Roller Jam: Every night is '80s night at South Florida roller rinks

“Spring Love” by Stevie B:

Miguel Carver looks devilishly happy as he rounds the corner of the roller rink. He skates close to the inside of the oval, bent slightly forward, lost in his own world. The DJ spins a freestyle classic from 1988 — Stevie B's "Spring Love." It's one of Miguel's favorite songs. He shakes his tush to the synthesized beat.

Wendi Koontz
Miguel Carver demonstrates his signature rolling split.
Photos by C. Stiles
Miguel Carver demonstrates his signature rolling split.

At the next corner, 51-year-old Miguel turns to skate backward. His shoulder-length brown hair, short on top and long in the back, flaps in the air. His black jeans, black T-shirt, and black country-western belt signal hell on wheels. Miguel likes to drop into rolling splits as he approaches skaters who might, for a second, think he's about to take them down.

But "Spring Love" is a romantic song. So Miguel channels his inner Don Juan. He rests his tongue between his lips in anticipation. It's time for his signature lambada-on-skates move, which consists of one hand fist-pumping the air, the other flat against his stomach, hips wriggling in front of an imaginary dance partner.

Miguel, a receiving manager at a Home Depot, is one of the loyal skaters who frequent "Flashback Thursdays" at Galaxy in Davie. The adults here like the freestyle songs popular in South Florida during the 1980s — the skaters' glory days. There used to be about a dozen rinks down here filled with skaters every day of the week; I know because I used to be one of those skaters. Only a handful of rinks remains. Likewise, only a fraction of us who used to roll in this uniquely South Florida fashion, to tunes recorded here, still hit the rinks.

Galaxy itself appears suspended in time. Three large disco balls whirl above the maple skating floor. A flashing light show incorporates every color of the rainbow. The rink walls are covered in black carpet with bold geometric shapes — hot-pink triangles, lime-green squares — that glow under black lights.

There's a faint moldy smell, like gym shoes after P.E., that mixes with the aroma of piping-hot pizza. A sticker machine with flat metal plates waits to swallow quarters; slide in the coins and a sparkly animal-shaped surprise will pop out. It still costs 50 cents to rent a locker. Arcade games like Donkey Kong, Street Fighter II, and Mortal Kombat appear as if they haven't seen action in years.

All this nostalgia occasionally attracts novice skaters in costume. Tonight, they're Nova Southeastern University students too young to have experienced the styles they're mocking. Girls with crimped side ponytails and boys wearing short athletic shorts congregate at the rental counter. One girl is a dead ringer for Madonna in the singer's 1984 "Like a Virgin" video. "It's '80s night," a guy in a blond mullet wig informs me.

A few Galaxy regulars are psyched to see fresh faces. A true skater, they say, relishes navigating a packed floor. Others cast sideways glances at the Nova students, who baby-step on brown suede rental skates with four orange wheels. A serious skater would never be caught in rental skates.

Miguel began skating when he was 16. He met his ex-wife at Galaxy. "She was pretty good — not as good as me — but she was real cute in her little outfits. Leotards."

Miguel opts to sit out the rest of the session. He sits down at a royal-blue laminate snack table. Across from him is Matt Claus, a 31-year-old speed skater who has torn it up at this rink since he was little. Matt has piercings that dot his face and dark, shiny hair that's long enough to pull into a ponytail. He rolls his pale-blue eyes at the Nova interlopers. The newcomers skate along the rink walls, in clear violation of protocol that gives speed skaters right of way at the outside edges of the skating floor. "It's always '80s night when they're here," he says.

Matt says he got kicked out of several high schools for making mischief. Apparently his mischievous streak is still strong. "All right," Matt announces, "I'm gonna go back out and see how many people I can run over. I've already taken out, like, 20 of them."

Miguel is puzzled as to why people would want to roller-skate in costumes. He decides: Hey, whatever floats their boats, right? He guesses that the young man dressed in the burgundy pantsuit is going for the gay cowboy look. And maybe, he ventures, those guys wearing fluorescent-yellow construction vests as shirts are merely showing off their toned biceps.

But what about the business-up-front, party-in-the-back wigs? I tell Miguel that the guys in wigs are borrowing a popular '80s hairstyle. He mentions metal bands like Queensrÿche and Cinderella and coos, "God, I love that music!"

Miguel's own hair used to flow down his back, all the way to the waistband of his pants. But about seven years ago, he asked a barber to chop his hair like Billy Ray Cyrus circa 1992: short on top, superlong in the back. But Miguel fell asleep in the barber's chair, and when he awoke, his locks only reached his shoulders. "I wanted to cry," he remembers.

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