Playgrounds for big kids: Getting groovy with the girls at a disco roller skating rink

Skaters at Hi Roller Indoor Skating Rin, Downtown East on Oct 17, 2020 ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - What I lack in centre of gravity whenever the MRT lurches, I make up for, surprisingly, in balancing on skates.

I credit this to my childhood - much of it spent in inline skates zipping up and down the road outside my house. So when I enter retro-themed indoor skating rink Hi Roller Singapore, it is with excitement and not trepidation.

I have roped in three girlfriends for an unusual girls' day out. These days, without the usual party avenues or travel escapes to destress from work, we have become yes-men to activities we would not usually have considered.

So have others, it seems.

Ms Daphne Chua, co-owner of Hi Roller, says the rink has seen a surge in interest in recent months.

Opened in March last year, it used to be frequented mostly by professional skaters as an indoor playground to practise tricks and techniques.

"Somehow, after Covid-19, the retro vibe came back - and it attracted a lot of teenagers who wanted a feel of the 90s lifestyle," says Ms Chua, 26. Now, the majority of its skaters are teens aged 20 and below.

Another unexpected factor: TikTok. Teens started posting videos of themselves dancing and skating at the rink on TikTok and "it became viral", she adds.

Public entry is in two-hour slots, with the rink and equipment disinfected after every session. On weekends, the rink's peak period, the first slot is at 4.30pm, after private lessons - when the lights are turned down and the music turned up. A few well-placed disco balls set the mood.

Ms Chua says many have called it the closest thing to clubbing during Covid-19, and five minutes in, I can see why. There are the flashing lights, mildly disorienting fog and, of course, pounding dance tracks.

But fret not, no sleazeballs will offer to buy you a drink here.

We agree that the playlist is great - a mix of mainstream pop and music from the 80s and 90s - nostalgic enough for those in their 20s. Before Covid-19, there was even a DJ in the inner box of the rink to get the crowd hyped up.

Choose your skate gear wisely. Inline skates (with wheels in a row) are much easier to manoeuvre in, even though roller skates better complete the retro aesthetic.

I nearly lose my balance in roller skates in my first few attempts, but am determined to get the authentic roller skating experience, and soon get the hang of it.

The trick is to lean forward and keep going so you do not lose momentum. If you have inline skating experience, just keep trying and you will catch on quickly.

The Straits Times' Amanda Chai (right) roped in three girlfriends for an unusual girls' day out. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Whizzing around is exhilarating, but the real fun comes in belting out top hits with your pals - while on skates. We jive to Dancing In The Moonlight; YMCA; Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!; and Super Bass. Around us, friends and couples do the same with gleeful abandon - it almost feels like I am clubbing.

Is this how my parents used to party and mingle? I imagine a classic "meet cute" scene, where girl loses her balance and slams into boy, giggling as he proffers his arm to escort her for another lap around the rink.

My companion suggests the rink should sell shots, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Drinks would also rule out the teenage clientele.

The place fills up quickly with young'uns dressed more for selfies than skating. With a current limit of 50 people in the rink at one time, bookings are recommended at least three days in advance.

Other things remind me of the club too - how you have to skilfully dodge people oblivious to their surroundings, and how you end up drenched in sweat.

Knackered after an hour, we call it a day at 5.30pm. I cannot help but think back to how we used to call it a night at 5.30am at the club - funny how things change.

Pro tip: Wear jeans or pants. The chances of you face-planting are low, but being covered lends a sense of security when people are zipping at high speed around you.

Hi Roller Singapore

Where: Market Square @ Downtown East, Level 5 E!Hub , 1 Pasir Ris Close

Open: Daily, hours vary

Fee: $17 an adult, $15 a student for two hours, inclusive of skates and guards rental

Info: Hi Roller Singapore's website

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