Veterans of Vert - Irene Ching
To fly, float and soar, that’s the best feeling ever!
Meet Irene Ching, most likely the top female quad skater our generation will see. Irene has been hitting parks for over 30 years and still shreds to this day. Read on to find out what drives this incredible woman to keep skating to this day, and if you're New York-based, you could be lucky enough to join her for a session!
What was it that drew you to roller skates?
That feeling of gliding, it’s almost like flying, the sensation of floating that’s so good. It started with ice skating, then roller skating due to sheer accessibility and convenience. We grew up with very little, next to nothing. I was so stoked to get my first pair of skates. As a child, I dreamt of ice-covered towns so that we could skate anywhere and everywhere.
You first started as a street skater, often hitching rides from cabs and trucks, jumping gaps and stairs, was this a regular sight in NYC in the ’70s?
The term street skater didn’t exist then. Everyone started out skating on the streets and was jumping things as a natural progression. You had to find your playground and the city had plenty of spots to explore. Skitching rides were common. A bit of a sport in itself. How far, how fast, avoiding potholes, drivers trying to shake you off, how long before you’re spotted, etc. It beats pushing and who doesn’t want a free ride uptown? My strategy was to latch onto the driver’s side wheel well. Safest in case of a shortstop or rear-end collision, and you could let the driver know you were there (if you wanted to) or stay low and hidden. Big thanks to Red Kryptos (soft urethane wheels), I got a pair of “real” skates around 1978 from Paragon Sporting Goods. NYC roller skating and skateboarding got a new shot of life, and it was never the same again!
You first ventured onto skateparks around 1978 at Staten Island’s Skateboard City, was it love at first skate?
Yes, indeed it was! The addiction was immediate. My first skatepark, my forever Love! A train, a ferry, another train and then skate about a mile to get there, and it was so worth it! The place was amazing. Filled with clear Plexiglas ramps and ripping skaters. They added a bowl later. Sadly, it didn’t last. It’s a tough business to maintain in NYC and still is.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you pull off your favorite moves on a Vert ramp
The mission was to find a ramp and skate it. It was usually a DIY backyard vert or a small launch ramp. Nothing in between until the mid-80s. Vert, that’s where the hang time is! Carving fast and flowing feels good.
"To fly, float and soar… that’s the best feeling ever!"
Skating has opened some very cool doors for you. Can you tell us about a few of your favorite experiences?
The ultimate best thing about skating? The lifelong friendships and memories made along the way. Irreplaceably priceless! Having my son grow up skating with me and progressing and learning alongside him was so rad. We traveled around a lot and did demos during the summer months.
Way too many stories to tell, here’s a couple:
— The time, my then 8-year-old, comes running in to tell me how excited he was that he was asked to autograph a fan’s shoe. The look on his face, just awesome!
— The gathering at Woodward West in 2004 was pretty amazing, a dream come true. The wicked crew of campers and the mind-blowing skating that went down. Crazy to finally meet and skate with all the best roller skaters in the world!
— Traveling to meet and skate. Thanks to the internet, I found my peoples!
Can you tell us about the most significant influences from the ’70s and ’80s? Who they were and how you followed them?
We grew up on skateboard mags that were hard to get, so any pics were gold to us. Pics of roller skaters were so rare and coveted. Kenny Means, Jimi Scott, Duke Rennie, and Fred Blood were the only ones that existed in my world at the time. I’ve got my favorite skateboarders, too.
Everyone around me skateboarded and a handful roller-skated, too, though not often. A lot was left up to the imagination. Not even videotape, not yet, lol. It wasn’t until the early 80s that roller skating hit mainstream TV. I was already a regular fan of ABC’s Wild World of Sports, but when they televised the bowl contest in California, I was blown away!
Was there a female scene of skaters in NYC?
I knew of a couple of female skateboarders. Skaters were pretty scattered around the city, so we’d posse up and go skate spots. The city was pretty gritty in the late ’70s. We’d hear about spots to skate and other skaters at the local shop and hung out there to meet them while checking out the new mags and goods. So, it was a matter of luck and timing, who and what we discovered. Always an adventure and mostly pleasant surprises were had.
"There are way more ladies rolling today tearing it up!"
Social media has enabled all of us to connect, ending the isolation and making it possible to share this thing we love! The ladies have their unique style and energy. It’s great that the girls today don’t have to battle as hard for their rightful place at the parks. Love the fellas, but it’s nice to chill on the testosterone sometimes. Besides, the young ladies are killing it!!! It just gets better every year.
You co-manage the Chicks in Bowls NYC Chapter, is there a growing scene in New York City?
Currently, we have a few dedicated park roller skaters. Last year, visitors from Sweden, Finland, California, and Florida came to skate NYC with us. Before CIB and Moxi, I’ve often tried to entice derby skaters into the parks. Not interested, due to practice schedules and risk of injury.
— Much credit goes to Jay Cloetens, who organizes the annual RollerCon Skatepark Tour in Las Vegas. It was here that I discovered that derby had hit the skateparks.
I’ve recently noticed a surge of renewed interest in roller-skating parks. Perhaps, the Dying Breed will live on! This thought makes me HAPPY … knowing a new generation of skaters will be enjoying themselves, wearing big smiles all day long. Hopefully, more will come out and join us. Thank you to Jess Holland, for setting up the Chicks in Bowls NYC Chapter.
What would you say to mothers and fathers who have kids wanting to get into aggressive quad skating?
It's the best thing for your kids. See the grinning faces and the looks of success, when they land a trick that has challenged them. You set your own goals. You can’t cheat, you have to earn it. Get up and try again and again = toughness & persistence. No rules, no coaches, not a team sport, it’s all on you what you want and needs to accomplish. Character building at it’s finest. The best people you’ll ever meet, skate big curves.
Football, contact sports, etc. are more dangerous physically they’re gunning for you and trying to hurt you. Skating is just between you and the ride of choice. The range of creativity is entirely up to you. No peer pressure, unless they’re jock pricks (and therefore don’t belong in skateparks), because it isn't that kind of sport.
Parents use common sense. It’s akin to playing in traffic. Observe, see the traffic flow, look everywhere, and when the timing is right, take your turn or your child will get body-slammed hard, which is no-one’s fault. It happens. Show respect to the locals. The best time is when it’s empty, say early when the big kids are still asleep, and the park is all yours!
Any last words?
Though I never landed one, 540s are still fun to try (on wood, not concrete, that is) I got pretty close once, one skate rolling, the other leg knee sliding, so scared to put both skates down. It’s exciting to see the opening — similar to tunnel vision; it’s right there in front of your face! Stay strong, roll long. Take care of your body. Avoid twisting injuries, opt for the straight on slams.
Baby steps. Basics first and breakdown tricks, focusing on landing and then going bigger. Take time to learn to fall correctly, especially knee sliding. It’s all part of learning new skills. And, it will save your ass from the pain.
"My mom is still waiting for me to outgrow it."
Skating will always present challenges and risks; I guess that’s what makes it so fun, right? Also, I encourage you all to try side-stance skating. Try it on flat ground, going around objects and see how you do. You might like it. After my first six months on a ramp, I tried sidestance and never went back. For some, it just feels better. A lower center of gravity and a true frontside/backside.
Transition, curves, vert, skatepark skating will only enhance your derby skills.
Remember, life is like skating; it has its ups and downs!
And, try as you may, you can’t help, but keep coming back for more!