Nelson Roller Sports Club
The Nelson Roller Sports Club is one of the longest running clubs in the country and is fortunate to have owned this permanent facility at the Tahunanui Beach Council Reserve since its inception in the 1950s.
The outdoor skating rink and ancillary buildings were built in the early '50s by Dave Davies on Nelson City Council land. Keith Martin, an energetic advocate for amateur sports, started free coaching sessions on Saturday mornings, but after a disagreement with Mr. Davies who wanted to charge the youngsters, the newly formed Nelson Amateur Roller Skating Club left the rink for several years and found alternative venues at Tahunanui School, the YMCA and on a large concrete slab at the airport.
The Rink Nearly Lost
In 1957 the owner of the rink Mr. Davies found the business unviable and decided to close it down and have the concrete removed. At the last minute Mr. Martin negotiated a meeting and a sum of 900 pounds was offered to Mr. Davies. Thereafter the skating rink was owned by the amateur club and a peppercorn rental paid to the Council. The club was determined to make skating available to everyone and only charged for special events while parents raised funds to improve and rebuild the facilities.
Mr. Martin learnt skating techniques by trial and error, or from overseas ice-skating books, as there were no roller skating manuals. Teams from the Nelson club travelled away to many South Island and National Competitions and still do. Mr. Martin later became President of the Amateur Roller Skating Association of New Zealand (for four years) and was on the New Zealand Olympic and Empire Games committee at the time when amateur and professional sports bodies were sorting out the rules of amateur status.
Over the years new buildings and extensions were added to the Tanunanui facility - four tiered seating, a refreshment shop, skate hire-repair shop, dressing room, ticket box and an eight foot high corrugated iron fence.
In order to create an all-weather/ all-season facility, the rink was roofed in 1983 and in 1986 the sides were enclosed. The facility was last upgraded in 2001 with new seating and the rink resurfaced with a specialised blue epoxy for smoother rolling and a better grip. The floor was repainted in 2013.
The Nelson rink is one of the best training facilities in New Zealand, although there hasn’t been the same access to coaching and competitions as there is in the North Island, where weekly and fortnightly tournaments have flourished. As with any code, roller skating comes and goes in fashion. It was hugely popular throughout the world in the 1970s and '80s and, once again, there has been a revival with the advent of Roller Derby in the last couple of years.
The Nelson Roller Sports Club sees itself primarily as a sports Club for the various codes - artistic, inline hockey, speed skating and roller derby, and secondarily as a public facility for skating, discos and private functions.
Skating in the 1950s was very different to now. Judith Griffiths and Heather Thomas (both nee Martin) were seven and four years old when they first clipped skates to their shoes in 1950s. At the time, circular skating skirts worn just above the knee caused a stir, especially when knickers were flashed when spinning or jumping!
The Nelson club’s first nationals were held in Napier in 1955, with members dressed in club uniforms and singing their club song! Heather was third in the kindergarten freestyle, and soon held South Island Freestyle titles in Kindergarten Juvenile, then junior age groups.
To raise the standard of New Zealand skaters, several teams of world-ranked skaters visited the country. Heather and Judith toured with them, sometimes performing in small town community halls if there were no rinks. All members were encouraged to participate in the YMCA’s Gym Frolics or Christmas Cracker shows. Parents spent many hours creating the costumes, as well as ‘floats’ for civic parades.
Monique Hippolite and her four older siblings and parents were all heavily involved in the Nelson skating scene for many years. Born in 1978 Monique was given her first pair of skates when she was two and, at four years of age, competed in the New Zealand Nationals. Monique won the Pacific Junior Figure title for five consecutive years (1991-1996) and the Senior Trans Tasman Figure title the following two years. In 1994 she was voted the New Zealand Junior Maori Sportswoman of the year and in 1995-6 was voted Nelson Sportswoman and Sportsperson of the year. At 17 she represented New Zealand in the Junior World Roller Skating Championships held in Colombia and upset world rankings by taking the bronze medal in the compulsory figures event behind two American skaters.
Dion Bunt started skating in 1989 and says hanging out at the rink with his young mates kept them all out of trouble! Dion started playing roller hockey before switching to inline hockey and was instrumental in getting inline hockey going in Nelson. At 14 he played in the Nelson Senior Men’s Club team and continued to do so for 10 years before moving to Christchurch. At 19 he represented NZ Senior Men’s team and was the NZ Senior Men’s Captain for 6 years before turning his hand to coaching He was Captain of the Southern Region All Stars for many years. He proudly wears his Number 91 jersey and is well known in NZ and Australia for his tough defense. He has coached various NZ age group teams including the NZ Senior Men in the World Cup in Slovakia. Dion is currently Captain of the NZ Masters Team (2014).
