The act of naming things has played a central role in rollerblading as long as there’s been rollerblading. Naming is a keystone of the human experience and it extends from naming our bodies to naming things in every aspect of human activity. We give specialized names to things ranging from the arts and sciences to our invented sports and habits of everyday living.
We give a name to nearly everything we come in contact with.
It helps us feel like the world is a familiar place that we can navigate safely and easily. It also helps us distinguish between activities and groups because, with the establishment of each new enterprise, people create new sets of terms to accommodate the specialized tasks, objects, and actions unique to that new undertaking.
Often these names are so deeply engrained that we fail to see just how pervasive they really are, and how different they are from their counterparts in other domains.
Basketball, for instance, has its lay-ups, dunks, jump shots, lanes, and three-point “lands.” Engineering has its French curves, deflection loads, and super-elevation. Physics, nursing, art, poetry, auto racing, accounting, sailing, and virtually every other human activity comes replete with its own discourse and unique language.
They are the marks of a fully realized activity. And rollerblading, like everything else, also has its own set.
Personally, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of naming the things relevant to our rolling world. Granted, some things have names I could live without, but in the main, I’d say we’ve come up with some pretty cool stuff.
I have to admit, though, that I’m a little perplexed when I see what a struggle it has been for us to put a unified name or label on this activity we all care so much about. To me, it’s a sign of an unstable identity.
As you know, some of us identify with the name “rollerblading.” Others of us prefer names like “blading,” “inline stunt skating,” “aggressive skating” or even just plain old “skating.”
But there’s very little in the way of universal agreement. The only thing we know is we’re usually one or another of those five or six options.
It reminds me of the situation surrounding a Misfits song called “We Are 138.” It’s a great song that has that classic punk anthem kind of feel. In case you aren’t familiar with The Misfits from the zillions of skate videos that have used their songs, this is the song and what they sound like:
In the song, the horror punk front man Glen Danzig—who styles his voice after Elvis Presley and, in my opinion, might be half dumb—declares over and over that “We are 138.” It’s not entirely clear who the “we” is there, and understanding what “138” means is anybody’s guess.
Danzig won’t say anything other than “It’s a song about violence” and he has publicly chastised fellow band members when they’ve said anything about what they think it means.
To me, it’s a fairly strange thing to get up on stage and declare who you are (or, for that matter, who WE are—either as a group or as something like “all of humanity”) and then give no further hints or explanation as to what your meaning is.
If you trawl the Internet for a little while, you can find all sorts of horseshit written by all sorts of idiots claiming to have “the inside scoop.”
The fact of the matter, though, is that no one really knows.
So there they are, the Misfits, the fans, and the basement-dwelling Cheeto fingers, all singing along, proudly declaring “WE ARE 138!” and not having a fucking clue.
To be fair, it’s just a song. It’s not actually a mission statement or contract that anybody is specifically meant to abide by.
But the other side of the coin is that the song might be purposely ambiguous.
It isn’t meant to have a definitive meaning.
In that case, the “138” can mean just about anything you want it to mean.
Fantastic! Oh, and Skating.
Thanks, Mikey! You’re in good company by preferring the term “skating” to cover everything. I was just drinking coffee with Micah Yeager (who, in addition to being a bad ass rollerblader, is great on a skateboard too) the other morning and he said exactly the same thing.
Thanks for reading, man!
we are 138s based on this: (138= easier to say then 1138. fix yer tits…)
THX 1138 is such a great movie. It’s based on the 1938 novella “Anthem” by Ayn Rand. It’s a great one too!
Good article. I think having an identity is important. It not only takes our sport to greater heights but it promotes sustainable growth. We need our culture not just to barely survive but to flourish. Mainstream media coverage means more skaters, more skaters means the level of quality skating goes up. It also means guys like Jon Julio, companies like Valo and magazines like ONE sell more. Which brings more money in and advances things like skate technology and parts. It helps see that pro skaters get enough to live on and hopefully to invest so when they can’t skate at a high level anymore they have something else to fall back on. Anyone who says we need to stay “underground” just isn’t looking at all the upsides. Having “posers” and some shitty companies trying to capitalize on aggressive skating is easily worth the positives that will come out of the second rise to popularity.
Just my two cents. Thanks for the article.
I definitely use different words to describe what we do depending on the audience. I usually just say skating to people that know me and know I rollerblade. I’ll say rollerblade to people that don’t. And I’ll say inline skating to old people.
@Andre – Thanks for your two cents man! Part of the reason I wrote this article is to give some context for the ongoing conversation in rollerblading about what should happen next. Personally, I’d prefer open dialogue to a “new messiah” who *could take rollerblading by storm and bring us back to the limelight. I still haven’t made up my mind yet on what I’d like to see happen. Either way, thanks for reading and commenting! It’s definitely a conversation worth having.
@Jesse – Me too man! I’ve definitely put “inline stunt skater” on resumes before but I definitely wouldn’t self-identify that way in any other context.
