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City Living: Memories roll out with roller disco

Sunset Beach the scene for social on wheels

Among the children digging their fingers into their parents’ forearms, too afraid to push off on their roller skates on the asphalt at Sunset Beach and the fit women cornering with the low, wide stance of those familiar with the derby track, was Brad Teeter.

Teeter has shoulder-length white hair that the wind picked up a little more with each turn he took faster around the roller disco Arrival Agency set up Friday night as part of its Sunset Beach Social that also featured ping pong tables, an art market, and food trucks. The ‘‘rink” was a nondescript slab of pavement sectioned off from the beach parking lot with road barriers. But add a tent with free roller skate rentals compliments of Rollergirl and a wall of boomboxes cranking Donna Summer and the Bee Gees and memories happened.

“The last time I went rollerskating was back in the ‘70s,” said the grinning Teeter an hour into his appearance. “I first put them on — and they’re very generous in lending out their skates — and I felt like I had two left feet at first. Then it started coming back. Back in the day, I used to be a roller skater.”

Roller disco was the thing for Teeter, now 59, during his high school years in Ontario. He and his friends would frequent an outdoor rink in Sauble Beach as well as skate in Port Elgin, a town that once had a roller skating rink in the 1880s.

“It was exciting, there was a lot of sexual tension. And it was the place to put your hair down and let it all hang out. It was a time to show off, and this brings it all back, they’ve even got the same music going. I haven’t skated since I was in Ontario, and I left Ontario in 1979.”

For Danny Fazio, one of the creative brains behind Arrival Agency — which is responsible for such projects as reinventing the Waldorf Hotel, reopening the Fox Cabaret and hosting the Food Cart Fest — the idea to include roller disco in the Sunset Social’s inaugural summer was born out of California beach culture. In Venice Beach, quads were once so popular that, in 1978, then-Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley declared the place to be the “roller skating capital of the world.”

It’s also a draw that goes beyond the typical Vancouver beach scene of volleyball and, when it appears, lying under the sun.

“I’m a lifetime Vancouverite and I don’t come down to the beach enough because I’m not an outdoorsy kinda guy,” said Fazio. “But I like food and I like ping pong and I like rollerskating and markets. This beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.”

While Arrival Agency has made itself known for injecting some life into Vancouver’s arts and cultural scene to help the city shed its tired “No Fun City” moniker, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s only thinking of the nightlifers.

“I think a lot of our approach to programming is very inclusive,” said Fazio. “We like to do cool things that appeal to a really broad range of people… Community events that also have a little bit of an edge to them.”

While the Social’s roller disco rink ranked high on the novelty scale, it wasn’t the first time roller skating made an organized appearance on Beach Avenue. Just down the street, on the corner where Beach meets Denman, the Imperial Roller Skating Rink opened in 1907. According to the Vancouver Province newspaper, it was the “largest skating floor on the continent” and since disco was decades away from making an appearance on the airwaves, hordes of skaters were treated to live music from Trandall’s Military Band that played on the rink’s bandstand. The Imperial was short-lived however, as it burned down in 1914.

Speaking of short-lived, this was Sunset Social’s third and final appearance until next summer but those roller skates may serve well for a costume for Arrival’s next endeavor — a Halloween party at the Hotel Vancouver.

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