For those confused by the article’s title, Freeline Skates are (well!) skates, and can best be described as a cross between roller skates and skateboards. They come as a pair and each skate is a metal plate with two wheels attached at the plate’s base.
These skates are a recent invention that became commercially available in 2005. Inventor Ryan Farrelly was looking for a more efficient skateboard for downhill boarding while he was an engineering student at the University of San Diego. According to the official website of Freeline Skates, Farrelly hit upon the idea that he “didn’t need the board at all, but could ride down the hill… with two wheels inline under each foot for an awesome new sideways ride.”
Farrelly says that on his invention riders can “carve smooth ‘S’ turns while riding downhill, or… quickly and efficiently propel on flat ground or uphill.” Farrelly is a snowboarder, surfer, and downhill skateboarder and claims that the Freeline Skates are an “ideal cross-training companion to surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, inline skates, and a variety of other sports.”
Lately, the skates have been popular on the Harvey Mudd campus and it is not uncommon to see new learners, enthusiastic freshmen in particular, leaning on the walls of their dorms precariously balanced on their skates.
The primary reason for newcomers’ attraction to Freelining (a new term coined just for the Freeline Skates) is the attention drawn by the swashbuckling strides made when one is Freelining. The rider is turned sideways to the direction in which he is moving as he makes to-and-fro strides to propel himself. David Derry HM ’14 summed up his initial attraction to Freelining perfectly: “Nothing beats the ‘WTF?’ look you get when Freelining.”
Eric Nieters HM ’11, also a Freeline enthusiast, began using Freeline Skates at the end of his freshman year. He was one of a few Freeliners on the Harvey Mudd campus until the increase in popularity a couple of years ago, and can be credited with popularizing the skates at HMC. Although he was also attracted to Freeline Skates because of their “coolness factor,” he says that the Skates’ minimalist design was also an important consideration. The simple design gives Freelines Skates an elegant look and the small size enables riders to store them in their bags between classes.
Freeline Skates have several advantages over their elder cousin, the longboard. The foremost advantage is that unlike longboards, Freelines allow riders to propel themselves without taking their feet off the skates. This allows for a more cohesive and uninterrupted motion unlike that of the longboard, on which the riders must propel themselves by dragging a foot on the ground. That the riders can propel themselves also makes going uphill much easier. The small size also makes for sharper turns and easier braking. Nieters says that “they feel more free… [and] you can put your feet wherever you want on the cement.”
Boarding loyalists would argue that the Freelines aren’t as fast as longboards or skateboards. This is true because the sideways motion of the Freeline skates makes them lose more speed than longboards (which move in a straight-line path) due to friction. However, this does not deter Nieters who says that Freeline skates “probably aren’t quite as fast, even though I’d like to think that I can beat anybody on a longboard.”
Though mostly limited to the Harvey Mudd campus, some of the other 5Cs have recently taken to Freelining. “I have seen one student at Pomona with Freelines and I recently ran into a CMC student who Freelines. Other than that, Freelines are fairly unique to Mudd—within the 5Cs at least,” Derry said. I hope that all of the other campuses are reading—watch for this growing trend.