WHILE people like to cool down in the hot summer, many make an exception and work up a sweat to join the roller skating craze that is sweeping the city.
With the ongoing 2014 Shanghai Slalom Open, the excitement has picked up. Attended by more than 400 skaters from 23 Chinese provinces and another 200 contestants from 20 countries, the annual event that runs through Sunday is an international gala for both professionals and fans.
A highlight this year is shifting the main competition to the Bund, which should make an ideal scene as skaters display their skills along the Huangpu River, set off by the city’s skyline.
In the event, skaters zigzag between obstacles. Freestyle slalom skating, which might be the most popular event, involves performing tricks along a pair of straight lines and equally spaced cones. The most common spacing between the lines used in competitions is 80cm, with larger competitions also featuring lines spaced at 50cm and 120cm.
In recent years, this highly technical sport has captured the spirit of small children and young people.
You can spot them on skate wheels, swiftly gliding, jumping and spinning in parks, on the street and in open areas.
Roller skating, which requires speed and skill, can be a solo act or group fun.
“You can practice on your own or play with a group of people. It can be a very relaxing activity for people to escape from heavy studies and work,” says Zhu Xiaokang, a liaison officer from the Shanghai Roller Skating Association.
Skating is also great exercise, serving to strengthen cardiovascular function, improve the respiratory system and boost metabolism.
It builds up muscle strength in arms, legs, waist and belly and greatly improves the flexibility of various joints. Equally important, roller skating can help enhance people’s balance and coordination.
Research has shown the sport to be an ideal aerobic exercise, which consumes oxygen at nearly the same rate as jogging. Skating at 23kph can efficiently help burn calories, a reason that many young women choose roller skating to keep fit.
It also provides the opportunity for endless stunts. From backward monocline, forward heel-toe snake, double crazy back to reverse eagle criss-cross, alternating cross and toe wheeling, roller skating has a long list of moves from easy to difficult.
“Personally, I’ve benefited a lot from roller skating. I seldom get sick now after playing this sport,” say Feng Hui, a 14-year-old girl who is a rising star on the China National Roller Skating Team.
Hui started to learn skating at the age of nine, hoping to “improve health,” but she never expected to roll into the international arena. Since 2011, she has grabbed the laurels at various world slalom championships and open tournaments. Every year, Hui flies to about five international competitions but it never interferes with her school studies.
The short-haired, smiling girl from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, is a 9th-grader who gets excellent grades at school. She used to practice roller skating two hours a day, but now is only allowed to exercise on weekends because she is busy preparing to enter high school.
Injuries are inevitable, but Hui smiles and says it was not a big deal for her.
“It’s a part of the sport. Sometimes when I was practicing difficult moves, I would get injured, but it was okay,” she says.
She once tore the left collateral ligament in her ankle when practicing swan spinning, but she insisted on practicing and won the championship that year.
“At the beginning, I played just for fun but now I hope I can do more to promote the sport in China,” she says. Hui’s biggest wish is to perform in roller skating shows.
Another champion skater, South Korean Kim Sung Jin, 24, has stopped competition but isn’t leaving the sport. He performs in skating shows and designs shoes.
Kim started practicing in 2001 and began to compete in 2003. “I roll just because I love it,” he says.
Kim is a college student majoring in business, and now he is working as an intern for a skating shoes company in Shanghai.
From 2005-2007, he was the three-time winner of the Shanghai Slalom Open.
“I find the sport is becoming more popular in Shanghai. I can see many young people skating on the street now,” he says. “Though I don’t compete anymore, I’m still working in the industry to promote roller skating.”
2014 Shanghai Slalom Open
Date: Through August 10
Venue: Huangpu District Roller Skating Stadium, 235 Dalin Rd