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Aggressive Inline skating - A consumer group analysis

From Mod Mania

Aggressive inline skating, or “rolling” as it is often referred to by individuals within the subculture, is a particular form of inline skating that developed in the late 1980s. Aggressive inline skates differ from standard inline skates by having smaller wheels for stability and grinding panels on the base and side of the boot and side of the frame. This results in a product that is significantly stronger and more bulky. It prioritises stability and maneuverability over speed. This design, with a more bulky boot, also has shock-absorbing properties which allow the user to perform jumps and other tricks with a reduced risk of impact injuries.

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At the height of rollerblading popularity 1993 Hollywood film "Airborne"

The history of inline skating dates all the way back to 1849, when French inventor Louis Legrange created a prop for an opera performance. The concept lay largely dormant until July 1953 when American Ernest Kahlert patented the first modern inline skates which were designed with springs and cushioned wheels to behave like ice runners. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the first commercially available inline skates were released. Aggressive inline skates were first released in 1988, however users had been modifying standard inline skates to function as aggressive inline skates long before their official release. Enthusiasts had been crafting aggressive skates by juxtaposing existing off-the-shelf parts with homemade or re-contextualized parts for several years before the market caught on.

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A typical aggressive inline skate's complementary

This essay looks primarily at the community of aggressive inline skaters in Victoria. Anecdotally, this group is predominantly comprised of white middle class male suburban youth. The class position of aggressive inline skaters is a product of the expensive costs of the equipment required for the activity. Moreover, there is a trend within the community that prioritises having the latest and most advanced skates, which allows the user to perform more complicated tricks with a greater degree of ease. Traditionally, skate parks have been located in leafy inner suburban areas, facilitating a particular class of individuals engaging in aggressive inline skating. It is only since the mid-1990s that skate parks have proliferated throughout the outer suburbs and rural locations. Although the costs associated with the activity have not diminished, the greater access to skate parks has encouraged a wider range of individuals to engage in the activity. One final point on the topic of class is that aggressive inline skating is a recreational sport which is therefore only available to people with time – the leisure classes. This has also resulted in the activity having a firm association with adolescents who tend to enjoy greater leisure time than adults. The young and short lifespan of a committed skater is normally restricted to youth and young adulthood, simply because of the physically intensive nature of participating in the sport. Both these periods in people’s lives are commonly perceived as periods of rebellion and questioning and this may have had an influence on the innovation and changing nature of sports like rollerblading and skateboarding; sports that are grounded on individual expression rather that concrete rules.

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Its rare to see a female skater

Finally, it is worth noting that the community of rollerbladers is mainly made up of men. Aggressively inline skating is considered an extreme sport and therefore is often associated with masculinity and other cultural norms associated with maleness, such as risk, injury and aggression. There have been a small number of professional aggressive inline skaters in the early history of the sport, however this seemed to diminish significantly as the sport lost mainstream support. A cynical interpretation might be that these female skaters were sponsored to encourage young women to engage in the sport. Regardless, women never took to aggressive inline skating in great numbers and the sport became known as a boy’s club, even though women engaged in recreational inline skating in significant numbers.

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An example of extreme tribalism - love to roll tattoo

This community has diversified into several different styles of skating which has resulted in multiple, often competing, narratives running through the community. The key site of engagement with aggressive inline skating remains the skate park. It is a site of community meeting, the centre of the active community. It is also a site of masculinity, competitiveness and performativity, the space in which aggressive inline skating generates meaning and formulates its key narratives. Film has always played a major role in the culture of rolling. You can commonly spot kids with borrowed cameras trying to create their own skate videos before publishing these amateur edits onto Youtube. The mere act of performing a trick is only one part of the pleasure of engaging in the sport. Watching this footage can offer more pleasure as the trick is repeatedly performed to an audience electronically. Peer respect and acknowledgment reinforces your position within the hierarchy.

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Peers filming and reviewing a young skater performing a trick

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A Vimeo Podcast of local skate crews self published skating footage

The skate shop also has been a vital element in the development of the subculture. A meeting place for members of the localized community to congregate and a source of information in the form of products and media, the skate shop played a key role until the convenience of the internet began to eat into its market. The web has played an ambiguous role, both connecting different skaters and communities globally and atomizing the local community of skaters. Forums have become a virtual meeting space and community noticeboard for events, opinions and feedback. As a result many skateshops have lost not only economic advantage, but also community importance. The sphere of influence for these skaters is no longer limited to their local community but open to a diverse and geographically disconnected community, for better or for worse.

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A melbourne skater community forum (www.emesce.com/)

Aesthetics and modification have both functioned as key narratives within the subculture. Aggressive inline skating is very much a visual performance sport and aesthetics is central to its function. The tricks themselves are not graded on time or application of rules but by the style in which they are performed. With style being a culturally-specific value, the level of complexity reinforces the hierarchy in the subculture. There is also a value within the subculture of having aesthetically pleasing skates which can serve to create a distinction between your skating style and the style of your skates. Many skates are modified in ways seemingly unconnected to performance, such as the addition of skins and colors, which have more to do with the fashion of the rider than function.

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Online blog interview with a professional skater about their personal skate setup

Finally, the aggressive inline skating community exhibits a kind of masculine tribalism when it comes to admitting new members to the inner fold. Whether the skater has quality skates or not is the first signifier of belonging, followed by the skill with which she or he can perform tricks. The final – and most important – signifier of belonging is knowledge about the subculture itself. If a skater is not particularly skilled, but knows trick types and names, subcultural slang and the streams of practice within the sport, she or he will most likely be able to gain access to the subculture.

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Stop animation image of Local street skate competition

http://www.rollernews.com/ http://www.be-mag.com/ http://rollerwarehouse.com/ http://www.skatesetup.com/ http://www.emesce.com/ http://thisissoul.com