Believe it or not, about 100 years ago, Cardiff was all about rollerskating.
The Welsh hockey team used to don their roller skates to practise at the American Roller Rink on Westgate Street; they were quite the sensation, too. And wasn't it great that the Sophia Gardens Pavilion used to host skating nights? That is, until the roof collapsed. Fortunately, nobody was in the building at the time.
That happened in 1982 and, since then, roller skating has taken a back seat to gliding across ice in Cardiff. That doesn't mean there are no rollerskating Cardiffians, though. Especially now, with pandemic conditions forcing everyone indoors and into isolation, plenty of people are lacing up their roller skates to boost their in-home workout.
You can do that with wheeled boots but not bladed ones... unless you're talking about rollerblades. But roller skates are far more compact and have a wider wheelbase, making them more advantageous than inline skates for small-space skating workouts.
Whether you were in on the at-home skating workouts from the start or have just gotten your introduction - after almost a year, you may find that you can be both an ice- and rollerskating aficionado. You might even decide to don your roller skates and head outdoors as soon as lockdown lifts.
In anticipation of that, Superprof presents some of the best places to roller skate in and around Cardiff.
Rollerskating Cardiff's Trails
As any Cardiffian could tell you, their city is lush and green, with plenty of well-curated spaces to enjoy nature. Some of these parks even have wide trails that routinely see people strolling, biking and rollerskating or rollerblading along.
The aforementioned Sophia Gardens is a prime example of such a space.
Situated on the River Taff's west bank, not far from City Centre, its 44 acres form a part of Cardiff's 'green lung'. And, as it's home to the Glamorgan County Cricket Club, it reflects the people's passion for athletics (and history). In this park, running alongside the river is a paved trail; a portion of the Taff Trail cycling path.
We'll talk more about Taff in a jiff.
Bute Park abuts Sophia Gardens. Formerly a part of Cardiff Castle's grounds, this park's 130 acres provide a host of leisure, entertainment and educational venues. You might start your visit at:
- West Lodge, a welcome centre
- Bute Park Arboretum
- the Education Centre
- Blackfriars Friary
- Animal Wall
- Summerhouse Kiosk
Granted, you won't be allowed to skate through any of these attractions but in the section of the park that includes the Taff Trail, you can. In fact, you're encouraged to.
The 55-mile Taff Trail stretches from Cardiff Bay all the way to Brecon Beacons National Park. Originally intended to give cyclers a safe space to ride - Cardiff is notoriously dangerous for those who ride bikes, its course through the city's greenest spaces makes it a natural path for walkers and skaters, too.
Though it's doubtful anyone would skate the trail's entire length, there's nothing wrong with choosing a section of it to glide around on. Just be mindful of cyclists; one wrong move on your part could cause a nasty cyclist/skater crash.
Cardiffians: chime in if you know how lucky you are to have all of these green spaces for skating; Manchester skating enthusiasts mostly have indoor rinks to pursue their passion.
Roller Disco Cardiff
I confess to a certain amount of bias in writing about roller disco. At the roller rink near me, skating to Le Freak was all the rage long after the disco era. And, if our investigation is any proof, Chic still dominates the playing charts at your nearest roller skating rink.
Witness, for instance, the Freedom-hosted Roller Disco in Cardiff events.
Let's say you have a big do to plan; preferably one that revolves around rollerskating. You could dash from one place to the next, bartering for better terms... or you could just hand the whole works over to the competent Freedom professionals.
They already have the contacts and savvy to engineer the most memorable events.
After all of this virus madness ends, you might need a hen night; why not roller-disco your frustrations away? Or maybe you're the best man for your mate's upcoming do. How great would a stag night on wheels be?
Birthday parties, retirement parties, graduation parties and parties just because we're thankful to be alive after all of this. Could there be a more fun way to let loose while rollerskating to your favourite disco jams?
Or, like my sis in a London skating rink, rediscover how great it is to disco on wheels?
The easiest way to set your event up is to contact the Freedom party planners. They'll make all of the arrangements; all you have to do is have fun.
Learn Roller Skating Tricks
Have you ever watched the film Rollerball - preferably the 1975 version? For all of its violence, it presents an intuitive study of human nature and a prescient glimpse of the corrupting influence unchecked corporate power can wield. There's even a sub-plot that exposes the limits of artificial intelligence!
The film was way ahead of its time... but we're not here to debate its merits or shortcomings, of which it has a few. And, if we're talking about the 2002 remake, the list of shortcomings grows exponentially.
No, we want to talk about roller derby, the cover story that gave the (original) film license to explore all of those social consciousness themes.
Roller derbies are in no way as sinister or violent as they are depicted in that film. Much like any other tactical sport, roller derby athletes have to be at the top of their game and well in the know on how to play it. They are laser-focused and tough, united in their goal to both win their derbies and introduce the sport to a wider audience.
One way they do that is by offering skating lessons.
If it's been years since you've been on skates or whether you've never laced a pair in your life, the Tiger Bay Brawlers want to show you that skating is not so hard to do.
If you already have skates, that's great but if you don't, they can rent you a pair, along with safety gear such as helmets and wrist braces. Once you're all laced up, you will be walked (rolled?) through the basics: how to keep your balance, how to skate forwards and backwards, how to pivot and turn and, most importantly, how to stop.
This is not a taster session; it's a series of 12 lessons that will prepare you for skating in the UK's finest roller skating venues. The price is beyond reasonable; a mere £35 for the full course.
And might you be inclined to become a derby skater? Only time will tell!
Skateparks in Cardiff
Confession time: Having just arrived after touring the many rollerskating venues in Leeds, it was a bit of a letdown to realise that Cardiffians prefer to ice skate. Nothing wrong with ice skating but we were there to report on roller skating.
Our mood brightened substantially when we discovered all of the skateparks scattered around the city.
Splott Skatepark (on Muirton Road) was the first one we went to. It features a nice funbox and a decent quarter pipe but is not extremely developed. Still, it's next to a residential area and a straight shot from Willows High School, which makes it a great place for kids to hang out and practise their skating skills.
Llanrumney Skatepark (off of Llanrumney Ave, next to the Eastern Leisure Centre) is about the same calibre. It too features a decent funbox with flat banks on either side; its only drawback is being so far away from the Youth Centre. A bit on the smallish side and caught between a football pitch and the leisure centre, you may be better off skating on the path that fronts the park.
Morganstown Skatepark (Ty-Nant Road) is twice the size of Rumney's and has more to offer: ledges, rails, a nice mini-ramp and a back-and-forth run, all constructed from modular metal-frame composite on a tarmac base. It's particularly well situated, just east of the Taff and nestled in a stand of trees.
There are other skateparks in and around Cardiff - Pentwin, Llanishen and Ely among them. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at how many skateparks Cardiff has but the one that took our breath away was Cardiff Barrage Plaza on Locks Road.
The design includes a variety of materials, brick and granite included, and its selection of obstacles, the way it's laid out and the awesome transitions make this the street skater's dream.
Keep in mind that skateparks are generally designed with skateboarders, BMX riders and aggressive inline skaters in mind. However, many skateparks have since toned their designs down and made them more accessible, both for roller skaters and wheelchair skaters.
The only note of caution to inject is: be sure that, if you're going to skate in such a park, you have the skills and know the etiquette. Crashing into a speed skater or BMXer, or tripping over someone's board wouldn't make for a fun afternoon.
And, speaking of fun afternoons... have you heard about Brighton's many skateparks and roller rinks?
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