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By Raina Delisle

It’s a social phenomenon and one of the city’s hottest new happenings. Toronto’s Friday Night Skate is a weekly gathering of inline skaters that doubles as a dance party on wheels. Every week in major cities worldwide, hundreds of thousands of skaters take to the streets for mass outings. Music, whistles and costumed skaters create a party atmosphere, stop traffic and bemuse tourists and locals alike.

The original FNS began in San Francisco and has been rolling since the Loma-Preita earthquake of 1989 when enterprising skaters made the damaged Embarcadero Freeway their playground. This skater’s paradise was eventually torn down, but the nucleus of a regular group had been formed.Now a staple of San Francisco culture, it is also an international event.

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As a former regular on London, England’s FNS, I was eager to check out what Toronto’s equivalent had to offer.

My friend and I were the first to arrive at the Queens Quay meeting point. It seemed at first like no one else was going to show – or perhaps I misread the ad – when two keen first timers rolled up to join us.

Andrew Fraser works for the Toronto East Sport and Social Club and received an email about the skate from a colleague. Karen Peterke thought it would be a fun and inexpensive way to spend a Friday night.”You can’t blow $100 at the bars and clubs every night, that’s what Saturday is for!”

Soon the regular skaters featured on the website started to show up bursting with enthusiasm, excited to initiate us newcomers into the group. The mobile music machine was cued up and started pumping out dance beats to get us in the mood. While everyone was getting their gear on and warming up, I chatted with Scott Gervais, the man behind the skate. Gervais is dedicated to the promotion of the sport and the development of a successful skating community in Toronto. He lived in San Francisco for three years where he discovered the FNS.

“Last summer I really missed it,” Gervais said. “Then I thought we could do it here. I looked at a map and thought about a route and what sites of interest would be good to pass by.” Gervais officially launched it this spring.

The Toronto FNS started out small but has been steadily growing with positive word-of-mouth. The skate usually turns out a core group of 10 regulars plus five to 10 drop-ins. A little different from the hundreds I am used to sharing the streets of London with, but most of the skates debuted with a small following. The largest skate that I’ve been on is the Pari-Roller in Paris which boasts up to 20,000 enthusiasts, a number that it took seven years to grow. With the dedicated people I met behind Toronto’s skate, the numbers will skyrocket in the coming years.

“It’s a real mix of people,” Gervais told me. “We have doctors and students. People who have been skating for years and some who have just started.”

“It’s not a clique,” Zarin was quick to add. “Eighty per cent are regulars but that’s just the way it happened. There’s a real cross-section of people.” All are welcome with an invite on the website that reads, “Just come join the friendliest people on eight wheels for a great workout!”

At 9:20 p.m. we were off with a roar. We skated along Queens Quay heading west, dodging traffic and skipping over streetcar tracks until we arrived at the Princes Gates and found salvation on the waterfront trail. We followed the trail all the way to Sunnyside Beach where we took a quick break before crossing the Gardiner Expressway on the pedestrian bridge. This provided the scariest segment yet.

The ride along the bridge with the chunga-chunga of skates made our teeth chatter.

Back in the thick of the traffic we made our way to High Park. Blading around this deserted area at night was surreal and the highlight of the expedition. The tunes of the music machine were changed to suit the mood. We cruised through the park and then zigzagged around the surrounding residential area until we hit our halfway point.

We packed into the local convenience store on Howard Park Avenue and Roncesvalles Avenue to refuel. I was pleasantly surprised not to have to remove my skates, an onerous task, and to see that the regular skaters were known by the owner who was excited by our arrival. “Many new faces tonight,” he said before then asking if we were having a good time. Our energy and enthusiasm spoke for itself.

Trinity Bellwoods Park was our next destination.With a smooth path running all the way to Queen Street West, it’s skaters’ heaven. We passed the bars along Queen Street West to Speakers’ Corner and then headed to the club district on Richmond Street,then down to the Skydome and right through the Air Canada Centre; we were almost back to where we started. High-fives and congratulations were exchanged and the skaters parted ways.

A fantastic idea, well-managed and fun, the FNS has a promising future. It was an exhilarating start to the weekend and I will definitely be back. And all it cost was calories!

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