Skating seventies

The wobbly legs, the flailing arms, all trying to move in sync to get the body to balance on wheels. The occasional slip and bump that earned a few bruise marks. “Watch out…” and before you know it, you could probably find yourself sprawled on the floor. Like a child taking the first steps, skating is not an easy skill to master. But once you get the hang of it, it will be an activity you enjoy for life.

Walk into any sports outlets nowadays and you will find an array of 4-wheelers on display. Over the decades, rollerblading which is also known as inline skating, has become a popular recreational activity as well as a competitive sport. Each boot is made of light-weight, and sometimes water-proof material. The skate frame usually has four or five wheels arranged in a single line, hence the term “inline” skates comes about. Recreation inline skates usually has a “heel stopper” fixed to either the left or right frame of the skates. This helps the skater, especially beginners, to slow down or brake when the need arises.

Before the advent of inline skates, quad skates (two wheels at the front and two at the back) were the in-thing among skating enthusiasts.

^ Children on a pair of quad skates. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa 1975)

^ A pair of quad skates bought during the early senenties.

The quad skates shown in the photo above has a toe-stopper rather than a heel-stopper. It does not have a boot. Rather, whatever footwear you are wearing (usually canvass shoes were worn), just slip it into the frame and secure the skate to your footwear by tightening the laces and straps at the front and at the ankle area. Screws are located beneath the frame to enable the frame to be lengthen or shorten according to the length of the skater’s footwear. It was like a hefty weight fastened to each foot making you feel as though you have two barbells tied to your feet as you try to skate. The wheels were made of hard rubber and comes in either blue or orange. Skating on the rough surface of roads always cause a jarring sensation to your knees, not to mention severe bruises if you fall. The common places where kids use to skate in the seventies were along the common corridors and void decks of HDB blocks, basketball court at the community centres, walkways and any flat open areas in housing estates. There weren’t any specially paved tracks for skaters like those which now exist at East Coast Park and the many other parks in Singapore.

If I recall correctly, this type of quad skates of the seventies has wheels that comes in only two sizes. The one shown above and the other type which comes with a larger wheel diameter. For the present type of inline skates, the wheels come in various sizes for the different purpose of skating. Larger wheels enable a faster speed but require more energy from the skater to start the forward momentum. Smaller wheels allows for faster acceleration and maneuverability. Sometime, you may see “aggressive” style where each inline skate has only two small wheels. It provides the skater with a lower centre of gravity and maneuverability. On the other hand, speed skating usually has four to five large wheels on each skate mean to achieve maximum speed. Here’s a bit about the different types of wheel sizes and its purpose.

44-59 mm for aggressive skating.
68-72 mm for artistic inline skating.
47-80 mm for roller hockey skating.
72-80 mm for freestyle slalom skating.
72-90 mm for general recreational skating.
84-110 mm for speed skating.

A wide variety of protective gears are available nowadays. Ranging from light-weigh helmets to protection for the wrists, elbows, and knees. Accessories like the armband where you can slot in your iPod and listen to your favourite tunes as you whizz along. In the past, nothing much except for the chinese medicated ointment to rub away the blue-black marks sustained from knocks and bumps, and the purplish iodine solution to treat the superficial flesh wound suffered from a bad fall.

With affordability and also the availability of skate rental kiosks at some parks in Singapore, you might just want to take this opportunity to put on that pair of skates and enjoy the fresh outdoor…if you don’t mind suffering the occasional knocks and bumps. Definitely an activity to enjoy.

What were your memorable skating moments?


9 Responses to “Skating seventies”

  1. Victor Koo Says:

    During my time as a kid (1960s), they were commonly called “roller skates”. Those that I learned my skating with had all-metal wheels. I blogged about them here.

  2. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks for sharing your earlier post about those roller skates of your time even before the intoduction of rubber wheels. It must have sounded like an armoured tank rumblig by when you skated. The name “Winchester” would be from UK where they well known for making Winchester rifles. The photo of your old pair of skates did not show any heel or toe stoppers. How did you slow down in those skates?

  3. Victor Koo Says:

    You are right, there were no brakes of any kind. If you needed to slow down, just grab hold of the corridor railing or anything you can grasp. 🙂

  4. Gian Says:

    I used to live in an old SIT flat in the 70s. My neighbour (a boy about my age) living in a unit on the ground floor used to skate along the walkway (also known as the five foot way in those days). The ruckus raised by those quad roller skates were unbelievable! I can hear it clearly from my 4th floor unit. It sounded just like an APC patrolling at the foot of my flat.

    These days we have it easy on the skating hardware… The new inline skates are quiet as breeze and sexy looking to boot!

  5. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Gian,

    Indeed it sounded like an armoured personnel carrier or a tank rumbling by from the sound made by this type of old quad roller skates. If the skater is a beginner, you may have heard the stomping sound made from the skates as the skater tries to keep his/her balance…or even perhaps the sound of a crash. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. yg Says:

    some things you have to learn at a younger age. i started learning to use the roller skates – yes, those with the rubber wheels type – when i was past my teens.
    as such, i was not so adventurous and i did not dare to try any stunt. i was just happy to be able to move, balance and stay on my feet. used to joke about tying a pillow to the bum to cushion any fall. but, it was not necessary because i did not skate fast.

  7. Pages tagged "inline speed skating" Says:

    […] bookmarks tagged inline speed skating Skating seventies saved by 4 others     qwerwgrebew bookmarked on 12/16/08 | […]

  8. bea Says:

    do you know where i can get quad skates in Singapore today?

  9. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Bea,

    You can try asking the following shops if they sell quad skates. Here’s the link:

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