How Black roller skaters put St. Louis skate style on the map
St. Louis' skate style is known across the country. Young skaters and OGs — a term of endearment for someone who’s been rolling for more than 20 years — agree that St. Louis’ style is smooth.
“Every city has their own flavor and their own style, but St. Louis has this style that out of everybody, you stick out like a sore thumb because we're more intricate in our moves and more on a laid back-pace,” said Chris Sims, an OG skater, on a recent Saturday at Coachlite Skate Center in Bridgeton.
Coachlite and Skate King in Pine Lawn are two popular places to skate. In business for more than 50 years, Skate King is the oldest Black-owned rink in the region.
Skating is particularly popular for Black St. Louisans. It first gained hold during the Civil Rights Movement. At the rink, many Black people felt that they could more freely express themselves without facing discrimination.
Skate King is where Easha Griffin, 17, was skating on a recent weekend. She said she’s been skating all her life but started taking it seriously two years ago.
Among her peers, she’s known as the “Ballroom Queen.” The two-person ballroom style of skating is one style that St. Louis is known for.
“St. Louis ballroom will be my most favorite,” Griffin said. “I really like slow sets you can ballroom to. It's gonna get me every single time.”
Griffin takes lessons from Xavier Alexander, the founder of Skate Swagg Elite. Not only does Alexander, who’s known as Professor X in the skate community, teach how to skate, he views it as his responsibility to mentor the next generation of skaters.
Now 38, Alexander has been skating since he was 12 years old. The respected skater has even invented his own move, the X-slide, inspired by another signature St. Louis skate style: the STL shuffle, also known as the G-slide. The STL shuffle is a good example of how intricate St. Louis skate style can be.
“So it starts out with the STL shuffle,” Alexander said of the X slide, “but then I go off into two half-spins, and then it goes into sliding backwards with the right foot on the left, and then at the end of the slide, you actually put one foot left, pivot to the front, and then you come around on that pivot landing in a split.”
Alexander grew up in St. Louis’ Ville neighborhood and first learned to skate at Saints Roller Rink in Olivette, which closed in the early 2000s. He started skating on inline skates, then moved to quads when he saw Chris Sims and other OGs skating on black leather boots and four wheels. Sims took Alexander under his wing when he saw potential in him as a teenager.
Skating has played an important role in Alexander’s life. He’s approaching six years of sobriety through his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, and his skate family has been instrumental.
“When I have a bad day, I go skate and then I have a good day,” he said. “For me, it's been huge for my sobriety. I substituted going to bars and out to drink for the love of skating.”
Alexander isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He and other OGs, including Sims, Al Cubb and Chester Evans, hold skate lessons every Saturday at Coachlite.
“For the people that's out here, if you don't know how to skate, that's OK. That's why we got classes to come out here and learn something new,” said Evans.
Cubb added that it’s the responsibility of OGs in the community to pass on St. Louis’ skate style. “Everyone, for the most part, loves what they're doing, especially the people who actually teach St. Louis skate style. They're really passionate about what they're doing,” he said.
Hear more about St. Louis roller skating and Alexander’s journey in this episode of St. Louis on the Air. Find it on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
What: Skills on Wheels presents the 25th annual Super Skating Extravaganza
When: April 28-30
Where: Various locations in Bridgeton and St. Louis
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.