Roller skaters are lacing up and taking to the streets and squares in urban cities across the country, writes Chineme Okafor
“The sport of roller skating is growing rapidly in Nigeria. More parents are beginning to allow their kids to take lessons on safe skating and roller skates is now preferred as a birthday gift for kids because that is what all of them want.” When Winter Osahon Idugboe, a member of Nigerian Skating Federation shared this information with International Roller Sports Federation in 2004, he surely had an idea of the future of roller skating in Nigeria. But much more, roller skating has become a pastime with style added to it in most urban cities across Nigeria. In Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Enugu and many other metropolitan cities, young people are now seen rolling with ease. Yes, that was not there before, but the culture is growing.
“Roller skating? Oh…it’s fun and you can feel it, you have obviously been here long enough with us to see and feel what I will eventually tell you about this low-impact sport; the kids, teenagers and adults alike are having fun with their skating regimen, they come here to do this every time and that is so heart-warming because there is so much to gain from what they are doing,” said Chidi Onukaogu who has promoted roller skating in Abuja for almost five years now.
The youthful Onukaogu told THISDAY of how he started the sport back in Enugu before moving to Abuja where roller skating is now a growing recreational sport like a rapidly spreading fire. Roller skating is gaining prominence with residents of the federal capital city. Unlike Lagos, Abuja residents have got many paths that are conducive for skating. And now they are addicted to the sport for the fun it provides.
“This is fun and you can feel it. Roller skating is good for everyone because it is a good exercise that works almost every major muscle group in the body. It has a reputation of being the third highest calorie burning sport and has been found to be more beneficial to the human body system than running and cycling.
It is on record that just one hour of moderate roller skating burns about 330 calories for a 143-pound person, and if that same person roller skates vigorously, the possibility is that he or she will burn up to 590 calories in just an hour,” Onukaogu said.
Nowadays, driving through the city centres of Abuja during the weekends, one is most likely to come across what can pass for regiments of skating devotees who rhythmically sashay-run through the streets and major roads of the city. With loyal concentration, these people who often excitingly kitted with their gears sprint around Abuja metropolis can be said to be impeccable with no record of collision with vehicles recorded yet.
It has been the same story in Lagos, the commercial never centre of Nigeria. In Lagos, companies are beginning to engage the skaters for brand promotion and marketing on the streets. “It’s always a delight to see them in action. I have seen a couple of them during sales promotion and they have been so good at it,” said John Ekwueme, a Lagos resident.
And out of curiosity, THISDAY last weekend followed some of the skaters on a roll to perhaps their final destinations which turned out to be the open playfield of Jabi Lake. At the playfield it was an encounter with a mass movement. Most of them belong to a skating club known as “Skate Love” which was founded by Onukaogu five years ago in Abuja to educate people on the benefits of the sport to the human body system.
Youthful adults and kids from age three upwards dominated proceedings at the early morning skating regimen of the club with instructors ditching out timely lessons, Onukaogu however noted that the growing number of devotees to the club and sport have being amazing, adding that with over 2500 members and trainees passing through the club since inception, it could be safe to conclude that the city has come to embrace skating as a veritable means to keep fit.
He said: “It is a safe sport. It is safer than basketball or football. It is four times safer than bicycling and five times safer than baseball. It is never too early to teach a child to begin skating or even late to teach an adult. With dedication, a new entrant into the sport can skate so well within three months but that has to be backed up with constant practice. Of course, you know that learning is never limited.”
“I will also mention as part of the benefits of roller skating, it helps to develop the motor and listening skills through different games at the rink, while providing kids especially with the opportunity for social interaction.
“Our club is called Skate Love, because we want as much as possible to encourage and imbibe the spirit of love in the hearts and lives of our members, especially our children. With constant interaction amongst themselves, these kids who come from various backgrounds get to know that everyone is equal before God and that even at that there are some other kids who would have loved to participate with them but do not have the means to do so.
We teach them to appreciate everybody they come across and they are always excited to come here every weekend mostly,” Onukaogu added.
Onukaogu further spoke of the health benefits derived from skating saying: “Today, we all need the best of help we can get to stay in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. Roller skating is a great way for people to get some exercise.
While doing what our young teenage kids like to do more than anything in the world which is to hang out with friends and listen to cool music, roller skating is gradually becoming a part of that social interaction because it is fun. Indeed, while the teenage kids are socialising with their friends on skates, they don’t get to realise that the activity itself is better than running the same distance without feeling the fatigue that comes with running.”
The health benefits of roller skating has also been buttressed by the American Heart Association which recognised it among the best overall aerobic exercises involving all the body’s muscles, including the heart.
Now that Nigeria is embracing roller skating and its young population deems it “cool” in addition to health experts recommendation of regular exercise as an essential part of an overall fitness plan that could contribute to weight loss and general health, THISDAY asked Onukaogu how long he expects the craze for skating to last considering the propensity of Nigerians to embrace and ditch an idea as soon as it is introduced.
He said: “When I was younger, my parents didn’t like the fact that I took to skating and I guess this was my bad childhood habit. I didn’t have the time to do all other funny childhood pranks because of this and throughout my university days at UNN, I stayed glued to this and even set up similar skating club in Enugu.
“All the time I spent on skates strengthened my legs and helped develop my leaping ability. This provides a wonderful way to stay in shape and makes for a stronger and better body and the bonus for me is that I always had opportunities to skate on good roads like in Enugu and Abuja but I think that it if it has lived with me for this long, it can also live with anybody who is devoted to it.
“Some people don’t do it on the professional level like me because they just want to have fun without any pressure and I think that is good but for us who impact this knowledge, it is almost a requirement that we must seek to improve at all times and I think that if Abuja has embraced this which was initially difficult to sell to the residents of the city, then it will rub off on Nigerians everywhere and it will last for a very long time to some.
“We want to open a new centre at the Maitama amusement park and that will take care of the needs of residents in that axis of the city. This is what we have to do to keep this sport alive because roller skating is equivalent to jogging in terms of health benefits, calorie burning, reduction of body fat and leg strength development,” he further explained.
Well, while a study at the University of Massachusetts indicates that skating causes less than 50 per cent of the impact shock to joint compared to running as an effective low-impact aerobic exercise, Onukaogu also pointed out that many athletes take to skating as a strength exercise.
And with the style side of skating, especially in a city like Lagos, where stories of drivers dodging skaters who darted carelessly to and fro abound, some have said skating culture in Nigeria may not last long.
“It’s a good thing, but where someone is on a suicide mission, I think the government must rise to the occasion. We have seen some of them not doing it with caution around here, especially when they are marketing a product,” said Tunde Macauly, a Lagos resident.
For now, skating is it. Its lifespan may be a different ball game, but men and women, boys and girls are forming lines rolling leisurely along on Nigerian roads.