Janine Price glides high on her white boot roller skates, striking out across the basketball court at Featherston’s indoor stadium.
She pushes a wide broom, sweeping tiny stones and daily fluff into a corner. That stuff plays havoc with small wheels. Soon, adults and kids will arrive for Janine’s Wednesday evening skate class.
Her 20-30 learners stand a few centimetres taller on wheels, as they coast, stomp and fall around the room. It’s a small-scale revival of an old-school activity.
Back in 1950s California, when roller skating was all the rage, Janine’s father just couldn’t get the hang. Being wobbly on wheels shattered your ‘cool’ rating. Years later, after a move to New Zealand, he insisted his Kiwi kids take roller skating lessons.
“Dad couldn’t swim either,” Janine says. “So my brother and I went to skating and swimming lessons for years, to please him. I started at four years old.”
After a brief defection to ice skating at university, Janine got back on wheels and into roller derby in Wellington. Now, she competes in artistic roller skating at international masters level. For three years, she has been running her little-known skate night in Featherston.
“After we moved to Featherston, word got out that I was using the basketball court to practise my skating routines and I was asked to run an outdoor rink at the town’s Christmas market.”
She obtained 100 pairs of old boot skates circa 1960s-70s from the Upper Hutt Roller Skating Club. Left with her stash of wheels after the market, Janine started the skating group after interest from friends.
“We started with speed skating but I now teach artistic skills, with games and the odd disco.”
Two children, a lifestyle block and horses used for western riding makes for a busy life. Elsewhere in her week, she’s off over the hill to the Upper Hutt club (where she is president) for coaching and to practise artistic routines.
Skating has taken Janine across New Zealand – she won a bronze and two silver medals at the national artistic championships in July and was selected for the New Zealand team to compete at the Oceania Championships in Rotorua this spring.
Costumes cost hundreds of dollars – but she has cunning ways of staying within budget. “I’ve bought sparkly cocktail dresses from SaveMart and cut them down into skating dresses. And modified Indian saris for Bollywood themes.”
Gone are the days when roller skates were made in New Zealand. Now, most come from the USA, or Italy – the powerhouse of world roller skating due to it being taught in schools there in the 1980s.
A pair of top-end artistic skates cost more than $1,000 but skaters in Featherston can use Janine’s collection for a few dollars. She has become a skilled skate mechanic, able to switch out wheels and bearings with the flick of a hand tool.
Roller skating fits Featherston’s vibe of something a little different.
“We’re on the edge here,” she smiles.
“There are activities such as wrestling. I like the small size of Featherston and the community feel. We work together for our town.”
Story by Julia Mahony