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Starting a Night Skate

Night skates are one of the most popular and most publicity-generating skates a local group of skaters can create. Whether you belong to a skate club or are considering starting a night skate on your own, here are 10 important items to consider:

1. Research the Rules: You can generally find your city's skating regulations on the Internet. If not, simply call your city office and ask them to refer you to any regulations on inline skating. Generally, cities classify skates either as "toys" (in which case they are often banned from streets) or as the equivalent of bicycles (in which case it should be legal to create a night skate.) If your city bans skating on the streets, any night skate you plan will likely not be legal. See our section on Laws & Advocacy in this case.

2. Map out a Route: Night skates tend to attract skaters of varying ability levels and you should map out a route that reflects this. Most night skates are 8-10 miles and have three or four official rest stops planned. Try to stick to the best pavement, avoid major hills, and make sure to follow the rules by skating with traffic and going the correct direction on one-way streets. Plan in major city attractions such as museums or the key nightlife area. Find a good starting place with a safe parking lot, ideally close to a friendly bar, and end in the same location. Some night skates change routes every week and others stick to the same route. We suggest you start with the latter until you are ready to add new routes.

3. Talk to the Police: You will eventually talk to the police about your night skate. It is simply better to do it before the first skate rather than some night with sirens and lights as the backdrop! Once you have a mapped-out route, contact your local police department and ask to speak with someone in authority (not the local desk officer). Come prepared with your city's laws (hopefully showing it is legal to skate on streets), examples of night skates in other cities (see our section on existing night skates), and your plans for making the night skate safe.

4. Get Help: If you are on your own in creating a night skate, get help from other skaters. You will need, at minimum, one person to lead the skate and one person to sweep (be last). Bigger night skates have a team of volunteers who chaperone the skate, helping those in need and making sure everyone stays together. If there are instructors in your area, ask one to come out and give a 20-minute stopping clinic prior to the skate. It is also important to get help in promoting the event (see below).

4. Pick Your Dates: Most successful night skate are run on Friday nights, although a few are on other nights of the week. Many established night skates operate weekly. However, in just starting out it is desirable to run it once or twice per month. We recommend choosing, for example, the first and third Friday of every month during the season (May through September or similar). Night skates should start late enough so it is actually dark out but not so late as to make it unattractive to those who go to bed early. A 9:00 start time is a good compromise.

5. Promote the Skate:  Once you have mapped out a route, received approval (perhaps simply tacit approval), found some volunteers, and picked your dates it is time to promote your first event. Don't be shy! Getting a group to skate through your city at night is newsworthy! a) Start by getting enough friends or skate clubs members to commit to the first skate so you know it will not bomb. b) Print business cards with the key information (you can get 250 free cards from Vista Print) and hand them out to local skaters and bystanders along the route. c) Create a website, which is absolutey necessary for credibility. You can reserve a good URL for less than $10 per year at www.GoDaddy.com and can host the site for only $5 per month at www.vervehosting.com. If you don't have web authoring skills yourself, ask for a volunteer at the first skate. d) Submit the information to online calendars for your city (just search for local events online) and newspaper calendars (check the paper's website). e) Contact your local newspaper, suggest you have a fantastic story for them, and invite a Metro or Living reporter to skate with you at one of the night skates. f) Once the skate is up to 30 or more people, contact your local television stations and see if they will come out to tape the skate!

6. Make it Safe: Safety is a priority. Take a headcount of participants and making sure you don't lose anyone. Bring a small first aid kit with you and find out if anyone on the skate has first aid experience. Encouraging participants to wear helmets, wrist guards, and blinking lights. Stop at red lights and obey traffic laws. Make sure the lead and sweep skaters have cell phones or walkie talkies. As you get bigger, consider having all volunteers in special t-shirts with walkie talkies.

7. Make it Fun: The ultimate goal of your night skate is to have fun; if the skates are fun, people will return. The worst error you can commit is to think people should show up because you put time and effort into the organization of the skate! They will show up only if the party you throw is worth their limited time. To make it fun, have a radio with dance music at the meeting place. Start with a few short announcements but make them contagious rather than litigious. Introduce yourself to all newcomers, thank them for coming, and ask them something about themselves. Plan a pre-skate barbeque once a month and a post-skate beer every time. Schedule fun activities during the skate itself, such as a) One stretch where you group up all skaters and sprint to the end of the street, b) a stop in a park where you can skate in circles around a fountain, c) a parking lot where you can try the "serpentine", with a line of skaters holding hands, or d) any other fun areas of the city you can skate!

8. Plan for Succession: Most night skates thrive only if there are one or two motivated leaders to promote the event. However, life changes and you will likely lose your motivation over time. Plan for this by recruiting others to join you in running the event. It is better to be part of a successful night skate than in control of a mediocre one.

9. Visit Other Night Skates:  There are excellent night skates in Boston, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Each is run slightly differently and you can get new ideas by visiting these cities and skating the local night skates. Take your skates with you the next time you travel!

10. Example: Minneapolis, Minnesota: Mike Merriman and Allan Wright started the Minneapolis Friday Night Skate in 1998. More or less following the strategies above, the Minneapolis FNS was instantly successful with several dozen skaters the first evening. Participation rose dramatically with publication of a full article in a local paper, appearance by Allan on the local news station (the weatherman joined him on skates), and taping of the event by another television station. By the second year, the skate had reached levels of 150 skaters each time. The skate is still in existence and is now run by its third set of leaders. You can have equal success in your city!


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