The in-line skating industry has come a long way since 1984 when there were only 20,000 skaters in the U.S. According to American Sports Data Inc., in-line skating is the nation’s fastest growing recreational sport (with step and mountain biking coming in second and third). It is projected there will be more than 10 million skaters by the end of this year. In fact, the in-line market is the single most successful product launch in the sporting goods industry’s history. The diverse uses of skates — from casual cruising with friends and family, to racing, sport-specific training and hockey — contributes to this industry’s record-breaking growth.
Reasons for its popularity are simple. In-line skating is fun, non-impact and easy to learn. It’s the perfect way to introduce exercise (without calling it exercise) to the 80 percent of Americans who are less active, and it is an ideal activity — indoors and out — for any fitness level. In-line skating could assist health clubs in their challenge to create programs that apeal to member (and non-member) interests beyond weights, aerobics and racquet sports. “More and more people are skipping the gym to go skating.” says Laurie Pehar, activities director for five Southern California Spectrum Clubs. “Even though our clubs are crowded, people are kind of bored with the same old stuff inside.”
If in-line skating is already recognized by the public as a viable fitness option, what’s holding up health and wellness facilities?
Education is key
The answer, according to Chris Nelms, program director for the Easy Stride Skate School in Minneapolis, Minn., is an inaccurate image of the sport and, ultimately, a lack of education. Over the last two years, Nelms has submitted several proposals to provide in-line skate programs at local health clubs. He has been turned down more than accepted, but is optimistic things will change. “We’ve experienced two obstacles with health clubs,” he says. “First, downtown clubs don’t have a lot of space and are hesitant to do it indoors, not because of insurance, rather they’re worried about damaging the floors. Second, perception of the sport is that it’s dangerous.” Nelms suggests many facility managers and owners are holding onto an outdated image of the sport. “When in-line skating came onto the scene years ago, kids with a skateboard-type image dominated public places, appearing irresponsible, wearing no safety gear. Because of combined efforts of the International In-Line Skating Association (IISA) and skate manufacturers to promote safety, education and awareness, that image has done a 180.” Nelms says a poor image is the easier of the two problems to deal with. “Those of us who have been intimately involved in the sport and who already have the programs in place, provide educational resources for health club personnel who are hesitant to offer in-line skating.”
Nelms and other in-line skate school coordinators insist education is key to convince the health club industry that in-line skating is a profitable venture. “One of the first things we do is provide management with statistical and practical information to substantiate our claim that the sport is safe and it’s here to stay,” says Jack Murphy, president of Power Rollers Inc. in Washington, D.C. Since 1991, Murphy has successfully implemented skating programs at several East Coast health clubs.
Using his company’s motto, “Fun, Fitness and Friends,” and placing emphasis on social and physical benefits of skating, Murphy insists “it’s easier than you think to start an in-line skating program.” He says the needs of health clubs are for self-sufficient, packaged programs, fully insured with a variety of classes. “Clubs like working with us because we take the mystery out of the sport, providing tools to make it easy to get going. We share the same goals — to bring in new members, keep the old ones excited about fitness, and making money.”
For the facility that wishes to develop their own skating program, he suggests using a company like his as a “starter package” to learn more about the sport and how to conduct classes. “We’ve gone into clubs for a short-term commitment just to stir up member interest. We’ll offer six or eight classes to introduce the sport, then the club will hire instructors to take over.”
Tags: club, education, instructors