October takes on special meaning at The Wheelhouse

Hemet’s skate rink offers untapped family fun and exercise

Jim Vivanco
The Wheelhouse is one of the few roller skating rinks in southern California, and it’s located right here in Hemet.

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

When people who live in Hemet dryly say that there is “nothing to do” in town that is good family fun, they overlook one of the area’s most iconic landmarks: The Wheelhouse roller skating rink.
Roller skating has been one of America’s favorite forms of recreation for more than 35 years since President Ronald Reagan declared October National Roller Skating Month. The fact that Hemet has one of the few roller skating rinks in southern California seems to escape people’s minds entirely. Besides The Wheelhouse, the only other skate rinks in the region are Epic Rollertainment in Murrieta; Calskate in Grand Terrace; Skateland Event Center, San Bernardino; Skate Express, Chino; and Holiday Skate Center in Orange.
Interestingly, roller skating fans rank all of these entertainment facilities as four stars or better in Google rankings, so someone must be having fun when they take to the floor.

Don’t try this at home
Granted, falling down onto a hard floor isn’t recommended for seniors, a good share of the citizens in Hemet. But the demographics of Hemet and San Jacinto are changing. Look at the $150 million school bond issue that Hemet Unified School District is asking voters to approve in November. Hello? It’s not to build and maintain senior centers. It’s to house, protect, nurture, and educate the area’s more than 20,000 current students, all of whom arguably could be getting some good exercise at the only roller skating rink for miles around – The Wheelhouse.
As it turns out, roller skating is one of the best forms of exercise you can do. It’s one of the few activities that provides a complete aerobic workout for over 640 of the body’s muscles – especially the heart.
For whatever reason, roller skating has periods of intense popularity, and then it fades off into obscurity until some celebrity puts herself on the cover of an album in a roller skating outfit as Linda Ronstadt did in 1978 with her release of Living in the USA. That, and the album’s promotion, helped lead a resurgence in roller skating in the United States. More recently, singer Gwen Stefani’s music video, Make Me Like You, included some sleight-of-hand camera work that allowed Stefani to put on a pair of roller skates in mid-song.

Quad skates vs. inline
For many years, people who roller skated, either indoors or outdoors, used what are known as quad skates – four wheels, usually with a rubber brake in the front. That form factor continues to be popular and is regularly improved upon with newer, space age materials.
However, the world of roller skating may never be the same since the invention of inline skates, or Rollerblades – which, by the way, is a trademark and the name of the company Rollerblade Inc., that helped promote the popular inline skate.
Conceived by Scott Olson in the early 1980s, the skate was the outgrowth of an idea originated in the 1960s by the Chicago Roller Skate Co. that had put little wheels in front of each other. The original idea dates way back, however – to the 1700s, when John Joseph Merlin created a primitive inline skate with small metal wheels. But many people have made incremental changes to the idea as technology and materials have evolved.

One great idea
Anyway, Olson, then 19, aided by his younger brother, Brennan, both of Minneapolis, Minn., bought the patent to SuperStreetSkates inline skates and began tweaking the design under the brand name, Ole’s Innovative Sports. When they sold the company, it became Rollerblade, Inc. and it has changed hands over time between Nordica, Benetton Group, and now Tecnica. At one point, Rollerblades were named by Time magazine as one of the the top 100 products of the 20th century.
You might say that there are two types of skating: indoor skating, and outdoor skating. If you go to the Venice bike path on the coast, it’s really more the Venice Rollerblading path for the spate of athletic inline skaters who whoosh by every so often before they disappear in the distance. And outdoor group skating is popular in northern California and in Europe. That’s when large groups of skaters meet to skate together, usually on city streets, and often at night. Think San Francisco Midnight Rollers. Charity skates in Paris have attracted more than 50,000 participants.
Hemet, interestingly, is the center of roller skating activity for the entire region. If you haven’t tried the sport, maybe you should. Unless of course, you’re a 75-year-old senior just starting out in the sport. Then, wear padded pants. You might need them. But watching roller derby, which also can be found at The Wheelhouse on certain nights – now that’s fun!

The Wheelhouse is located at 2860 W Florida Ave, Hemet. For hours and fees, visit https://wheelhouseskate.com/

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