The first rule of Skate Club is: Tell your friends about Skate Club.
Members of the informal social media group met for their first gathering Sunday.
With winter weather and COVID precautions in place, group founders said they wanted to help facilitate safe in-person gatherings.
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Skating seemed to be a natural fit.
“This is like Minnesotans’ version of soccer,” said Rosei Skipper, one of the group’s co-founders.
The idea occurred to her when friend and ice-skating instructor Maggie Panetta invited Skipper to go skating at Soldiers Field. The City Parks Department covers the track with ice in the winter to facilitate ice skating.
“I can’t believe I lived here for 10 years and didn’t realize skating was right there and basically free,” Skipper said.
She decided she wanted her friends to join her next time, and established the Skate Club on Facebook. People can use it to meet up with friends, meet new friends, or even coordinate pick-up hockey games.
The pandemic and cooler weather has cut down on safe options for social activities.
Monty Flinsch, who found the event on social media, prepared hot cocoa and fresh baked cookies on a camping stove from the back of his car. He declined payment — even tips.
“We need this,” he said. “It’s been a long, isolating year, to say the least.”
Skipper said she was unsure how many people were there because of the club and there on their own. However, the popularity of skating cuts both ways. Ice skates are hard to find right now.
“I’m pretty sure most of my friends who came didn’t have skates,” Skipper said.
"We're flying through skates like you wouldn't believe," said Kennis Knapp, daughter of Ama La Vita Boutique owner Ginger Knapp.
During most ice-skating seasons, the store sells a dozen pairs of ice skates per week. Lately, Ginger Knapp has had to make multiple runs to her supplier in Red Wing each week for about two dozen pairs per trip. Her husband volunteers his time to help sharpen skates on his days off. That's almost become a second job, Ginger said.
She said the jump in demand took her by surprise, but upon reflection, she understands why so many people are lacing up.
"I think it's because people can do it outside with their friends," she said.
Joan Cadena, who brought her 7-year-old daughter, Juliana, and 1-year-old son, Malachi, to skate, wasn’t able to find a pair of skates for herself.
“We’re just trying to find something to get us out of the house,” she said.
Cadena and her husband, Robbie, moved to Rochester from North Carolina. Before that, the family lived in Texas. Staying inside hasn’t been fun for them.
“It’s been pretty rough with COVID,” Joan said. “Getting out here is worth it; it’s not so cold if you’re moving.”
Embracing the cold with activities is key for a fun winter, said Xavier Zawaira, 9, who went ice skating Sunday.
“It’s fun, everyone should try it,” he said. “Another fun thing is playing in the snow, throwing snowballs, and having fun in the snow.”
Last winter, 6-year-old Shiori Furuta took ice-skating lessons. This year, lessons haven't been available because of the pandemic, but her parents were happy to let her take a few spins around the track on her own while they helped her younger brother, 3-year-old Jutaro Furuta, figure out his skates.
Skipper said she took one lap. The skates she borrowed from a friend weren’t sharp and one size too small.
She intends to be back next week.
“We’ll be here next Sunday,” Skipper said. “There’s a lot of winter still left.”