First came the walks – and then apparently all at once the bikes.
At the start of the pandemic, with endless locks on the horizon, people released the monotony of their host families with short walks around the neighborhood on foot for some sunlight and fresh air. or, as writer Ruby Keane put it, “a silly little daily walk just to feel something.”
But with the arrival of warm weather came a collective need for (relatively more) speed in the form of bikes, skateboards, roller skates and the like. Global bottlenecks emerged when manufacturers struggled to keep up with demand for recreational bikes, and this year it’s developing similarly as supply chains are already feeling the pressure of spring sales.
However, holding on to these coveted objects can only be the first hurdle to be overcome. First-time purchases of bikes, boards, and ice skates have increased massively, so many of the newly minted owners may need some time to learn how to properly use the new gear. Instagram lit up last summer with videos of beautiful people gliding gracefully through town on two or four wheels – often accompanied by a throwback soundtrack similar to Instagram’s biggest roller-skating phenomenon, Oumi Janta – but just staying upright, is challenging if you’ve never done it before.
Fortunately, whether you are 7 or 70, there are dedicated professionals who are passionate about teaching people how to be less shaky on their new bikes.
Act younger, feel younger.
Tanya Dean, the founder of Skaterobics, a New York City-based skate school, can still remember the first time she laced a pair of skates on a roller-skating rink in town as a 20-year-old in the 1990s. The venue was packed with seasoned skaters. “The scariest part was getting on and off without getting killed,” she recalled. Dean finally figured out how to roll with the regulars, but these days she wants to make sure her students have an easier time than her.
“Learning from people who only know how to skate, they showed you from their point of view,” said Dean. “Being an instructor and understanding body rotation, edges, weight transfer, control, balance, and coordination is different.” Your adult clientele is a mix of people who skated in their youth but haven’t done so in decades, true beginners and those who can bypass the rink but want to improve their footwork.
Dean is also a former champion boxing, personal trainer, and motorcyclist, but she has one simple reason to focus on roller-skating personally and professionally: “It makes you feel like a kid.” Even so, regaining some childlike joy can be a difficult experience when an adult’s fear sets in. “We all come into new surroundings, we are nervous, we have preconceptions – I am aware of all of this,” she said. She advises new students to keep a positive attitude and not judge themselves or others.
Regardless of jitter and other concerns, instructors like Dean and O’Neal Ellerbe, a former professional skateboarder, note that adults continue to emerge in large numbers to overcome their fears on wheels. Ellerbe, the founder and head coach of the Skate-Everything School, skateboarded with students up to the age of 60. “I think Covid was a big step for a lot of people,” he said. “It gave them the courage to step out of the box and try new things.”
Ellerbe was learning skateboarding in Harlem when he asked a friend to teach him. “The next day he called me at 6am and said,” I’m outside your home. I have a board for you You said you wanted to skate didn’t you? “And I’ve skated every day since then.” Skateboarding offered Ellerbe “an independent challenge” and “a way of being free in a sense,” but most of all he wants to make the experience fun. Many of his classes end up with the group competing in a butt boarding race at the bottom of a gently sloping hill – a silly, exciting, and inexpensive way to blow off steam after practicing tic tacs and kick pushes.
After months of small group classes, Ellerbe looks forward to adding even more new skaters to the group as social distancing measures ease in New York City. “I look forward to bringing back demos and hosting some events to keep the community excited,” he said. Old stereotypes die hard and Ellerbe knows that many still have a negative reaction to the skate culture and its residents, but he sees an increased interest in skateboarding as an opportunity to change the perception of the sport. “Maybe this is the opportunity that has long been needed,” he said. “This is a hobby for some, a love for some, a form of transportation,” he said. “It’s affecting millions and I think it’s beautiful.”
Just relax and drive.
While some instructors struggle with unfavorable misconceptions about what their sport represents, Andree Sanders – aka “Bike Whisperer NYC” – sees their job as a mental challenge rather than anything else. “I talk a lot about the amygdala and the frontal cortex and the different chemical balances in the brain and how these affect our bodies and our mind-body connection,” she explained. “You are the eye and the brain of the bike, and the bike becomes your legs. And it is this partnership and this understanding and this trust that allows you to really relax and ride. “
Sanders learned the basics of cycling as a child and rode during her childhood, but “not with the joie de vivre one would expect”. It wasn’t until her future husband introduced her to mountain biking while they were dating that she sparked her love for cycling. Sanders estimates that she has taught thousands of people from around the world over the years, but she is particularly fond of working with adults. “Teaching an adult to ride a bike is like handing my superpower over to them,” she said. “It gives them the feeling of freedom and confidence to visit places they would never have gone before.”
Once you’ve decided to learn to ride a bike, look out for programs that insist that you can be taught in a set amount of time. Sanders is determined to let each client set their own learning pace, as lack of a given grade can lead to frustration. “It’s a process and nothing is instantaneous. And every process is different.” Last year, Sanders taught her oldest client to date – a 78-year-old woman who was dying to get out of the house – as well as a number of key workers who had to take the subway to work while commuting were not an option.
“It’s the most amazing thing because it gave them independence, security and control that we didn’t have. Last year was so challenging because we weren’t in control,” she said.
Perhaps it is the much-needed feeling of self-determination that makes us want to get on wheels even as children – the feeling of being able to steer our own ship when almost everything else is not in your hands. Of course, there are other benefits that won’t necessarily go away when the world returns to something like normal. Dean listed them as he described what their students get from roller skating, but it might as well apply to skateboarding and cycling. “It builds trust, it creates community, it’s social network … it’s exercise … so much stuff that makes us feel good,” she said – none of them have an age limit.