"No rules, just right!" - Outback Steakhouse

This advertising slogan for the Aussie-themed American steakhouse capitalised on the success of the Crocodile Dundee film that had smashed worldwide box office records two years before. Opened in 1988, this restaurant chain hoped to convey that it imbued the film's renegade spirit through its (utterly conventional) menu and dining experience.

In the UK, it was a failed experiment. The handful of restaurants they had opened in Great Britain closed within just a couple of years. 

However 'right' the Aussie ambience supposedly was in those eateries, there were rules. Diners didn't get to prowl the restaurant, taking food off of strangers' plates. They didn't get to pelt anyone with potatoes or pour drinks over each other's heads, and they always had to pay for their meals.

You might argue that those are rules that every civilised member of society follows. But their slogan said there are no rules, didn't it?

What do they mean by 'just right', anyway?  

Besides those unspoken rules the restaurants expected their patrons to abide by, there were prominently posted rules that could see diners ejected. You cannot enter their restaurants unless you're wearing shoes and a shirt, for example.

Some forms of payment are accepted and others not - think standard credit cards versus gift cards. They would not serve alcohol to minors, even with parental consent. And woe betide you if you didn't pay for your meal!

Why are we talking steakhouses when we're supposed to be talking about rollerskating? 

Because Outback and rollerskating have the same conundrum. Read on to find out more...

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About Rules and Roller Skating

Looking back through history, we find many activities that started as a way to spend time and get some exercise that, from their outset, had rules. Basketball, cricket... even football, a millennia-old game, had rules before the game was even fully developed.

Did you know that football traces its roots back to the Han Dynasty (202BCE to 220CE)?

Roller skating never had a designed purpose other than having fun
Unlike bicycling or ice skating, roller skating has always been a leisure activity. Photo credit: Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies on VisualHunt.com

Conversely, other activities we now pursue as pastimes have their roots in necessity. The bicycle, initially an object of curiosity, was meant to be a workhorse; a way to get the police to where they're needed faster. They were also targeted to mail carriers, to make their routes easier.

Ice skating - for a long time, the only kind of skating, was also born of need. It was difficult, traversing frozen expanses in places like Norway and Siberia. Some 4000 years ago, an ingenious soul attached blades to a pair of boots and people in frozen environments have been skating from Point A to Point B ever since.

Clearly, those devices meant for practicality could not be rule-bound. People used them in the context of a larger purpose; the rules they followed through that calling prevailed.

Roller skating was a different proposition altogether. It premiered in Europe during the 18th Century, in the theatre, of all places. Ostensibly meant to replicate the sight of someone gliding across the ice, those early skaters couldn't do much more than go forward because the skates' design did not allow for dazzling spins or even mundane turns.

They weren't much good for stopping, either.  

Over time, roller skates found a practical purpose. For instance, in Germany, beer hall waitresses skated with trays of drinks held high above their heads and in the US, carhops skated in and around their restaurants, delivering food to hungry diners sitting in their cars. Still, skates remained mostly a novelty, something that people with leisure time to spend engaged in.

And something for inventors to tinker with and improve on. 

It wasn't until 1875, when a roller rink in Plymouth hosted the world's first skating competition that rules constrained the art of skating.

It's not known whether the skating was done indoors or outdoors and the competition's results are lost to time.

Rules for Competitive Roller Skating

For anything to be competitive, there must be a baseline of acceptable standards. Competition winners are those who exceed those standards by the greatest degree while not violating any rules governing the activity.

For instance, basketball players are subject to entire lists of technical and personal fouls, which they will answer for in a variety of ways - from free throws to disqualification.

Competitive skaters can also be disqualified for rules violations, either from a single event or, for particularly egregious violations, for an entire competition season.

That's all well and good; it's nice to know that roller skaters can be held accountable. But what is competition skating, exactly?

There are several types of competitive skating; let's look at them now.

