Skating through a pandemic, finding joy on the other side — and sharing it on Instagram
UC Santa Cruz student Elise Dauterive, 20, has come a long way in one year of roller skating — a journey that’s taught her a lot about vulnerability, the kindness of others and even race relations. Want to join along? Check out her Instagram.
For some, the pandemic was a time to maintain stability — not the season for opening oneself up to new frustrations or disappointments.
UC Santa Cruz student Elise Dauterive wasn’t one of them.
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She laced up a pair of hand-me-down roller skates a year ago, headed to a nearby parking lot with shaky legs ... and hasn’t stopped skating since.
Dauterive — also known as Elise On Wheelz — began skating on April 3, 2020, about a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, in her hometown of Sacramento.
Now back in Santa Cruz taking classes a year later, her Instagram diary of her skating journey has more than 1,700 followers. And she’s not only sharing images and videos, but also the tunes to which she rolls (included at the end of this story).
“I have to take risks every time I skate, or I’m not going to learn. That definitely helped me stay true to myself,” Dauterive said. “Because it’s definitely a new thought process to want to send your body in the air and do all these things. And the fact that I could do it was really surprising to me. I’m just inspiring myself, and reminding myself who I am every time I skate.”
A skate revival
A year ago, Dauterive was taking remote classes, working remote jobs, and needed a way to simply to get out of the house.
She had been on wheels before: She would bike ride, use a Ripstik and Rollerblade with friends inside a tennis court in her neighborhood. But for years after elementary school, she didn’t skate. It wasn’t until the summer after she graduated from high school, when she was hired as a carhop at a Sonic fast food restaurant, that she had to learn how to serve customers on Rollerblades. Although it was tricky at first, Dauterive said the serving gig helped her re-learn skating fundamentals, and prepare for the more challenging quad skates, which she uses now.
Dauterive, 20, said her personal skate revival happened when she came across a YouTube video posted by Long Beach-based brand Moxi Roller Skates. In the video, a group of friends skate through a city at night, looking joyful and “free.”
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“They’re just skating like crazy, everywhere, in the street, and they weren’t scared at all,” Dauterive recalled over a Zoom call from her Santa Cruz bedroom. “They had a smile the whole time.”
So she went out to her garage and decided to dust off an old pair of quad skates that had been sitting in the corner, but she quickly realized they were broken and impeding her progress.
Dauterive invested in a new, hot pink pair and started skating daily. Using YouTube tutorials, she worked on building her skills in a church parking lot, in the driveway or garage of her Santa Cruz home, or on tennis courts at UCSC, where she’s majoring in plant sciences.
Around the same time, Dauterive created an Instagram page devoted exclusively to tracking her skating progress. She called it @eliseonwheelz, and began documenting herself skating — including the falls, the baby giraffe-like wobbly legs, as well as the breakthroughs.
World now watching
Soon, people from all over the world were following along, sharing tips on how she could improve. As of Sunday morning, she had 1,714 followers, thanks in part to a nostalgic resurgence of skating as a hobby over the past year.
“It is definitely vulnerable,” she said of the experience of making her skating exploits public. “I feel like I learned that after I started posting. I kind of was just riding this confidence and then I was posting, and I’m like, wait, people can see this.”
The Instagram page helps keep Dauterive motivated, because she can watch herself becoming a more balanced, strong and skilled skater through the months.
But in a social media world full of influencers and hobbies turned side hustles, Dauterive is also trying to keep skating in a “sacred” space: as a fun, no-pressure project.
She also says it’s just the start of a lifelong journey because in skating, once you get a move, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do it again — practice is a requirement.
Even on days when she feels like she’s hit “a wall,” she keeps going. After all, she still has plenty of moves she wants to learn.
Skate culture ‘made by people like me’
Social media has also helped Dauterive tap into a community of Black skaters that she didn’t know about before. Much of the early skating content she saw online was of white skaters, and although she was inspired by them, it also made her question whether she belonged in the world she was so enraptured by.
Then, in summer 2020, as racial justice protests filled the streets of cities and towns across the world, the broader conversation about race trickled down into skating, too. More people started talking about the history of Black skate culture, and how Black skaters have played a vital role in civil rights and social justice movements in the United States. Not only did Dauterive have a place in the skating world, but she was connecting to a culture “made by people like me,” she said.
Elise On Wheelz's tips for beginner skaters
1. Set some skate goals. Dauterive’s vision board was to skate as freely as the people in the Moxi Skate video. If you can find something you’re inspired by, that will help motivate you and give you some goals to work toward.
2. Be resourceful. Roller skates are expensive, which can scare some beginners away. Use what you have; a borrowed pair of skates and an empty parking lot can take you far. Use Youtube and Instagram to search for tutorials and tips. Call people you know who are skaters and ask for their help getting set up.
3. Be nice to yourself. It’s easy to think you look dumb or to be embarrassed or frustrated and then quit skating. If you’re gentle with yourself, you can learn from each fall and keep going. Skating is “super mind over matter,” Dauterive says.
4. Find some good music. Use music to set the mood and then get to skating. For inspiration, check out Dauterive’s playlist below.
5. Wear safety pads to avoid unnecessary injuries. Protective gear can also help you feel safer and less afraid of falls when you’re starting out.
Over the past year, as trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — which struck Black and Latinx communities hardest — was multiplied by grief over the violence against Black Americans doing everyday things, it was meaningful for Dauterive, a young Black woman in a predominantly white city, to put on a pair of skates and groove. It was a way for her to invest in her happiness and freedom, to reconnect with her physical body and be present in the moment.
“I definitely think I’ve been prioritizing myself and what I like more,” she said. “I feel like that might be hard for me usually. I definitely think of others first. So finding skating, it definitely made me stand my ground with my joy.”
In the first skating video Dauterive uploaded to @eliseonwheelz, she could only skate forwards. She wore a gray hoodie, jeans and a nervous smile. On her one-year “skate-iversary” on Saturday, Dauterive uploaded another video.
This time, she skated to the same song as on that first day, but weaved around doing backwards loops, shifting her hips fluidly in a pink mini skirt, pink T-shirt and, of course, her signature pink skates.
If you are having trouble seeing the playlist, click here.