Good read Frank! I like the comparison with the semantics of basketball. I would agree that the term “rollerblading” seems to be the most common and far reaching designation of all forms of rollerblading. It is the most relevant to culture at large, and then can be more specific in our own circles. In terms of an identity of aggressive skating or trick skating, it’s still hard to market that association as being part of an association to the umbrella term “rollerblading”. I’d say there’s still a large part of our culture that thinks us doing tricks is somehow more associated with skateboarding than actual rollerblading. So if we were to “brand” rollerblading as a product to the masses, it would hard to shift the preconceived thoughts of rollerblading = fitness, aggressive skating = skateboarding. I still to this day have constantly correct people that I rollerblade, not skateboard. They could be looking at a picture of me with skates on and still not understand until I explain it in detail. Then they forget later naturally. So if people are to going to start associating what we do as rollerblading, it’s going to have to be more saturated in our overall culture to counteract the skateboarding presence fresh in people’s minds.
Thanks for that, Brandon! And yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you. The only thing I would add is that the scope and scale of what’s ahead of us is precisely the “hard to market” situation that you described. Personally, I think its a matter of making our understanding of “rollerblading” the predominant meaning. Changing the name to something somehow “sexier” won’t do it. It’s a matter of “rollerblading” entering the public consciousness as something that happens on ramps, rails, gaps, ledges and the like.
Thanks for taking the time to read, Brandon. And thanks for the comment! Also, high fives all around for referring to the “semantics of basketball”!
@Frank — I agree we don’t need a “messiah”. I mean you can only have one Arlo a generation anyway 😉
I do think that there will be someone thrown into the spotlight to carry the torch when the spark comes though. Everything goes in cycles and it’s bound to happen again. I hope it’s someone who can shoulder that weight with grace and respectability. I would say Tony Hawk has done well for the skateboarding community.
I’ll enjoy the resurgence as much as I have enjoyed the anonymity. Because at the end of the day if there are only 10 people or 10 million people skating I’ll still be wearing mine and smiling 🙂
I think you made some really good points there. I would add though that we can learn something from looking at which sports with a so-called “Golden Boy” have done well and which have not. It would also be interesting to examine those guys individually too, because I think society’s biases might play a bigger role than we might expect (or desire). Just off the cuff, Tony Hawk is a well spoken, handsome, blonde, white guy from California who has a reputation as being Christian and nice to the kiddos. I’m not sure how many of those kinds of qualities someone has to have to become a successfully anointed Golden Boy, but I would expect that the prevailing (albeit subtle sometimes) racism in this country would prefer a clean cut blondie to Jewish kid with crazy hairdo’s or ever a Black, Latino, or Asian-descended guy. I’m absolutely NOT saying I WANT IT THAT WAY. I’m just saying that we should look to larger cultural currents and try to see what else might be implicated in the “big picture.”
Thanks so much for commenting, Andre!
Side note: this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arQKWiG1IZU just got posted on Twitter by Hedonskate. Eye of the Tiger!!!
Ahhh yes. Well the general public needs a non-threatening, charismatic focal point if it’s going to be a sport they can’t really play themselves. And the person who gets the limelight isn’t always the one you want having it. Look at Floyd Mayweather. He’s made just as much money off of being hated as he has for being liked, probably more.
Off subject I live in Florida and talking about skating all day and watching my newly purchased Game Theory is making me really want to hit some ledges….. I hate you rain.
I usually just say that I skate, because even if someone confuses that for skate boarding, that is closer to what I actually do than what they imagine when I say rollerblade.
As ridiculous as it was how butt hurt people got over the whole “freestyle rolling” and “don’t call this rollerblading” thing, I could still understand. You take something your love and have always associated a word/title with and now somebody is telling you not to call it that anymore, your first thought is fuck you.
That is how I’ve always felt about the term “blading.” That is what skate boarders have always told me I did and tried to correct me when I said I skated and was a skater. Naturally I was like, fuck you, your a dirty roller surf boarder and I’m the skater.
But over the years and after hearing JE constantly pound the term “blading” into everyone’s heads, I don’t really care any more and I actually use the term myself sometimes and I think that is probably the best term from a marketing stand point. It separates us from skate boarding, but it also separates us from regular rollerblading.
I totally understand, Alan! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! I appreciate it man. Ain’t nothin’ without dialogue.
Ha ha, Alan. I think I should point out that it was Ryan Schude (and his history shredding the Bay with Pat Lennen and Bailey) that really brought “blading” in to my vernacular. When I first heard it I remember having the same thoughts you described. But over the years I learned to embrace its quirks and I think you put it well: It separates us from skate boarding, but it also separates us from regular rollerblading. Once upon a time Chris Peel and I made some GET BLADE t-shirts in the backyard at the 29th Street 4×4 house. They were awesome — and every time I got to an event in LA and see this one mom, she’s always still got it on. So whether it’s GET BLADE or JUST BLADE or ROLLERBLADE I think I’m with you, who say you’re with me. But we’re all just with Lenno and Schude. Blading. To blade. Blade…
Yeah, I remember people actually calling them “blade skates” in my area when they first started getting popular around 90-95.