I accosted the trio of young skaters as they cruised along the major Western Avenue. I already admired the dexterity and the guts of roller skaters for some time as I come across them on the heavy trafficked, but smoothly tarred highways of Lagos. I had to frantically wave and shout to slow the trio down as they sped past me.
Do you do this for fun, entertainment or competition? I asked, as one of the three young men skillfully balanced himself in front of me.
'We are not skating for fun, we are always competing and we have a coach who trains us in the art and skills of roller skating,’ he responded with heavy breath, signifying the amount of energy and strength put into the sport.
At the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, their training venue, dozens of children, teenagers and a couple of adults are in session.
'In my club, the Wonderous Move Skaters, we are with over 200 participants. We train at least twice a week and we always win the local competitions' Abiola Badmus, a young man in his early twenties proudly says.
I met some coaches and found there were many skaters club in Lagos and a few other cities in Nigeria, who participate in periodic local competitions under the aegis of an umbrella body, the Roller Sports Federation of Nigeria (RSFN).
'It is only recently we are promoting skating from recreation to a sporting and competitive game just like other popular games.' David Onyekachukwu, RSFN Acting Secretary General and coach of Extreme Wheels Club tells me.
Skate rolling is quite a unique recreation game that is being transformed into an interesting sport in Nigeria. The sport is only just gaining popularity, as most of the coaches say their clubs were formed only about two to three years ago.
Despite being a new form of sports, the young men have embraced it so well that they skate along the highways, competing with trucks, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians for space on the roads. The skaters skillfully glide their ways through heavy traffic, to the admiration of a few and a feeling of indignation by a few, due to the risks involved in the adventure.
Training of skaters integrates a body exercise, for free flow of the body, balancing, sharp turns, including manouvering of complexities, twists/stunts. It also involves emphasis on discipline, focus and safety 'We give them instructions on the skill of standing first, then speeding, before they are introduced to skills for stunts.’ Onyekachukwu explains.
Donald Ogbueke, another trainer, says 'it takes only about a month to master the skills of rolling skating, depending on focus the innate ability of a learner to grasp the techniques.'
According to Ogbueke, the young skaters are also trained for marathon skating and they are discouraged from skating carelessly on the highways. They are usually advised to limit their adventure to the training grounds, except when they are on road shows.
'I have been trained to stay focused whenever I’m on the rollers, I have no fears because I’ve mastered it since I started this sport a year ago', 12 year old Precious Solomon, one of the female skaters says.
'Apart from speed skating, the skaters also participate in promotional dancing. The young skaters are engaged to perform stunts for corporate organisations, during the launch of new products' Mike Awom of the Young Quality International Skaters Club tells me. His group represented Ogun State at the last Abuja carnival, held in Nigeria’s Federal capital Territory in November 2010.
What does it take to kit a beginner? 'It’s only the pair of skating shoes that is needed. There are many types; roller blade, roller skate and the board skate, with a flat platform. The skating shoe costs about €40.' Awom explains. 'There are more expensive skating shoes that cost about €250 and above, especially the special shoes for marathon skating.' Onyekachukwu, chips in.
'Then there are the skating helmets, elbows and ankles pads, these are for protection, to prevent bruises and injuries to a skater in case of an accident in the course of skating.' Awom added.
'Given the numerous benefits of the sport, for fitness and wellness the clubs need support from individuals, firms and the government for adequate attention and support to take Nigerian skaters to the international level, like the Inline Skaters’ Club competition, which holds in London in February, August and December every year' Chidozie Emmanuel of the Wonderous Move Skaters’ Club says.
By Yinka Atolagbe