Adrenalin: Skating brink: The Americans do it unthinkingly, the British don't even know it's proper name. Ruth Gavin gets her in-line skates on

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The Independent Culture
Film and video footage of Venice Beach, California is not complete without the ubiquitous backdrop of lean, bronzed and beautiful people performing impossible feats on rollerblades.

But the British press was recently outragedshocked when John Kennedy Junior and full time pin-up, and Mr Darryl Hannah, when he frivolously rollerbladed past the church where his mother's funeral had taken place the day before. But What they failed to realise wasis that, in America, rollerblading is no longer the sole preserve of the Pepsi Max boys nutters in bandanas and Peter Pans but is a quick and easy way of getting from A to B which that involves plenty of fresh air and a purposeful workout

For the uninitiated, rollerblades are like ice skates but with a line of wheels instead of blades. They were developed for ice hockey players and were introduced as a leisure and fitness concept in the US in 1984 by two brothers who founded the company, Rollerblade, the first and still the largest manufacturerck in the world.

They are therefore not really called rollerblades at all. 'Rollerblade' is a copyrighted company name and should not be used as a generic term for the sport, which is actually called in-line skating.

It was not until 1992 that in-line skates were available on any kind of scale in this country. However, according to Mark Heeley of Europa Sports, the public have been making up for lost time. 'This year, for the first time, demand has completely outstripped the number of skates available,' he explained. 'We have been fielding calls from stockists all over Europe trying to get hold of more.'

In America, where 10 million people are estimated to participate in the sport, this fact should come as no surprise. In-line provides a good aerobic workout, is great for toning legs, bottoms and stomachs and, more importantly, is low impact. In America, at least, it has become the jogging offor Nineties' answer to jogging.

Yet when I told my friends that I was going to learn, I was greeted with honks of derision were deafening. 'You'll never be able to do it,' they chorused, 'you're far too old and unfit.' OK, All right, so I am nearly 30 and have a tenuous sense of balance. But Mark Heeley told me that Rollerblade isare marketing to the over-23s and, anyway, in my quest for the rare combination of exercise and enjoyment, I have become willing to make a fool of myself in public. So I rang my nearest stockist to hire some skates for a day. The assistant recommended that I also have a proper lesson.

My teacher, Tim, arranged to meet me in Hyde Park. 'You'll easily recognise me because I'm Chinese and I'll probably be showing off,' he said. I started to wonder if this was a good idea.

By the time I got to the park I had becomewas convinced that, despite knee and wrist pads, I'd be leaving prideless on a stretcher. But not at all. Tim was very encouraging and it provedwas surprisingly easy. It takes only about an hour to learn how to go forwards and how to (sort of)stop. Afterwards the lesson, my friend and I wasere able to skate quite confidently around the park. It is not difficult to evade pedestrians and other skaters give beginners plenty of space.

After two Sundays I am a complete convert. I still haven't quite mastered the stop but I am tempted to put this off as I am benefiting fromcan do with the unexpected arm toning that comes from 'windmilling' every time I lurch towards disaster. that staves off the inevitable on every slope. Saplings, fences and simply heading for the grass also does the job.

For a list of stockists contact Europa Sports (importers, distributors of Rollerblades) on 0539 724740. There is no register of teachers but your local stockist shu1d be able to put you onto someone. The cheapest skates and pads cost around pounds 100; hiring varies though expect to pay around pounds 5-10 per day

A comprehensive guide to the sport, In-line Skating by Mark Powell and John Svensson (Human Kinetic publishers, Europe) price pounds 9.50 is available in bookshops

(Photograph omitted)

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