Portsmouth Skating Group provide fun, fitness and family
If you live in Southsea, there’s a good chance you’ve spotted the fast-moving flashing wheels of a large gang of roller skaters zooming through the city.
This is the Portsmouth Skating Group, a motley crew of enthusiasts all sharing a love of skating, whether inline or quad.
My interest was piqued when I heard about this party on wheels.
Like many, I took up quad skating in the dark, miserable depths of the January lockdown, trying to inject some joy into life by purchasing a pair of bright pink Rainbow Riders.
Despite torn leggings and more scrapes and bruises than I can count, skating immediately became an unexpected obsession and I spent every free, dry moment on my skates.
Hoping to widen my skating social circle, I arranged to meet PSG founder, coordinator and trainer Joaquin Jimenez, known as Joa, at the group’s usual meeting place on the quad outside The Briny on Clarence Esplanade.
It was one of their regular Sunday afternoon beginner meets at the seafront location, and fellow skaters began to show up as I laced my Moxies and pulled my wrist guards on.
Shortly, portable speakers began pumping disco classics and pop tunes while training cones went up on the concrete.
With the sun shining down and the Solent glistening nearby, it was hard not to feel good.
Everywhere you looked, there were happy faces – friends fist-bumping, couples skating hand-in-hand, people laughing after failed manoeuvres, and newbies being brought into the fold by one of the group’s trainers.
PSG is a life goal for Joa, who says he was inspired to launch a group as a young man living in Spain after seeing an older skater helping children pick up the sport, and started the Portsmouth group with fellow founder Fernando Camarillo,
The 43-year-old Southsea resident says: ‘This is a dream, from 2014 when I came to England, to 10 months ago when the group started.
‘Now we have 1,300 followers on our Facebook group.’
As well as the regular group gatherings at The Briny, PSG hosts street skates for all abilities throughout the streets and parks of Portsmouth – including a gentle trail through the common, ideal for nervous beginner skaters.
The group, which also hosts a weekly outdoor roller disco near The D-Day Story, has offered a lifeline to people struggling with the isolation of the pandemic.
Joa adds: ‘Some people have really struggled with the Covid situation, and people say to me “you’ve basically saved my life. Coming here and skating with all these smiling people has changed my life”.
‘People that come to skate with us aren’t just beginners, they’re becoming friends.’
The group’s social aspect is what drew in lifelong inline skater Ben Bednall, who is now mastering quad skates.
He says: ‘I’ve been meeting the group since March. I wanted to join for that social side, making friends.
‘I speak to everyone – it’s like a little family, and nice seeing new faces too.’
One such new face is Bonnie Guest, who was inspired to get back into skating after spotting the group on one of their street skates.
She says: ‘It was really seeing this group that made me want to get back into it – it reminded me about when I used to do it.’
I’m not the only person who took up skating as an escape from lockdown: the sport has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past year, with some skate shops selling out of products and customers facing long waits to get on their wheels.
‘It’s a boom for skaters,’ agrees Joa. ‘People see us, we bring lights, we are on the road. People see people skating and it pushes them to start again, or they think “oh, I’ve always wanted to learn how to skate”.’
It’s easy to draw people out while the sun is shining – but what will happen in the coming months when the rain and cold returns?
Joa is keeping one eye on the future: ‘Maybe if we have a place to do things over the winter. Maybe at some point we can find a venue.’
Skate events are currently held six times a week – every day except Fridays – and there are six trainers helping skaters develop their skills, whether it’s standing up on skates for the first time or difficult cone tricks.
Every session is completely free – wannabe skaters and seasoned athletes alike can simply turn up and take part.
‘This is what we give so that people can skate – we love to do this,’ Joa explains.
‘Helping other people is like, wow! I like to improve myself as well, jumping and dancing.
‘This is for everyone - mothers, grandfathers, children learn so quick. They can go really far if they’ve got the proper support.’
The growing group sees more and more skaters join each month, from 20 skaters attending PSG’s first meeting 10 months ago to the 40-50 skaters who are now welcomed to every meet.
Joa, who has been skating since he was 17, says: ‘Everyone can learn to skate. It’s important to have the right protection.
‘I would recommend to everyone to come with us - it’s not a dangerous exercise.
‘Don’t be shy, don’t worry about age – just come along.’
The group welcomes people of all abilities and all ages, and on this glorious Sunday I can see everyone from young children on bright plastic wheels to older folk confidently wheeling across the concrete.
Quad skater Mia says that although she and her friends may be a bit older than some of the other skaters, ‘we’re still groovy’.
‘We even have a member who is 68, an ex-speed skater who has recently picked up his skates again which is incredible and inspirational on many levels,’ she says.
Mia, who picked up skating again about four months ago, added: ‘It just changes your mental health and it’s great exercise.
Helping other skaters, she says, ‘is like paying it forward – that feel good factor, it’s a real community spirit.
‘You feel the support and you encourage other people.
‘We all love it, it’s life-changing.
‘We’ve just got this amazing thing that’s only going to grow.’
I’ll definitely be back to join the party again next Sunday.
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