, though, when I need skating gear, I go to a large sporting goods store rather than a skating specialty store. For example, I have bought many helmets and wheels and ball bearings and such at Paragon on Broadway and 19th Street in Manhattan (http://www.paragonsports.com/). They have an inline skating department which is usually well stocked with lots of different varieties of skates and helmets. Also, you can sometimes get really good prices if you buy in the off-season, i.e., the winter (hey, I should pay them a visit right now!).
Getting back to Central Park, when I was a new skater, I skated there all the time, even though I was clumsy enough to fall frequently and sometimes get some serious road-rash. I never mastered braking technique on quadratic skates, but luckily I found braking on inline skates much easier to manage. I always tell people that the first thing you need to learn is how to brake, so it is great that the Central Park Skate Patrol (http://www.skatepatrol.org/) is out in Central Park every weekend ready to teach newbies how to brake safely. You can also sign up for more extensive lessons with them if need be.
Some people like to skate for more than just exercise - to learn advanced moves like skating backwards, and perhaps even some snazzy dance moves. To see what kind of moves I am talking about, and maybe try out some yourself, look for the Central Park Skate Circle, run by the Central Park Dance Skaters (http://cpdsa.org/). The circle has never been my thing, since all you do is skate around in, well, a circle, but you do get to see people who honed their craft back in the Disco era, and have kept evolving ever since!
If you'd like private lessons so you don't embarrass yourself when you get to the Skate Circle, or just to build yourself into the Torville or Dean of inline skating, there are some pretty accomplished pros who give lessons: see for example, the Lezly Skate School (http://skateguru.com/ - the photo just below the banner is of Lezly skating in the Skate Circle!).
In just a week or two, I am going to dig out my gear, wipe the dust off my skates and pads, grease up the wheels, and get ready to start skating again! I can't wait! I will probably start by skating from 67th street down to the Battery on the westside waterfront path, and then once that gets easy, I will head to Central Park and start climbing those hills! I hope that when you come to the Big Apple, you will join me in Central Park. Good luck on Cardiac Hill!