Josh started skating at the rink in 2001 aged four, starting inline hockey when five and attending both afternoon and night public sessions on the weekends. At eight he set himself a goal to play for New Zealand. In 2013 he was selected as Assistant Captain for the NZ Under 16 team and played in the AAU Junior Olympics and FIRS Youth World Cup in Los Angeles, USA. His brother Devon was at the same events playing for the Under 14 team. Josh played for New Zealand against Australia in the annual Oceania Championships held both here in New Zealand and in Australia in 2011. Josh developed his hockey ability at the Nelson rink, and has represented the Nelson Whalers at regional and national level and New Zealand for the last four years.
Skate design evolution
When skates were first invented in the late 18th century they used aluminium wheeled skates but wooden wheels became popular in the 1960s and '70s.
“Wooden wheels were unbeatable for speed”, Ra Hippolite (life member and speed skating referee) said, “the wheels were coated in a type of rubberized glue and the rink sprinkled with chalk for extra grip. When the powder was deemed unhealthy, wheels then switched to synthetic materials but they could never match the speed of the wooden wheels. One drawback of the wooden wheels was that they would sometimes split in the middle of a race. Competitors would often carry a few spares in their pockets to clip on if this happened.” Early skates could also be clipped onto shoes, or screwed to marching boots.
In the 1990s with the arrival of Inline Hockey, a new style of skate was introduced. They soon became the preferred skate as they proved to be far superior for speed. Four wheeled quads however have continued to be used for artistic use and roller derby as they have more versatility for spins and multi directional skating.
Speed skating started in Nelson over sixty years ago when the Club was first formed. Since then the club has produced many national champions in all grades and in most years has had a member represent New Zealand at the Oceania or World Championships. There are three types of speed racing – the 500 metre Road Track (usually run at the Trafalgar Park cycle track), the 100m Flat Track (run at a stadium or the Rink) and the 200 metre Bank Track (closest facility in Blenheim).
Artistic Skating – Figure Skating - Free Skating - Dance - Precision.
Figure skating is a set routine where skaters trace marked figures on the rink surface whereas Free Skating in singles or pairs has a dance element combined with figure skating. Dance follows traditional dance styles and Precision is when a team of skaters skate a routine of formations to music. This can be a mini team of four skaters or any number up to as many as twenty skaters. Precision skating isn’t practiced anymore in Nelson at this time.
Roller hockey was played from the '50s but was overtaken by the new sport of inline hockey in the mid 1990s with rules and guidelines evolving over the years. Inline hockey is one of the fastest games on the planet, played on inline skates (roller blades) with four skaters and a goalie on the rink at one time. A game is made up of four ten minute quarters and has a few simple rules that make the game easy to learn and understand. Inline hockey differs from ice hockey in that it is a non contact sport. Currently the Nelson Whalers, who train and play at the Nelson Rink, have in line hockey teams in U10′s, U12′s, U14′s, U16′s and Senior Men levels. The club hopes to have another woman’s team in the near future.
Roller derby is a female, full-contact roller skating sport played by 10 women at a time. Each team has four "blockers" and one "jammer". The blockers skate in a pack, with a "pivot" keeping the pace, and the other team's jammers have to try to break through the pack. The blockers work at stopping them and the jammers, if successful, start scoring points on their second run. The fast-paced exciting sport has proved popular worldwide with over 1000 leagues worldwide. New Zealand sent a team to Canada in 2011 for the first Roller Derby World Cup. Nelson Bays Sirens of Smash Roller Derby League (SOS) is an amateur sports organization committed to promoting the sport of women’s roller derby. Founded in 2010, they are based at the Nelson Roller rink.
- Ra Hippolite – Patron, Life Member and Speed Skate Referee
- Colleen Hippolite – Patron, Life Member and Artistic Skating Judge
- Alan Bartlett – Life Member and Speed Skating Referee
- Alethea Stove – President, and Inline Hockey Coach and Player
- Kay Harris – Life member, Founder of Inline Hockey in Nelson
- Heather Thomas – daughter of Keith Martin
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Further sources - Nelson Roller Sports Club
- Dickinson, B. E. (1989). Historic Tahuna. Nelson, N.Z.: B. Dickinson.
- The skating rink (1906, July 23) Nelson Evening Mail, p, 2
- Palace skating rink (1906, September 17) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
- Town edition (1888, May 22) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
- Palace roller skating rink (1888, July 25) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2