It is likely that the first roller skate was invented in the mid-1700s. The modern roller skate, a device with four wheels, two attached to the forefoot capable of making a pivot, and two wheels attached to the rear, was introduced in 1863 by American James Plimpton (1828–1911). The subsequent development of wheels that rolled easily, using internal ball bearings, greatly enhanced the performance of the roller skate. This design would become known as the "quad" skate, to differentiate it from the later and very popular inline skate.
Dedicated roller skating rinks became popular places of recreation in the 1930s, reflecting a corresponding public interest in various musical genres such as disco into the 1980s. Roller hockey, a game played on an enclosed surface with skaters who used a stick to direct a ball into a goal, also acquired a measure of international status. In the 1950s, roller derby, a sport that blended roller skating and physical, often contrived, contact, gained a solid fan base through the medium of television in North America.
The skateboard was created through the attachment of a wooden platform to roller skate wheels. Skateboarding is a hugely popular recreational activity, especially among young males, throughout the world. Skateboarding is also a competitive sport, with its athletes performing often extremely risky jumps, half pipe maneuvers, and other tricks; competitive skateboarding is often referred to as an extreme sport.
The advent of the inline skate changed roller skating, both in terms of the competitive sporting opportunities it afforded the participant, as well as the recreational opportunities it made available. The inline skate was first developed in the 1980s as a possible off-season training aid for ice hockey players. The skate was constructed in a fashion similar to that of the hockey skate, with four or five wheels aligned in a row, each constructed of a friction-educed plastic compound. An inline skater could travel much faster that a quad skater and users found that the inline design permitted a skater to cross rougher surfaces, such as pockmarked asphalt roads or sidewalks with relative ease. The American company, Rollerblade, Inc., became the industry leader by the mid-1990s, to the point where the company name became synonymous with the skating activity.
Inline skates became standard equipment in several sports, including inline hockey, which is a game played where similar tactics and strategies to those of ice hockey are employed, as the inline skate has similar turning, stopping, and acceleration characteristics to those of the ice hockey skate. Another sport is speed skating, where the inline competitor races on an oval similar to that of the ice skaters, using identical race tactics. Distance races, conducted on courses such as those used by distance runners, ranging from 2-mi (5 km) routes to the marathon (26.2 miles, or 42.2 km). Skaters in these races use the same techniques concerning drafting, the formation of the skating pack, breaks and teamwork as are employed in cycling road races.
For fitness and recreational purposes, inline skating became a means of transport, using urban cycling paths, and as a summer training aid for cross-country skiers, particularly those athletes who employ the skating method of cross-country racing. The inline wheels are attached to a modified ski, and the athlete can replicate the skiing motion with poles and leg action on a road or other hard surface.
Roller skating in all forms can be an aerobic or an anaerobic exercise, depending on the application. Roller skating requires efficient function of all of the muscle groups that form the leg structure; the gluteal (buttocks), groin, and abdomen are also important to the skating function as the skater must continually maintain balance. The ideal skating posture is similar to the stance often described as an athletic stance, or crouch with the body's center of gravity lowered through the bending of the legs, and the arms positioned for balance and the head erect.
Roller skating is also a sport that places emphasis on a flexible and limber body. Stretching exercises that involve the entire body will assist the athlete in develop the requisite form to achieve speed and to maintain balance through cornering, turning, and any changes of direction.
The most common forms of injury due to roller skating are the form of abrasions known as road rash, caused when the skater slides along the road surface or ground after a fall, and the variety of muscle pulls and strains that may occur through either overexertion or a lack of flexibility in a muscle group.