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Roller skating and skateboarding

by Kerryn Pollock

Roller skating and skateboarding have been popular pastimes, especially among children. They are both also competitive sports in which New Zealanders have gained success at an international level.

Roller skating


People started roller skating in New Zealand in the mid-1860s. This was around the same time as skating grew in popularity in the United States, where the first quad (four-wheel) skates were designed in 1863. Hokitika was probably the location of New Zealand’s first skating rink – one was operating there in 1866, in the midst of the region’s gold rush.

The evils of roller skating

While roller skating was generally seen as a healthy form of recreation in the 19th century, one anonymous naysayer warned that the ‘health of future mothers … may be effected by some apparently insignificant cause during adolescence. There is sufficient reason for the belief that [roller skating] is capable of producing both structural and functional disturbances of a lasting nature’. 1 Such concerns did not prevent the paper from regularly advertising the local rink.

Roller skating takes off

Roller skating became popular in New Zealand in the mid-1880s, a boom period for skating internationally. Indoor rinks, some in converted halls and others purpose-built, opened in cities and provincial towns. Bigger towns and cities had a number of rinks.

Often characterised as a craze, at this time roller skating was a recreational pursuit rather than a sport. While it was subject to boom and bust periods, it was a recreational option in most urban centres in New Zealand from the early 1900s.

Skating as a sport

Roller skating as a sport was placed on an organised footing in 1937 when the New Zealand Roller Skating Association, which held national speed and artistic competitions, was founded. Between 1954 and 1969 a break-away group, the Amateur Roller Skating Association of New Zealand, held separate competitions. The two merged in 1969. In 2013 there were 18 skating clubs around the country.

Speed skating was revolutionised by the introduction of inline skates, which arrived in New Zealand around 1990. Roller hockey is also played on inline skates. In 2013 there were five roller hockey and 22 inline hockey clubs.

Casual skating

People continued to skate recreatinally after roller skating became an organised sport. In the mid-20th century local government, progressive societies and skating clubs built outdoor concrete rinks, which were popular in the summer months. Skating temporarily boomed in the early 1980s in the wake of disco music and new rinks were built. Some continued to cater for casual skaters in the early 2000s.

International events

New Zealand skaters first competed at world championships in 1955. In the early 2000s speed skaters Kalon Dobbin, Shane Dobbin, Scott Arlidge, Peter Michael and Nicole Begg won world titles. Sarah-Jane Jones won medals at world artistic skating championships.

Derby names

A common way of coming up with a derby name is to play on words and alter well-known names and phrases. New Zealand players active in 2012 included Pineapple Thumps, Anne Thrax, Frances Dodgkins, Heidi Contagious, Scarface Clawdia and Kiri Te Karnage. Teams are similarly named, for example Dead Wreckoning and Smash Malice. The names and costumes were originally a way of attracting spectators to a fledgling sport, but have now become part of its culture.

Roller derby

Roller derby is a contact sport in which two teams of five people skate anti-clockwise around an oval circuit. Each team has one ‘jammer’ who must lap the opposing team to score points. The other players block the opposing team’s jammer to stop them from scoring points and to help their jammer.

New Zealand’s first roller derby league – Auckland’s Pirate City Rollers – started competitive bouts in 2007. In 2013 there were 21 leagues, some of which have more than one team. Roller derby is a women’s sport in New Zealand, though a men’s event was held in Napier in 2012.

Roller derby is both a serious sport and an entertainment spectacle. Most teams and players adopt distinctive names and costumes, creating alter egos for themselves on the skating rink. Because of this, roller derby attracts women who would not ordinarily play team sports.

    • Mataura Ensign, 18 May 1888, p. 6. Back



Skateboarding originated in the United States in the 1950s, when surfers made boards with wheels so they could ‘sidewalk surf’. In New Zealand skateboarding was briefly popular in the mid-1960s and permanently resurfaced in the mid-1970s after skateboards were first fitted with urethane wheels – these were smoother and more resilient than the old metal and clay wheels, and prompted a new skateboarding boom.

