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To the honeyed tones of Judas Priest's "Turbo Lover," the skaters skate. Round and round they go, moving as one yet separately, like the paramecia you see in school science films: one organism, many moving parts, some of which really dig Judas Priest.
"Sweeeet!" says one feather-maned man as he scoots from the lobby onto the rink's hardwood and is quickly enveloped by the newcomers in their rented boots—marked by their bright orange wheels and a tendency to pitty-pat instead of glide—and the regulars, who zip in and around them as if they've been avoiding such obstacles for years, which they have. There's Michelle, who has endured injury to skate; Paul, who has endured relationships; and Tommy, who has overcome shame. And then there is the ubiquitous, somewhat mysterious Kenny, who simply is.
It's Thursday night at the Fountain Valley Skating Center, which means it's adult skate night. And if it's adult skate night, that means it's quad skating night, quad skates being those old four-wheeled skates—two in the front, two in the back—you wore a few times in the late '70s and early '80s and then consigned to the back of a closet along with those thin leather neckties.
But quads have seen a resurgence over the past year, and this summer promises to be the summer of the quad. Not only are they skating in Fountain Valley, but they're also skating at the Buena Park Skating Center and the Holiday Roller Rink in Orange. Both Puma and Skechers are aggressively marketing lines of quad skates, Skechers most especially. The company has Britney Spears pushing skates this summer and, just a few weeks ago, held a celebrity-laden launch for its "4 Wheelers" that included Fred Durst and Christina Ricci. There are currently rent-a-car ads featuring roller disco dudes, and one of the summer's most eagerly awaited blockbusters, the Austin Powers installment Goldmember, will reportedly feature a roller disco sequence.
Why all this is happening now people can only guess.
"Maybe it's just that 20-year rule" says Dennis Owens, who, along with partners Rodi Delgadillo and Riley More, puts on a once-monthly roller disco at World on Wheels in Los Angeles. "You know, putting some nice new clothes on an old idea."
"I think it's the kitsch factor," More says. "The '70s are very kitsch, and there was nothing more kitsch from the '70s than roller disco."
Kathy May, who along with husband Barry runs the Buena Park Skating Center, says she believes there's a much more basic reason. "It's one of the least expensive things you can do," she says. "You can bring your family and skate for, like, 10 bucks. So it's really affordable, and I notice that its popularity goes up many times when the economy is in a bit of trouble. I think one of the best times skating had was in the late '70s, when the economy was really doing poorly."
The '70s apparently never left the Fountain Valley Skating Center. Its carpeted, racing-stripe walls; colored lights; and hanging mirrored balls give that through-the-looking-glass feel that could only be made more complete if the girls were wearing sky-blue Dittos and the boys had long blond hair, mustaches and T-shirts, big plastic combs sticking out of the back pocket of their jeans.
Paul Ewing of Fullerton doesn't have the comb, but check, check and check on everything else. Paul is what you might call a throwback, right down to his Shaun Cassidy-esque hair and his 26-year-old quad skates complete with original urethane wheels.
"They don't make 'em like these anymore," says Paul. In fact, Paul has made 'em just as he wants 'em, having removed the bolts on the front of his skates' plates to allow for an even greater range of motion for dance moves, including his signature move: skating backward, his arms around and his body in sync with a very special lady.
"I've met all my girlfriends through skating," Paul says.
This is why quad skaters skate quad. No, not for the ladies: for the freedom and the fun.
"From what I can see, inline skates are more about getting from one point to another. Very A to B," says Tommy Wish. "Quad skates are more artistic. They allow you to be a lot more creative."
Oh, and if you were wondering, the ladies love to skate. Just look at Michelle Brebrick of Huntington Beach spinning and jumping over there. She got started back in the '70s because skating was something she could do as well as anyone.
"I wasn't a great athlete; I was always the last person chosen to be on teams. But when I put on skates, I was really good," she says. So good that she got into dance competitions where male partners would fling her up on their shoulders. She loved it so much that even crashing down on the rink floor and splitting her chin open didn't stop her.