‘Competition skaters’ welcome Oaks Roller Rink’s reopening (again)

Here’s why members of the ‘Oaks Skate Club’ are grinning as they whiz and twirl around the Oaks Park Roller Rink in East Portland …

Roller skating enthusiasts can once again lace up their boots and scoot around the hardwood floor at the historic Oaks Park Roller Rink – at least, for the time being.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Like most indoor activities, closures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have created repeated disappointments for both recreational and competition roller skaters across the greater Portland area who regularly skate in the Oaks Park’s famed Roller Rink.

On November 4th they were teased with a reopening of the historic roller rink – the nation’s premier roller skating facility, and the largest rink west of the Mississippi, – only for it once again to be shut down a mere ten days later, by governmental COVID-19 rules.

> To read about that grand, but painfully-brief,
November reopening

However, recently, skaters were elated when Oaks Park Association Marketing and Events Director Emily MacKay happily announced, “Oaks Park Roller Rink is reopening for limited public Open Skate Sessions.

“While we don’t have any assurances that we won’t have to close down again, we feel confident with the improving numbers in Multnomah County that we’ll be able to operate on an ongoing basis, moving forward through 2021.”

Members of the Oaks Skate Club have the rink to themselves on a Saturday morning to work with their coaches, and practice their figure skating techniques.

Oaks Skate Club rolls again
Having the rink closed was an inconvenience for casual roller skaters – but it was devastating to members of the Oaks Skate Club, who train at the rink for competitive roller figure skating and speed skating.

“I’m so glad we can be back here training on Saturday mornings,” smiled the certified USA Roller Sports skating coach of 22 years, Abbigail Hess. “Getting back on the hardwood – well, this is my happy place, where, no matter how crazy the rest of the world is, it’s just me, and the floor, and the music!”

Alexander Hess perfects his figure roller skating form, under instruction from his coach (and mom) Abbigail Hess.

Her student that morning happened to be her son, Alexander Hess, a seventh-grader at Connections Academy. “Mom says I learned to walk at six months old, and they put skates on me at seven months old – so the Oaks Roller Rink is my skating home,” he told East Portland News.

Although it’s unlikely there will be any regional or national competitions which he can enter at his age, he still trains as if he were competing next week. “Roller skating is more than a sport to me; it is a lifestyle,” Alexander observed. “So, being back in the rink allows me to practice this lifestyle in the right place.”

Coach George Kolibaba helps Bobby Hamblin perfect his technique in making perfectly-controlled “roller figure skating” loops.

Meantime Bobby Hamblin, also the youngest to train in competition “figure roller skating” in his own family, was elsewhere on the floor, under the watchful eye of coach George Kolibaba, who’s been training champions at The Oaks since 1970.

“Getting back into the rink restores a sense of normalcy for me,” said Hamblin, a freshman at Roosevelt High School. “It’s really — I mean really – nice to be able to skate again! I’m looking forward to next season when, hopefully, we can be getting back into competitions – and doing it without having to wear face masks! I’m really looking forward to it.”

Oaks Park Roller Rink coach Amy Hamblin displays a “thank you note” from Oaks Skate Club members for being allowed back into the rink.

Bobby’s mom, who is also a coach at the Oaks Park Roller Rink, said that the Oaks Skate Club once had more than 100 members. “Right now we have about 20 active figure skating club members.

“We’re still working to put a safe plan in place for the speed-racer portion of our club to be able to come back and practice,” Hamblin told East Portland News. “By the way; we’re actively recruiting new skaters! See the Oaks Park website for contact information.”

At that time, Emily MacKay confirmed rumors that Oaks Amusement Park was reopening, at least partially, on April 17, which it did. “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to resume the operation of the rides and mini golf, albeit with capacity limitations.”

For information about both recreational and competition roller skating – including restrictions, ticketing and costs – see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

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