Remembering 1970s Rollermania

Published November 11, 2013 by Maryanne

Tommy Lowe and Mike HughesTommy Lowe (Left) and Mike Hughes taking a break at USA Rollerskating Rink, circa late 1970s

(Photo Courtesy of USA Rollerskating Rink, Wayne Face Book page).

Here’s another article I wrote two years ago, had published in The Patch online and then the website changed and all the links were broke. I was thrilled to find it in my in-box, photo included!!

ENJOY, this wonderful, feel-good article I wrote about rollerskating in NJ in the 1970s! Originally published 2010.

Remembering Rollermania in Wayne

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

If reality shows were around in the 1970s, the highest ratings would go to a program revolving around the “United Skates of America, Inc. Rollerskating” rink in the West Belt Mall of the Willowbrook Shopping Center.

Just imagine: gang fights in the parking lots, teen-age make-out sessions in the “penalty box” and overnight skate marathons, unsupervised by parents. It couldn’t get much crazier than that.

But it was “all in good fun” according to Tommy Kosh, a Little Falls resident who ended up falling in love and marrying his wife Eileen, who he met during a “couple’s skate” back in the day.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Kosh. “A lot of great people … it was a great place to grow up. It kept us off the street. The management was great. It was a big family. Everybody knew each other. It was a home away from home. More like a home for me.”

Kosh said the rink was always being jam packed, especially on weekends. The lines would form all around the building. There was a disco night club next door to the rink called Night Moves and a drive-in theatre across the highway. Kosh remembers watching “Grease” while waiting in line to go into the rink. He didn’t mind the long lines and said he went skating four or five nights a week and spent his entire days there on Saturday and Sunday. He also got a job working at the rink to support his good habit. Working at the rink ensured him perks like free food and skating.

Each night offered something special for skaters. Monday nights were family nights; Wednesday nights were “Whacky Wednesdays” (skaters would get in free if they came with a roll of toilet paper). And Friday nights were rock nights, but Kosh said disco music was the best to skate to. “Disco had a better tempo,” he said.

Kosh shared a crazy story about an all night skate event. He got kicked out for throwing a sneaker around like it was a football – while on roller skates. Kosh had no ride home and skated down Route 46, grabbing on to the back of a truck. He held on until he was close to his home. Then he jumped onto the grass to stop himself. “There was no way my skate stoppers were gonna stop me,” he said.

But all good times came to an end when the rink closed in the mid-1980s and it was shocking to the skaters because it happened so suddenly.

“It was like an anthill getting run over by a car,” said Jay Rapp of Wayne. “No ‘farewell skate.’ They kept it on the down-low. We kinda knew that it was gonna happen, but not like that.”

Rapp still enjoys skating, but things have changed. Now instead of disco, house music is played in the rinks. “I like it now because it’s physically active,” Rapp said. “We leave the rink on a Saturday night and I’m drenched. We get tanked and skate ourselves sober.”

Rob Cusmano of Sayreville was also a part of the roller magic in the 1970s. He keeps the essence of roller mania alive by organizing skating reunions every year at a rink in South Amboy. The reunions are not only for people who were fans of the USA rink in Wayne, but other rinks in New Jersey that are also now defunct.

“The perception is that it’s a dying art,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a thing that died. Not having a rink was the problem.” There are still a couple of rinks around. Cusmano frequents rinks in Central Jersey and Staten Island. Cusmano skates for physical fitness and says he will never stop skating. At age 45, he skates with his wife, children and a network of skaters he met on Face Book.

3 comments on “Remembering 1970s Rollermania

  • I miss those days at the rink speed skating. Despite the loud music, flashing lights, and rumbling roll of quads I was lost in my own world, as if no one else was around, as I went around and around the rink. I never liked couples skate, even when I took a girl with me, she often found herself watching me skate by myself, frontwards, backwards, sometimes I throw in a moonwalk, scissor skate or ride on the front two wheels, just lost in my world of skate. I still go now and again and it all comes back only I miss disco. Disco was made for rollermania.

  • i really miss that place! they had donna summer’s “bad girls” for girl skate, i don’t recall what they played for boy skate. so many cool songs, all genres: freebird, rappers delight (we used to tuck our jeans into our knee socks for that one), another one bites the dust, styx, benatar, blondie, the cars, abba, barry manilow, kenny rogers, disco, rock, pop, MOR, all styles were played. sometimes i still have dreams that i am skating there and it’s been closed for a very long time. i went to skaters world in preakness shopping center in wayne until that closed too. now there is nothing close by and there is no way any rink will play all styles of music. i am not on FB anymore but would love to find adults who enjoy skating. i remember there was an “older” guy, probably he was younger than i am now who used to go to USA by himself — he wasn’t gonna let go of skating. i remember wondering if he liked the music of the day (he did dance as he skated) or if he missed his good old days. i know i miss mine.

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