Skate dancing and other forms of artistic skating follow rules
Each version of artistic skating has its set of rules. Photo credit: João Guilherme de Carvalho on VisualHunt.com

Artistic Skating

Many roller skating competitions involve a degree of artistry; that stands to reason, seeing as skating started as an artistic endeavour. Artistic skaters may develop their skating skills to compete in events such as:

  • freestyle skating
  • precision team skating
  • show team skating
  • skate dancing, either team or solo skaters
  • pairs skating
  • singles skating
  • figure skating
  • jam skating

If you've ever watched Olympic ice skating events, you know that these skaters must complete certain elements; spins, jumps and lifts, if partner skating. They are then scored on how well they execute the required elements.

Whether they lose their form or fail to execute a prescribed move is not a violation of skating rules but doing so results in a points deduction from their overall performance scores.

However, if any skater deliberately sabotages another's performance, uses skates that don't comply with the regulations or fails to submit to a mandatory drug test - or submits to but fails the drug test, they would be in violation of skating rules. The penalties can be swift and severe in those cases.

Engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct may also be considered a rule violation. Examples of such include using profanity, yelling at a judge and hitting a fellow competitor.

Roller skating is not an Olympic event but the same rules apply to competitive roller skating.

Speed Skating

Speed skaters can compete as individuals or as members of a team. For international speed skating competitions, team members are selected from local, regional and division competition winners.

The same basic rules apply for speed skating as for artistic skating, with a few more sport-specific regulations mixed in.

Note: today, speed skaters generally wear inline skates; quads have fallen out of favour.

What do you think: are roller skates better than inline skates? Which do you prefer?

Roller Skating Today: Derby Skating

In the late 1970s and early 80s, roller derbies were falling out of favour. This sport had evolved from being an endurance event into a contact sport in mid-20th Century USA; not even the new medium of television could spur people to witness the spectacles live.

That is until 1989, when RollerGames debuted. Much like World Wrestling Entertainment, each instalment revolved around supposed rivalries between opposing skating franchises. Ten years later, the show had a solid audience, so the producers again set up a live version.

This time, the events were well attended. Their popularity gave rise to the modern roller derby.

Whereas the televised matches allowed for a mix of inline and quad skates - presumably, there was no rule over which type of skates derby participants must wear, contemporary roller derbies are always skated in quads. That's Rule #1.

Number Two is safety. No derby participant will be allowed on the track without the proper safety gear and, if they are less than 100% fit for the skate, they will not be allowed to participate.

Beyond those two, derby skaters have a long list of rules to follow, some of which are excruciatingly specific.

For instance, a blocker may only block if they are upright, skating in the proper direction and within the engagement zone. Furthermore, they may not use their elbows, feet or head to block, nor may they contact another skater above the shoulder, below mid-thigh or from behind.

For all of the violence roller derbies supposedly exhibit, today's derby rules prove that they are more a test of skill than a gladiator-type spectacle. That's probably why roller derbies are making a comeback.

Does that mean rollerskating as a pastime coming back, too?

Skaters have to follow the derby's rules
Rules for derby skating as exacting and penalties for violations are severe. Photo credit: 4nitsirk on VisualHunt

Rules for Casual Roller Skating

If you are a casual skater, like so many of us are, all you want to do is lace up your skates and glide along, unhampered by rules, restrictions and the threat of point deductions. Lucky for us, that's exactly what we get to do... as long as we keep a few things in mind.

Safety First! Not just your personal safety but the safety of everyone around you. Whether you're skating in a skatepark or roller rink, in the park or on a trail, you should always be mindful of others. When people are present, check your speed.

Also, always wear your safety gear even if nobody else is wearing any.

Next, keep your skates well maintained. Faulty equipment has been the cause of more than one crash and nothing can ruin a fun day of skating like a trip to A&E.

Mind the posted rules of the place you're skating. If the shopping centre has 'No Skating' signs posted, it's best to not defy it - even if their car park is wonderfully level and blemish-free. If the roller rink's rules specify no jumping or backflips, complying will ensure your continued presence there.

Like the Outback restaurant chain we started this article with, skating is also a 'no rules, just right' proposition. But, just like those eateries, we still have to follow society's basic rules.

Now, it's your turn to chime in: did you roller skate in the 80s - skating's heyday? What was it like?

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