Rollerblading by the river in beautiful weather with friends is not something people typically associate with school. However, in Stuyvesant’s Rollerblading class, students have fun doing just that. “I think Rollerblading is the best class at Stuyvesant,” junior Charlie Kramer said. “I think it’s the best physical education class I’ve ever heard of at any school in the city.”
The course is taught by Assistant Principal Health and Physical Education Larry Barth, who is an experienced rollerblader himself.
“I had roller-skated when I was a kid a lot,” Barth said. “I think around 1993, I got my first pair of rollerblades, and I started blading. I enjoyed it.” Just a few years later, Barth proposed that a rollerblading class be taught at Stuyvesant, and began teaching it.
The class has evolved a great deal in its history. During the early years of the course, helmets were not required for skaters. However, after one student collided with a biker on West Street and was diagnosed with a mild concussion, the Parents Association bought helmets for the class.
In addition, students had to supply their own equipment until five years ago. But after Francis Lewis High School stopped offering their Rollerblading course, the school donated over a hundred sets of skates, helmets, and wrist guards that they had been using to Stuyvesant. This has allowed Stuyvesant to provide the necessary equipment for the one senior and two junior classes that are taught.
The class is taken by both skilled rollerbladers and firsttimers. “I have the full range,” Barth said. “I have people who are full beginners who have never gone on skates in their life, and there was one boy in my class a few years ago who was one of the best skaters I’ve ever seen.”
While there are students at many different rollerblading skill levels, kids of all abilities are able to enjoy the class by practicing at their own level. “One person doesn’t really affect everybody else,” junior Bernard Birnbaum said. “And for some of the instructional stuff we need a partner, and everybody’s been supportive.”
“It’s good when it’s a mixed group because I find a lot of students help each other,” Barth said. “Those who are a little more experienced, a lot of them tend to gravitate to those who are the beginners and help them out. Sometimes you’ll see people just pairing up or tripling up, and they’ll start practicing in the middle of the floor and teaching each other.”
On the first day of class, Barth teaches his students the proper way to fall, which is by sliding on one’s belly and using wristguards for support. Aside from the obvious safety reasons, Barth says the falling lessons serve as a way to show the first-time skaters what it feels like to fall. “It makes people feel a little bit easier, because now they know, if they’re going to fall, exactly what it’s going to feel like. But if you’ve never been skating before, it can be scary up there,” Barth said.
After the falling lesson, students spend the next few class periods learning basic balancing techniques, which can be very tricky for first-timers. “The first couple of days can be really rough for a beginner,” Barth said. “I’ve had some people, as beginners, who have never been on skates, who might not be the most coordinated people in the world, and the first couple of days, sometimes I see the sweat pouring off of them.”
“I definitely thought I was going to die and take everyone with me,” junior Emma Lesser said about her first experience on skates.
The experience of being on roller skates is unusual, so for first-timers, it takes getting used to. “I tell them when you put the skates on you’re going to feel uncomfortable, you’re going to be three inches taller, you’re not going to have your balance,” Barth said.
But students generally overcome their fears quickly and become more comfortable in taking forward strides later on in the course. “I can move in one direction that is not down. I can move and get some small amount of speed and not kill people,” Lesser said, regarding her progress just a few weeks into the class.
Eventually, all students learn how to turn with their edges and stop, using either the heel brakes or the T-stop, which involves putting the back foot perpendicular to the front foot in the shape of a “T.” Experienced and advanced members of the class can also learn new techniques, such as skating backwards, the crossover turn, and the power stop.
By the end of the course, students skate a three-mile route along West Street and the Hudson River in twenty minutes. “[Seeing] students who, the first day, could not stand on their skates [now] skate the two-and-a-half or three miles that they can accomplish is extremely gratifying,” Barth said. “That’s what it’s all about, to see that they’ve gained the confidence.”
“In the beginning of the class, I had rollerbladed before, but I didn’t really know technique other than just being able to stand up,” Birnbaum said. “I’m definitely much more confident in my ability.”
While learning rollerblading techniques, multiple students, as well as Barth, have said that rollerblading is also a great way to work up a sweat and get in shape. “In this class, you’re actually doing something more physical,” junior Zhengqi Xi said.
On top of the exercise that the class provides, another reason it has been so popular is the sheer uniqueness of the experience offered in the course. “Not many people get to say that they start their day by rollerblading down by the Hudson River outside. It really wakes you up in such a nice way and gets your day started perfectly,” Kramer said. “You get the most beautiful scenery along with fun.”