Roller skating has been around for a long time, but it went absolutely viral during the pandemic due in large part to TikTok. Videos of roller skaters amassed millions of views as people stuck in lockdown took up skating to fill the time. Terrance Brown was one of them. The former college football player was bored and depressed after losing most of the clients he’d been working with as a personal trainer, until his mom suggested take up roller skating.
“I told her that skating was for girls,” he laughs. “But she admitted the whole reason she’d been into skating as a teenager was so that she could get hit on by the guys at the rink. That pretty much sold me on it.”
Three years into skating and Terrance has become an anchor point for an entire community of roller skaters in Santa Barbara, California. His donation-based nonprofit, SB Rollers, offers weekly meetups where skaters come to make friends, dance to local DJs and work on their skills. Terrance has his sights set on building a permanent place for skaters while finding his own viral fame, but he’s also in it for the simple joy of skating. “I skate every single day. I pack my skates in my suitcase with me when I can’t skate here,” he says. “Roller skating saved my life.”
As told to SeaVees. Photography by Johnie Gall
“People always ask me how I got so good at skating, and I have to credit it to being a little Black kid who was forced to dance at family cookouts before I could have my plate of food [laughs]. In Black culture, you have to dance if you don’t want to starve. In all seriousness, I think a lot of it comes down to my background as an athlete because running drills requires a lot of coordination and footwork.
Growing up in the inner city of Miami, I thought football was my only ticket out. You see players make it to the big leagues on TV and buy their moms new houses and cars, so that’s the dream I stuck with. Eventually the offers from colleges started rolling in. The problem was, I got homesick the minute I landed in Alabama for school, and I called my mom and asked her if she’d pick me up. My poor single mother ended up renting a car and coming to rescue me. I tried to go to school again, this time at Kansas State, and again I gave up after two semesters. Quitting and starting over became a cycle in my life.
I’d lost sight of that dream that had motivated me for so long, and without that I fell into a deep depression. One of my friends was living out in Santa Barbara, California at the time and invited me out to just clear my head. The local city college’s football field was right next to the ocean, there were these beautiful palm trees, the weather was perfect — this place felt like Miami and I knew I wanted to stay. I couldn’t disappoint my mom again though, so I enrolled in classes and everything changed for me. I got on the football team, got back in shape, bonded with my teammates. Everything was going well and I had finally achieved something on my own. Then the week before the first game, I tore my achilles tendon. When I told my mom, she said she was proud of me because the only thing that mattered to her was that I took control of what I actually had control over in my life.
“I’d lost sight of that dream that had motivated me for so long, and without that I fell into a deep depression."
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was working as a personal trainer and lost about 80 percent of my clients. I was making just enough to pay the bills and felt myself slipping back into that depression. So I did what I always did and called mom for advice, and she suggested I take up roller skating to stay in shape and keep my mood up. She’d never let me skate growing up because I might injure myself and not be able to play sports. I was like, ‘Mom, you never let me skate, are you sure?’ and she was like, ‘Boy, you can do whatever you want, you’re a grown man!’
I bought a pair of skates and went down to a skating rink to sign up for lessons. The oldest skater in my class besides me was about seven. It was me and a bunch of little kids learning how to balance and go through cones, and I was by far the worst skater there. But I had so much free time I just kept practicing. I didn’t have money for more lessons so I’d watch these other skaters on Instagram or Youtube and practice their moves over and over and over again, filming myself on a tripod. Eventually I worked up the confidence to start skating on the bike path by the beach, and that’s where I started exchanging numbers with a few other skaters.
“I didn’t have money for more lessons so I’d watch these other skaters on Instagram or Youtube and practice their moves over and over and over again.”
We started meeting up every Saturday down by the harbor in Santa Barbara. I became our organizer. I think people gravitated toward me because of how I was dancing and also my style — I’d really dress it up every time. It got bigger and bigger every weekend. We’d be going down the bike path in the straight line and people would hop on like a train — I’d yell at anyone on wheels to turn around and join us. It was a real party and it got rowdy enough that the city confronted me about it, saying the boaters were complaining about us being in the way. I figured school was out and the city college parking lot was empty, so we started meeting up there. I ended up connecting with the people behind the brand Hammies — they make these retro corduroy shorts — and we worked together to throw roller skating parties. It just took off from there.
I suggested we call ourselves SB Roll Bounce, based on the name of this roller-skating movie. It didn’t really have a good ring to it, so we called ourselves SB Rollers instead. I made an Instagram account for our group, and it grew a lot through that — 40 to 50 people of all ages and backgrounds come out every week now. We have community skate days with DJs, we have themed ‘80s skate parties. I never had a plan to create this community, it just happened organically and because I have a background as a football captain, I’m always the one making sure my family is good. If I see you skating and you’re struggling and repeating the same thing, I’m going to help you out. This is a place where you can come and have fun and forget about how hard life is for a few hours. It’s an opportunity for joy. We all cheer each other on — when we post our videos from these events, I just look at them and go, “Man, I really be touching people’s lives!’ [laughs].
“I have a background as a football captain. I’m always the one making sure my family is good.”
We registered SB Rollers as a nonprofit and I’m listed on the document as the CEO, and there are challenges that come with that. Everyone wants something different each week. Sometimes I don’t think people realize I have a whole life outside of this organization. I put a donation box out at every skate day, and I try to make it as obvious as possible, but sometimes I go over and check the box and it’s almost empty. I know people are having fun and might forget, but that means I have to pay the guys running the sound system and DJing out of my own pocket.
My dream for SB Rollers is to get a permanent space for skaters in the city so we can do this every single day. Right now we’re only allowed to do this on Sundays and we have to try to have as much fun as possible so it can last the whole week. I kind of forget to dream for myself a lot of the time, but I’d love to become one of the biggest skaters in the world, travel and show up in brand campaigns, get out on some stage and be the face of roller skating. What’s important to me is rollerskating and being mentally healthy because I wasn’t for such a long time.
“Decide on your purpose for each day the night before because then you wake up already ahead of the game.”
My dream for others is for them to get to their destinations, because if you’re feeling stuck then you’re uncomfortable and you start fighting yourself. If you’re sitting down and your back hurts, you adjust how you’re sitting, right? That’s what you have to do with life; you’ve got to keep it moving. My advice for chasing your dream is to decide on your purpose for each day the night before because then you wake up already ahead of the game. Everyone wants something out of life but not everyone takes a chance on it. But it’s okay if you fail because it’s not a loss, it’s just learning one way of not doing it the next time. So keep that drive and maintain the courage because the only person who can prevent you from doing what you want to do is the one in the mirror.”
Terrance wears the Men's Royal Runner in White.