Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Macklin Woo, 10, shows off his Heely wheel while
Taylor Viti, 9, does a Heely trick in transit.

Heels on wheels

The popularity of Heelys will
have adults worrying about kids
taking spills with their thrills

How to ride, how to fall

By Ruby Mata-Viti

We warned you in March that Heelys were coming. Now they're here. The shoes with wheeled heels are turning heads indoors and out, as those who sport them zip through store aisles, shopping malls and on sidewalks.

The rise in their popularity raises safety concerns, both for the kids who use them and those exposed to bodies speeding along on what are essentially single-wheeled skate shoes.

Dealing with the possible danger is as simple as providing parental supervision and removing the wheels, the product's selling point, kind of like taking away the car keys. Some schools and malls have gone this route.

Kahuku Elementary School has banned "heeling" on campus, according to Scott Adams, local distributor for the shoes. "Kids Heely to school but take the wheels out once there. If they're caught Heeling, they get their wheels taken away for the day."

A pedestrian gawks in amazement at the otherwise
normal-looking shoes.

Wally Parcels, manager of the BikeFactory, which carries Heelys, said Hahaione Elementary School, where his wife teaches, issued a similar directive. "Every time there's been a directive, our sales get higher," said Parcels.

Windward Mall and Pearlridge Center prohibit their use on mall property. "If someone is seen using them, they're asked to refrain," said Scott Creel, Pearlridge Center marketing director. "More often than not, kids are compliant and understand we're trying to maintain a safe environment, including their own safety."

Not a problem for Macklin Woo, 10, of Wilhelmina Rise, who was stopped by Pearlridge security and says the rides are worth the tap on the wrist. "I wasn't even riding. He just saw me wearing the shoes and said, 'You can't ride those around here, put your wheels in your pocket.'" Woo popped the wheels back in after he left the property.

Woo said he likes his Heelys, which he got as a birthday gift from his parents. "You can just walk around in them and ride whenever you feel like it," he said. He's gotten used to being stopped by curious onlookers wanting to know what they are and where to get them, and although he'll politely answer the questions, he said, "I don't like it when they stop me; it's annoying."

Woo comes off a 360-degree spin.

When asked about getting hurt, he shrugs his shoulders. "I use them mostly for transportation, not too much for tricks."

Regarding injuries, distributor Adams said: "Anytime you're on wheels, there is risk involved. But it's like with any extreme sport: You wear the protective gear."

Adams is supervising practice sessions for "Team Hawaii," a group of five youths readying for the Hawaii Outdoor Sports Expo being held at Blaisdell Center Friday through Sunday, where Heelys will be one of the main exhibitions. All team members wear protective gear during practice.

Heelys are no more or less dangerous than skateboards, kickboards or inline skates, said Loren Yamamoto, a doctor at Kapiolani Medical Center's emergency ward.

"Wearing all the hardware doesn't prevent serious injury; they may prevent scrapes, but not fractures," said Yamamoto, adding that if kids fall the wrong way, they're bound to break a bone.

A Heely instructional video available for in-store viewing contains a segment on falls.

Dr. Robert Durkin, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Kapiolani Medical Center, has mended a few Heely-related broken bones ranging from broken wrists to elbow fractures. To maintain balance on them, he said, you have to lean back, which leaves one prone to those kind of injuries.

Taylor Viti wears his helmet during a Heely session
while friend Macklin Woo goes without his this time.

Spills from a standing position might cause head bruises but is not likely to cause brain injury, according to Yamamoto; falling from a greater height at high speed is when brain injury occurs.

"This is an uninteresting topic," said Yamamoto, trying to put the hazard in perspective. "There are things happening to our kids that are more harmful or dangerous, but this is new, so it gets attention.

"You're not going to prevent a 17-year-old from taking risks; it's in their nature," Yamamoto added, "but for the younger kids who are barely able to negotiate crossing street traffic, parent supervision is key."

He hasn't treated any Heely-related injuries, saying there are more skateboard and inline skate accidents. "You've got 20,000-some skateboarders out there, compared to 500 Heelys.

"When Longs starts selling them for $3 a pair and more people can afford them," Yamamoto said, we're likely to see more Heely accidents, recalling how kickboards first sold for $100 and now can be found for much less.

You won't find Heelys at Longs anytime soon, however. Specialty shops like BikeFactory, Turbo Surf and Town & Country Surf Shop carry them. Prices start at $85. Newer models with a plastic insole for "grinding," sliding along surfaces, are said to be in the works.

Even at that price, Adams says they can't keep up with the demand, especially with the smaller sizes. BikeFactory manager Parcels has a waiting list of about 30 just for size 5, equivalent to boys size 3 -- with more calls coming in daily -- indicating that many parents will have their work cut out for them.

Durkin, reluctant to "pooh-pooh on the kids' toys," said: "Kids have one full-time job, and that's to be kids and have fun. Parents need to step in and make sure the kids have a safe summer."

Learning to ride,
learning to fall

Scott Adams, local distributor for Heelys shoes, said to prevent falling, make sure you have the proper Heely stance.

Keeping your weight forward toward the hips will prevent falling backward.

If you trip forward, or the wheel hits a rock, you can run the fall out because you'll be on your toes.

The easiest way to learn the proper Heely form, according to Macklin Woo, 10, an expert at Heeling for all of two months now, is to take a grocery store shopping cart and practice the shoe stance until it becomes second nature.

Adams agrees, reluctantly admitting this is how he learned. "I'm a klutz," he said. "I can't even Rollerblade. But after a day of trying to learn how to Heel and stumbling at it, I went grocery shopping and still had the Heelys on late that night, pushing the shopping cart on the way back to the car."

Hawaii Outdoor Sports Expo

What: The second annual event features the latest in sports products and services, a Heelys exhibition, sports auction, surf musuem, fashion show and more.
Where: Neal Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall
When: 4 to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $3, children under age 12 free
Also: First 500 paid entrants daily receive a free H-3 souvenir T-shirt

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calendars and events.

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