Skateboarding was seen as a craze and every kid wanted a skateboard. Like bikes for previous generations, skateboards offered freedom and thrills. The mid-1970s boom was not sustained once skateboarding’s newness faded. Nevertheless, a smaller, hardcore group kept skating throughout the 1980s. Skateboarding re-emerged in the late 1980s, gaining new popularity which was sustained in the early 2000s. It has primarily been a male pastime and sport.

Skateboarding is potentially hazardous. Skateboarders in New Zealand have died after falling off their boards or colliding with motor vehicles.

Skateboarder’s prayer

Our father which art on roads
Sidewalk surfer be his name
It will be done on asphalt
as it is on concrete
Give us this day our daily wipeouts
And forgive us our offences
As we forgive those who offend us
And deliver us from cops
For thine is the board
The trucks and the wheels
For ever and ever scarred. AMEN.1

Skateboarding surfaces

The earliest skateboarders rode on urban roads, footpaths, car parks and in parking buildings. Once skateboarding became more established in the late 1970s skateboard parks were built by local councils, community groups and private operators. Some skaters built ramps at their homes so they could do vertical skating (skating up and down a vertical surface).

The arrival of purpose-built facilities did not take skateboarding off the streets, and once the craze ended some of the skateboard parks were demolished.

Uninhibited skating through urban environments was a core element of skateboarding culture and this caused conflict with less freewheeling members of the community. Local councils introduced new bylaws to control where people could use skateboards. Parks were built in the 1990s and early 2000s to provide skateboarders with new surfaces off the streets.


Skateboards are legally classed as vehicles and can be ridden on the road, but skaters do not have to wear a helmet. Skateboarders on footpaths have to ride carefully and considerately, and give way to pedestrians and mobility scooters.

Boards and equipment

The earliest American skateboarders made their own boards from wood and roller-skate wheels, but by the time skateboarding was established in New Zealand commercially made boards were available. Some locals put skateboards together using parts made by different companies. These skateboards were used for freestyle, vertical and street skating.


In 2007 and 2008, New Zealander Robert Thomson travelled through Europe, the United States and China on a longboard. His 12,159-kilometre journey earned him a place in the Guinness book of records for the longest journey by skateboard.

The quiet streets of new hillside suburban developments in the 1970s, such as John Downs Drive in North Shore, were perfect for longboards, which were made for cruising down streets and hills, and for racing. Longboarding became popular again in the early 2000s.

Some skateboarders wear protective gear including helmets and pads.

Competitions and sponsorship

In 1976 a group of New Zealand skateboard manufacturers, surf shop owners and skateboarders set up the New Zealand Skateboarders Association to, among other things, run skateboarding competitions. Businesses and radio stations also sponsored competitions and teams. Regular events were held at Auckland’s Glenfield Mall, watched by thousands of spectators. The three major professional teams of the era were Trax, Edward’s and the Radio Hauraki 1480 Kroozers.

In the early 2000s Cheapskates retail chain sponsored the ‘skateboard nationals’ and from 2008 Wellington hosted Bowl-a-rama, an international professional skateboarding competition. Results from this contributed to world cup skateboarding rankings.

Well-known New Zealand skateboarders

Peter Boronski and Grant MacCredie were the top skaters of the 1970s. MacCredie appeared on the cover of American magazine Skateboarder in December 1979 – a big deal in the skating world. Lee Ralph grew up skating at Auckland’s Skatopia skate park and became a top professional in the United States in the late 1980s. New Zealander Andrew Morrison rode for American company New Deal skateboards in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the 2000s well-known professional New Zealand skateboarders included Bjorn Johnston, Gareth Stehr and Tommy Fynn.

    • ‘Hot Wheels’, Freewheelin, 1976, p. 6. Back

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Kerryn Pollock, 'Roller skating and skateboarding', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 August 2022)

He kōrero nā Kerryn Pollock, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013