Rollerblading Versus Inline Skating

How One Company Claimed the Name of a Sport

Young woman roller skating during spring day in the park.
BraunS / Getty Images

The use of "rollerblading" and "inline skating" interchangeably may cause confusion. It may seem like the terms refers to two different activities when in fact they are just two names for the same sport. To be most accurate, "rollerblading" refers to using inline skates by Rollerblade, a specific manufacturer of inline skates. "Inline skating" is more generic and is the proper name for the sport. The confusion comes from the fact that many people say "rollerblading" when what is meant is inline skating in general.

This happened due to the large role that the Rollerblade company played in making inline skating popular. Rollerblade was so successful in marketing inline skates and equipment that the term "rollerblading" was and still is used when referring to inline skating sports. Inline skates are often called "Rollerblades" regardless of which company actually built them. However, Rollerblade did not invent, design, or manufacture the very first inline skates.

To set the record straight, "inline skating" or "inline roller skating" is the official name for "rollerblading" or "blading" sports, and "inline skates" is the correct name for "Rollerblades" manufactured by any other company. If you actually use Rollerblade brand skates, then you are really rollerblading; otherwise, you are inline skating.

The History of Inline Skating

The prominence and success of Rollerblade's skates have overshadowed other manufacturers and left out a lot of the history of roller and inline roller skates.

Although the sport of ice skating—one of the predecessors of inline skating—has been around since as early as 3,000 B.C., the origin of inline skates most likely dates back to 1743 when a London stage actor mentioned them in a performance. However, the original inventor has been lost to history and it wasn't until 1760 that the first documented creation of inline skates took place, when John Joseph Merlin invented a set of skates with a single line of metal wheels—and no breaks—to wear as a publicity stunt to get people into his museum.

Over the next century, inventors from around the world continued to experiment with inline skate design, and in 1819 the first inline skate was patented. Throughout the 1800s, inventors continued to improve on these designs, and 40 years later, in 1863, skates with two axles were developed (roller skating).

Many improvements were introduced over the next 100 years, until 1980 when Scott and Brennan Olson established Ole's Innovative Sports (later, Rollerblade), to produced and sell a set of inline skates with no brake for professional athletes to use to train for hockey and ice skating sports in the off-season.

Their design sparked a global phenomenon in roller sports, propelling both the company and rollerblading into a worldwide success that led the way for the modern inline skates people still use.

The Success of Rollerblade

Although the Olson brother's skating company started as a professional athlete's supply manufacturer, the brothers quickly rebranded their company to Rollerblade and began producing comfortable skates with brakes by 1986, which they sold to everyday athletes and fitness and recreation centers.

By 1990, Rollerblade had gained so much international recognition that people had started using the term "rollerblading" as synonymous with inline skating. As the company continued to develop cheaper, lighter, more controllable, and safer skates, the company dominated the market throughout much of the 1990s.

Although other inline skate companies have sprouted, especially after the invention of the off-road inline skate, the Rollerblade brand has continued to be the driving force behind the industry and stands as a brand preferred by athletes around the world.