as a Political Force
by Bob Hoysgaard
What do walking across a street on your hands, growing a goatee, and inline skating have in common? Well, depending on where you are, any one of these activities could land you in the pokey, as there are statutes which prohibit these acts. While it is comically absurd that certain laws remain on the books long after they have become irrelevant, when it comes to inline skating, antiquated "toy vehicle" prohibitions are no laughing matter.
Due to fundamental misperceptions of inline skating, an increasing number of communities have chosen to enforce anti-skate laws, the overwhelming majority of which were drafted decades before inline skates as we know them today were invented. Nonetheless, that doesn't prevent the authorities from enforcing the code in response to isolated incidents of loitering or vandalism by a tiny minority of miscreants who happen to be on inline skates.
What results in cases when a skate ban is enforced is a two-fold misunderstanding of the situation. First, the real problem is not inline skates, but a lack of activities and facilities for those interested in wheeled sports such as inline skating and skateboarding. And second, since the problem is misunderstood, is it any wonder that the solution - an across-the-board skate ban - is also faulty? Of the 31 million Americans who skated in 1996, 99% were people just like you and me, who were interested in exercising, socializing and having a good time. But if you're serious about inline skating, it's not enough to exercise your legs: you also have to exercise your rights to correct the misperception that inline skaters are somehow bad for a community.
Skate clubs are more than just a great way to meet people and have fun; they can also be instrumental in protecting one's right to the road. A skate club can be as simple and loosely organized as a half-dozen friends who go for a weekly skate, with no purpose other than to have fun. This is great in itself--until those six friends are arrested for violating a ban about which they knew nothing. The more significant role of a skate club is to give a strong political voice to a town's inline skaters. By incorporating and giving something back to the community, a skate club helps not only to ensure the right to the road for its members, but for all skaters.
The best part is that it only takes a few dedicated individuals with activist spirits to organize a club. From the members, very little is expected other than enthusiasm for the sport. What members get in return is the chance to socialize, compete and keep up to date on the skating scene, as well as the satisfaction of giving something back to their community in the form of events and promotion of a healthy activity.
Bob Hoysgaard is a well-known inline skating activist and member of Ft. Lauderdale's New River Rollers.