Roller Skating saved my sanity in 2020. The world was on the brink of shutting down and I found myself in the United Skates Pro Shop trying on roller skates for the first time in my adult life. I rolled out the door in a pair of pink glitter roller skates with contrasting blue laces. Ten-year-old me would be so proud at this moment. My friends and I fumbled around the roller rink for the remainder of the night, as kids half our age swirled around us, almost knocking us off balance.
The following month local business began to close for COVID. Not letting this stop us from breaking in our new skates, my best friend and I set out to skate the local trails in the Tampa Bay area. Over the last year, I’ve created a rotation of places suitable for roller skating. Each location has a different atmosphere and varying degrees of difficulty. Making it easy to find something for everyone to enjoy.
Courtney Campbell Causeway
As I checked out at the pro shop the employee suggested practicing outdoor skating on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. The pavement is smooth with small elevation changes. Except for the large bridge in the center of the trail, around the 2.5-mile mark, if you’re on the East side of the trail. I have seen skaters bravely scoot to the top. But like a kitten climbing up a tree, getting down is much more difficult. Early in my roller skating adventures, I took a very hard fall while going down a bridge, leaving a lasting impression not only in my mind but on my now scarred knee.
If going over the bridge isn’t in the cards, you will have to choose a side to start skating. The Clearwater side (the West side of the trail) is smoother and less crowded. Here parking is limited to either the Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach and the Courtney Campbell Causeway Shelter. Located at opposite ends of the trail, both with limited parking. The beach location parking is in the sand at the water’s edge. Be mindful of the tide and your car’s ability to drive in sand. The Shelter location has paved parking with areas to fish or have a picnic after spending your time roller skating.
The Tampa side of the trail has ample parking on either end. When meeting up with friends, I park at Ben T Davis Beach and skate westbound towards the bridge and back, making it a 5 mile out and back trip. Many people park off the side of the trail to picnic and watch the sunset in the late afternoon. The pavement is a bit more course and flat than the Clearwater side. Given the popularity of the Eastern side of the causeway, you’ll want to skate defensively. Kids tend to stand in the middle of the path throwing footballs or groups of people walking shoulder to shoulder without any perception of bikers or skaters trying to maneuver around them.
The great part about skating here is the views of the Tampa Bay water just a few feet away from the edge of the trail. Many times I see fish jumping out of the water, shorebirds picking at the rocks, and sometimes a manatee or dolphin will quietly pass by. In the distance the skyline of downtown Tampa looks as if it’s melting into the surrounding water. The views can continue to be enjoyed at Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill, where you can grab a drink and watch the sunset in one of their beach chairs along their private beach.
Duke Energy Trail
The Duke Energy Trail is like a thin artery running through Pinellas County. This beautifully maintained trail follows towering power lines for the entire 4-mile length. With no trees to shade you from the sun, it’s most popular in the late afternoon. The pavement is smooth however, there are many streets to cross along the path.
To a novice skater, these street crossings have all the components for a not so graceful pilgrimage to the other side. When approaching the road crossing, the trail begins to slope down to meet the edge of the street. The wheels of your skates will start to pick up speed. A few quick reflexes will kick in to narrowly miss the three bollards posted in the path. If you haven’t already attempted to slow down, your skates have probably started to redline past the point of no return. You will then meet the yellow ADA detectable warning pavers followed by a street gutter.
If you managed to make it this far unscathed, congratulations! The final boss in this street crossing isn’t locking eyes with the driver of a Toyota Camry and hoping they don’t mistake the gas pedal for the break. No, no. The final test is jumping over the street gutter and ADA warning pavers on the other side; as you try to build momentum uphill.
I know you’re thinking “jeez Karissa you’re really selling it”. But these are the things I would have liked to have known before lacing up my skates. The majority of the trail is an enjoyable place to practice outdoor skating. If those ADA warning pavers give you anxiety; I would skip this trail until I felt more confident in crossing rough areas.
Upper Tampa Bay Trail
The Upper Tampa Bay Trail taught me how to skate outside. Things I learned very quickly on this trail: tree roots can ever so slightly push the asphalt up causing you to completely wipeout without warning, sticks will unexpectedly fall from the trees right in front of your skates, and wood plank bridges are not as easy as they look to cross. Once I learned to look out for these surprises, this became my favorite place to skate.
