Reo Starplex

Bobbi Bland, left, and Jaqueline Cardenas get laced up before skating Thursday, November 21, 2019, at the Reo Starplex Event Center and Roller Rink. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

The transformation of a former nightclub may offer area fitness aficionados a new arena.

The Reo Starplex Event Center & Roller Rink, which opened in mid-November at the former Reo Palm Isle at the intersection of Texas 31 and West Loop 281, joins two other roller skating venues in the Longview area.

Roller skating holds different associations for different generations. Some may connect it to their early social life as a place where the “couples skates” elicited giggles and elbow jabs from adolescents watching which boy had the nerve to ask a girl to skate with him for one special song. Others might remember the roller disco craze of the ‘70s while roller derby looms large in the recollections of others. In-line skating and skateboarding have dominated much of the most recent generations’ interest in human-powered wheeled sports and roller derby lives, but roller skating is making inroads in communities large and small, including East Texas.

The activity not only offers family and individual recreational opportunities but opportunities to get in shape. For fun or fitness, skating means a cardio workout as well as engagement of most of the muscle groups, says information from the Roller Skating Association International.

RSA International advises that some individuals can achieve a heart rate of 148 by moderate roller skating. Parents and grandparents who may recall bumps and bruises have options if they choose to introduce their youngsters to roller skating.

John Allen, owner of the newly opened Reo Starplex, said the rink offers “trainers,” for children and some adults, that allow newcomers to learn in a safer way. The equipment works on the same principle as walkers used by people who have had leg surgery or who have balance issues while walking. The trainers which are on wheels offer the skater a padded bar for each hand that allows for security and balance but places a buffer between the newbie and other skaters.

“Today, kids need help and encouragement to stay in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. Roller skating provides a great way to exercise and kids get to do what they like to do more than anything in the world — hang out with friends and listen to music. Kids may not realize that while they are socializing with their friends on skates, the activity itself is better than running the same distance,” said information from RSA.

Allen, who also owns the Gilmer Starplex skating rink, said he tried offering lunchtime skating hours at that venue for those who wished to exercise in the middle of the day but response was minimal.

When asked if he would try a similar option in Longview if customers show an interest, he said,

“Absolutely. I think if we do open up for lunch on the skating side that would be one of our key targets is to assist in putting together some type of activity for individuals that choose to go that route.”

He emphasized the family nature of his skate arenas. The facility is large enough to offer entertainment for children and adults, and its location offers easy access from surrounding communities via Interstate 20, he said. The building’s historic appeal was also a draw for him, he said.

“I just personally think the Reo with all its history is a perfect place for this.”

The business opened as a nightclub in 1935 and hosted star musical acts during its lifetime, experiencing a number of format transformations.

The Reo complex also houses a comedy club and features a lunchtime buffet. Information on the new operation is available on the company’s website and Facebook page.

The roller skating rink is open Thursday through Monday to the public. It features an arcade and concession stand. Prices for admission and skate rental vary. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are available for private events. Gilmer Starplex is open 7 days per week. Kilgore Skateland, a separately owned company, is open Thursday through Saturday.

Here are some more fun skating facts from RSA International:

Moderate roller skating will increase the skater’s heartbeat to 140-160 beats per minute. Pick up the pace and you’ll likely top 180 beats per minute.

Studies have shown that roller skating provides a complete aerobic workout and involves all of the body’s muscles, especially the heart.

Roller skating is equivalent to jogging in terms of health benefits and caloric consumption, reduction of body fat, and leg strength development.

Roller skating is recognized and recommended by the American Heart Association as an aerobic fitness sport.

One hour of moderate roller skating burns 330 calories for a 143-pound person. If that same person roller skates vigorously up to 10 mph, he or she will burn up to 600 calories in an hour.

If someone roller skates one day, bicycles another, and swims or runs on another, the person will be getting all the fitness benefits that aerobics can offer.