Sorry, Roller Skaters, Your Wheels Are Square—It's Time to Lace on a Pair of Blades and Let the Good Times Roll

updated 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Move over, Maserati! Nowadays the hottest set of wheels isn't a car at all, but a sleek new breed of roller skate that's giving cruising a whole new spin. A half million bladers—including Janet Jackson, John Kennedy Jr. and Wayne Gretzky—have transformed the old roll around the block into a high-tech, high-attitude romp for the hip and healthy.

Modern blading got its start 10 years ago when Minneapolis natives Scott and Brennan Olson, avid hockey players, developed a roller skate in which the wheels are lined up under the center of the boot instead of side by side. The result is enhanced maneuverability and speeds over 20 mph on the straightaway—thus the need for knee and wrist pads (and probably medical insurance) among serious bladers. A bumper at the rear of the boot acts as a brake when the skater leans back.

The Olsons' design became the foundation of Rollerblade Inc., which now has about 75 percent of the "in-line skate" market. Picked up first by winter athletes looking for a summer conditioner, blading has spread to an urban fitness crowd in search of something a bit more daunting than jogging and aerobics. "It's not easy," says Dan Isaacson, who is incorporating blading into his fitness program at Paramount. "There's a bit of fear and risk when you jump on them. But," he adds, "that's good. People like challenges today." "It's a cheap date," says Brandon Bishop, of Hamel's Action Sports in San Diego, "and parents like them because they can get on them with their 5-and 10-year-old kids."

For the proficient, it's a whole new way to go. "They are the ultimate in control," says Mark Yueill, 26, a phys ed student at the University of Minnesota. "You can whiz down stairs and jump over curbs and benches. And when you hit speeds of 45 mph going downhill, you feel like you're floating two inches above the pavement—it's an unbelievable rush."

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