At 8:00 in the morning in Largo’s Taylor Park, the Sunday Bladers gather for their morning inline skate. They are people of all ages and from all walks of life, but they share one thing in common: They love to skate. And eat. Every Sunday ride ends in a breakfast stop.
This Sunday, I simply showed up to the group and introduced myself to Karin Koch. She, in turn, introduced me to the rest of the inline skaters as they pulled into the parking lot.
“Oh, there comes Deb,” Koch said, as a small, dark car pulled into the parking lot at around 8:45. “She’s always late, even though she lives five minutes from here. She comes in with all the pads and one skate on her foot.”
Sure enough, it was Deborah Dietrich. But she seemed relaxed and wasn’t wearing any of her gear. Karin joked with her about ruining her story about the one skate on.
When the group members had all arrived, they intercepted a passer-by and asked him to take a picture of the group. Then we set off heading south on the Pinellas trail. The group took off at what seemed like 100 miles per hour. I was huffing and puffing behind everyone.
Dietrich stayed with me. She’s a former sorority sister and current financial planner who claims that she’s a slow skater and doesn’t skate long distances. That’s not true. Like the rest of the group, she proved to be a regular speed demon. We skated five miles out to Seminole Park, where the group stopped to chat with a British lady with two hyper dogs.
On the way back, Rob Hunter skated with me while the rest of the group, including Dietrich, charged full speed ahead. Hunter, a pilot who has participated in many group skates in Paris, answered some of my skating questions.
For example, how does a person without suicidal intentions descend one of the steep pedestrian bridges on the trail? The answer is, of course: very carefully.
With wheels strapped to your feet, it pays to proceed with caution. A big part of this is just knowing your limits and using common sense. On wheels, a person is not as stable as he or she would be otherwise. Make sure you have good brakes, and don’t attempt to go up or down hills unless you are totally comfortable. Trails are great places to skate because you don’t have to compete with cars. But even on the trails, be aware of cyclists and runners and follow the rules of the road.
Most Sunday Bladers wear knee and elbow pads, wrist guards and helmets. Pads will probably not stop you from breaking a bone, but they can save you some pretty ugly road rash if you fall on asphalt.
And while most inline skaters do not fall on their heads, if they do, a helmet can save them from a nasty (and possibly fatal) head injury. It’s a good idea to wear a helmet especially if you are skating on a street with traffic.
As Hunter said, “It’s low impact unless you fall.”
“You skated twice the distance we did on those little wheels,” the group leader Bruce Myers said to me.
Only a mile and a half from the finish, the group told me all the things that were wrong with my amateur skates, which slowed me down. The best inline skates can run you several hundred dollars, but entry-level outdoor skates are much more affordable.
Rob offered these tips on how to improve a pair of inline skates you already have:
Get bigger wheels. The bigger the wheels, the less work you have to do. Some people put 100 mm wheels like those used for scooters on their racing skates. Even a change from a 76 mm wheel like mine to an 80 mm can make a huge difference. But be forewarned: the bigger the wheels, the more difficult it is to brake.
Get better ball bearings. Most skates come with a type of ballbearing called ABEC 1. Higher-end skates come with ABEC 5 or 7. Swiss Bearings are among the best you can get. For skates and bearings, visit a sports store, such as Bill Jackson’s or a website like www.skate-buys.com .
Rotate your wheels. The front two wheels wear out the quickest, so every four or five skates, you should switch out the front wheel for the third wheel, which gets the least amount of wear. This way the wheels will last much longer. But when you do need new wheels try eBay or Play it Again Sports for good deals.
The skate with the Sunday Bladers ended as usual with a large breakfast at the Apple Cobbler. I got a huge stack of French toast drowned in cinnamon apples and whipped cream.
I sat with Steve, a former West Pointer like myself, and we entertained ourselves by drawing pictures of the Academy and discussing how much the place has changed. Everyone made me feel welcome and gave me their email addresses and business cards.
“Come back next Sunday,” they said, “there will be even more food.”
Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies and is a triathlete. Readers can ask her questions by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org .