Luis Osorio has been inline skating for about 30 years.
He got interested in the sport when he was in his 20s living in New York, and through the years, he has built a community of skate friends who reside around the world.
When Osorio — now a resident of Commerce City — moved to Denver, he went into the Death and Glory Skate Shop to purchase a new pair of inline skates. While there, he inquired about local skate groups, and employees at the shop recommended he look into the Denver Urban Skate Troop.
And ever since then, “I’ve been skating with them every week,” Osorio said.
The Denver Urban Skate Troop was founded by Sunnyside resident Rachel Norkin in June 2018. It started out as an informal gathering of about 12-15 people who got together to skate every Wednesday evening, Norkin said. Being one of its kind for inline skating in Denver — other major U.S. cities have robust skate groups — DUST quickly gained popularity through 2019, attracting people from across the Front Range who would come to Denver to skate.
Norkin, 42, a customer success manager for a Denver-based tech company, has been inline skating since she was a kid. She would mostly go to local skate parks — such as to execute tricks — but eventually noticed more and more people using inline skating as a form of fitness.
“Once you get comfortable with wheels on your feet,” Norkin said, “you can do just about anything and go just about anywhere.”
Like other group activities, DUST went on hiatus during the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020. But skating in general did not experience a descent during that time, Norkin said. She added that is probably because skating is a relatively low-cost and low-impact form of exercise that can be done outdoors.
DUST restarted again in May 2021, and today, between 40-60 people attend each week — with the biggest turnout being last summer at Sloan’s Lake when about 100 people attended the skate.
DUST’s Wednesday skates are family-friendly and no pre-registration or membership is required to join a skate. All ages are welcome and there are opportunities for all skill levels and all wheel types — meaning, if they prefer, people can ride a skateboard, scooter or four-wheel, also known as quad, roller skates.
The weekly skates, or routes as DUST refers to them, take place across the metro-area with most of them taking place in Denver proper — Washington Park, City Park, RiNo, to name a few. However, DUST also will also offer routes outside of the metro area on some weekends, such as at Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, for example.
Because no registration is required, DUST announces its routes through social media. Each announcement will inform people of the route destination — which will be different each week — and what skill level the route is. Skill levels of the routes are defined like ski slope runs: green is beginner/easy, blue is medium and black is advanced. DUST offers skates year-round. During the Colorado seasons that come with inclement weather, routes are announced on a weekly basis. During the summer months, routes are announced monthly. Attendees meet at the route destination at 6:30 p.m., and the group departs for the skate at 7 p.m.
Friends on blades
Rob Even of Arvada has been inline skating for more than 20 years, adding that he grew up during what he calls “the Golden Age of Rollerblading.”
Even, an engineer by trade, has been skating with DUST since its formation in 2018. While the sport is what drew him to skating with DUST, what he particularly enjoys is meeting new people.
DUST attendees run the gamut, Even said. There are some fellow engineers in the group, but there’s also teachers, musicians, chefs and many others, Even said.
“When you share an experience with other people, you inherently have something in common,” Even said. “Anybody who wants to have wheels on their feet are welcome. (DUST) very much establishes itself as a friend community.”
History of inline skating
According to rollerblade.com, “legend has it that the first inline skates date back to the 1700s when a Dutchman attempted to simulate ice skating by nailing wooden spools to strips of wood attached to his shoes.”
Roller skates came about in 1860s and by the 1930s, they “found a permanent place in society,” states rollerblade.com. Roller skates, which are still popular today, dominated skate culture through the 1970s.
“In 1980, two hockey-playing Minnesota brothers discovered an inline skate while rummaging through a sporting goods store and decided that this design would make an ideal off-season hockey-training tool,” states rollerblade.com.
These brothers developed the first trademarked Rollerblade skates. Through the 1980s, the Rollerblade gained popularity, and by 1995, sports on Rollerblades were added to the X Games. However, inline skating sports were removed from the X Games one decade later in 2005.
“When it fell out of the limelight, people started not doing it anymore, at least in the U.S.,” said Billy Arlew, a LoDo resident who rollerblades about four times a week, including skating with DUST. “The numbers of casual (inline) skaters diminished, and the only style that survived was trick (skating) at the skate parks.”
An improvement of the fun from the past
While the desire to get exercise outdoors during the pandemic can be attributed to some of the comeback of inline skating, Arlew believes the sport started to get people’s attention again about five years prior.
Between roughly 2015 to 2018, tech developments to inline skates began to progress more rapidly than they had ever before. This new tech includes everything from better boots, such as the liner and shell to make them more comfortable; to wheel sizes and even the number of wheels on an inline skate.
“For the longest time,” Arlew said, “all you could get was the fitness skate or the trick skate.”
Calling it the “big wheel movement,” this is about the time that the tri-skate — three-wheel inline skate — came about, Arlew said. A bigger wheel, he added, can roll over more types of surfaces better, and can provide more speed.
“Skates are just better now. They’re more fun (and) they’re easier to skate on,” said Jesse Heilmann, owner of Death and Glory Skate Shop, 935 W. 11th Ave., in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. “People say, `(rollerblading) was super fun back in the day. Why did I quit that?’ So (the skates of today) are an improvement of the fun that people used to have in the past.”
When the pandemic hit, people started seeing this new tech on social media — and some of the videos went viral.
“Millions of people saw a rollerblading video,” Arlew said, “something they hadn’t seen for 20-some years.”
Arlew, 35, participated in roller hockey and rollerblading all through high school. In college, he got into mountain biking and BMX biking. He moved to Colorado in 2016 and discovered all the skate parks around and started skateboarding. Eventually, he wanted to get into something new and rediscovered the fun he used to have on inline skates.
“There is an element of nostalgia, but what really comes out is you’re reminded of the freedom you get when skating,” Arlew said. He added that on skates, you’re not strapped in like on a snowboard or propped up like on a bike. “We had that feeling when we were kids, whether we knew it or not.”
DUST remains true to its beginnings — it is still an informal gathering and everyone is welcome, Norkin said.
She is looking forward to “being amazed at how many people will show up” and possibly adding more skates to the calendar.
“We love meeting new people,” Norkin said. “I (especially) enjoy watching people come together to skate, and then they establish friendships.”