HOULTON, Maine — Putting on a pair of quad or inline roller skates for the first time can be a bit daunting, but a recent roller skating revival has even skating neophytes rolling around rinks to break a sweat.
The thing is, in Maine, those famed rinks still remembered for their 1980’s disco ball skate parties, are hard to come by. In Houlton, the Maliseet-owned Rollerama is one of only two roller rinks north of Bangor, and one of seven in the state.
A national roller skating resurgence took root during the pandemic and was fueled by viral TikTok videos. The trend has continued as skaters realized that it’s not only fun, it’s a great way to get an aerobic workout without damaging joints.
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, in-line skating as a form of exercise is as beneficial as running or cycling, and a skater who is really pushing it, can burn close to 600 calories an hour.
Rollerama Manager Laura Tomah, who has been skating since she was five, said that a lot of people come there to break a sweat. And some, like Lizzy Donohue, 19, come for fun.
“I love to feel the wind in my hair,” Donohue said last week during a Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Boys and Girls Club event.
Beverly Chapman is coming up on her third Aroostook County winter. She moved from New York City to Houlton in November 2020. When she first got to the rural town, Rollerama was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as soon as it reopened this September, she was there. And she has been going every Friday and Saturday since, Chapman said.
“There are a few regulars and last Friday 17 people from Canada came over to skate,” Chapman said. “It was great to see more people attend.”
According to Chapman, the music is great and the age groups run the gamut, a mixture of young children, teens, and middle-aged people, like her.
“It’s a great way to exercise your leg muscles if you want to ski this winter like me,” she said. “And a great way to meet people, I usually meet someone new every week.”
Roller skating got its start back in the 18th century and has seen many iterations of skates since that time. It also played a significant role in the 1960s civil rights movement with African American skaters protesting the segregation at rinks with skate-ins.
A young black man, Ledger Smith, skated more than 600 miles from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to be part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Christopher Phillips, the director of economic development for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, who oversees Rollerama, said he skated at Rollerama as a kid and the quad skates (four wheels; two in front, two in back) he used then are still in perfect shape being used at the rink.
“They made these to last,” Phillips and Tomah both said.
Although now, Rollerama skaters can choose between quad and inline skates for rent, they said.
The Rollerama building at 494 North St. was built in 1994, the Maliseets acquired it in 2003. In 2019, after a major revamp, they opened the improved rink with 70 pairs of new skates, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to shut down in 2020. They reopened on Sept. 4, according to Phillips.
Fall, winter and spring are usually the busiest times, said Tomah, adding that they also do a number of special events and skating parties.
Rollerama admission is $7 and skate rental is $3.