This out and back trail spans over 14-miles, with many places to park along the along the way. My favorite is at the corner of the Veterans Expressway and Gunn Highway. A large pedestrian bridge crosses over Gunn Highway where bikers come screaming down onto the path. Thankfully, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail is very wide, allowing for plenty of space for everyone to comfortably move around.
The trail is shaded by a canopy of trees hanging overhead. They also form a thick wall between the trail and Big Cat Rescue. Founded in the Tampa Bay area in the early 90s, Big Cat Rescue became globally recognized by the 2020 Netflix Docuseries, Tiger King. During the height of its popularity, I admittedly kept an eye out for Carole Baskin on her golf cart or listening for any tiger noises as I passed by.
This is personally my favorite trail to roller skate because it has every possible challenge in one place. Aside from the usual uneven pavement or sticks in the path, this trail also offers hills and sharp turns that slowly build up your confidence. Partitions of the trail can be ruff while other areas have been freshly paved. For those who are just starting to explore outdoor roller skating, if you can master the full length of this trail, you can make it anywhere.
If you’re looking for a more casual place to roller skate, David Island is as easy as it comes. You can certainly become lost in the rows of perfectly manicured million-dollar homes lining every street. Roller skating through the neighborhood is very much like a choose your own adventure book. I start my skating from the Seaplane Basin Park and continue on the west side of the island. As the streets crisscross over one another, I stick to the perimeter of the island as I work my way North. Then slowly weave through the interior as I make my way towards the South.
Cars driving in the neighborhood are generally on the lookout for pedestrians. In the afternoon many kids and families are out biking or walking. More often seen than cars, are large golf carts cruising around with the family dog parched on the lap of its owner. The wide roads allow for everyone to move around without feeling crowded. In some areas, there are bike lanes that allow for even more space between you and the parade of golf carts.
Speaking of feeling crowded, the Riverwalk is one of the most congested places to roller skate. It’s also an area with the most picturesque views and has numerous places to stop for some of the best food in Tampa. This 2.6 mile-long open space path parallels the Hillsborough River that runs through the center of Downtown Tampa. The addition of the Riverwalk has brought locals and visitors alike to the downtown area by connecting bars, restaurants, museums, and city parks along one convenient path. There are many outdoor events hosted along the Riverwalk each month including Downtown Tampa’s Fourth Friday, where visitors can enjoy live music, food and drink deals, and free admission to local participating museums. Before heading out to the Riverwalk, check the Downtown Tampa Events Calendar for all the upcoming events.
There are two distinct places to start exploring the Riverwalk; Armature Works located to the North or Sparkman Wharf on the South end of the Riverwalk. Both locations have plenty of parking and a large variety of food and drinks to enjoy post skating. Often the deciding factor on where to park is mostly based on what I’ll want to eat afterward.
St. Petersburg Pier
St. Petersburg has recently gotten a facelift. The newly remodeled pier opened last year with all new restaurants and outdoor areas to sit and enjoy the views of the bay. The atmosphere in Downtown St. Pete feels more relaxed, like being in your backyard (if your backyard was 26 acres of Tamps Bay waterfront). The addition of the pier has brought a needed vibrancy back into the city. Much like the Riverwalk in Tampa, there are ample places to find food and refreshing drinks. World-class museums such as the Dali Museum, The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, and the Chihuly Collection can be found blocks from one another for a full day of arts in culture everyone will enjoy.
Roller skating on the pier is a perfect place for people watching and to fine-tune your skating skills. Aside from a few metal joints connecting the pier, the surface is entirely concrete. Making it the perfect place to practice skating backward, spinning in circles, or recording the latest Tik-Tok video. I love spending the afternoon watching airplanes fly into the nearby airport with the St. Pete skyline in the background while rolling up and down the pier.
The Tampa Bay area has outdoor trails to accommodate everyone’s interests. Whether you’re looking for views of the bay, discovering the latest restaurants, exploring downtown, or becoming immersed in Florida’s nature, these areas will not disappoint. Roller Skating outside can be challenging at first, but equally as rewarding when you are no longer phased by bumps in the road.
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