In the beginning, Ted Coombs says, rollerskating from Los Angeles to New York and back again was entirely his own idea. “It was my response to the energy crisis,” explains the 25-year-old laser engineer from Hermosa Beach, Calif. “I honestly believe rollerskating will be the transportation of the future.” So much the better if the producers of the movie Americathon (which featured a transcontinental skater in a secondary role) came to regard him as a rolling commercial; he would grant them the privilege of paying his bills.
Preceded by a van carrying water and supplies, Coombs set out last May 31 from a gas station in L.A. “I almost gave up three days into the desert,” he admits. “My feet were blistered, the heat was unbearable, and my knees felt like they were going to give out.” His pet monkey, Tim Bob, died of heat prostration in Arizona, but Coombs kept moving along. Except for a two-day layover in El Paso because of illness, and a four-day turnaround in New York, he skated some 50 miles every day until his journey ended prematurely in Kansas this fall. Indiana was his favorite state (“Flat all the way,” he recalls with a sigh), and Pennsylvania his nemesis because of a tumble that nearly ended his trip. “I was coming down a mountain,” he says. “There was a hairy turn ahead and no way I could make it. I had to fall down, and at 45 miles an hour that hurt.”
Neither rain nor chill nor even rattlesnakes crossing the highway discouraged Coombs, but he learned never to take his safety for granted. “Skating is serious stuff, and your mind can’t wander,” he says. “You have to be constantly watching the road.” Sometimes even that didn’t help. Once, in New Jersey, he was robbed of $63 at gunpoint. On his return trip, while crossing Missouri, he was pursued by a pack of bloodthirsty dogs. “All I could think was ‘If I fall, they’ll tear me to pieces.’ I skated like mad.” When his van driver left him halfway across the country, Coombs went on alone for another 241 miles before shedding his skates for good in Yates Center, Kans. and returning to L.A. Though half a continent short of his goal, he had covered 5,200 miles, handily setting a new Guinness record. His achievement, he believes, is stirring vindication of the importance of roller-skating. “It’s here to stay,” he declares. “Kind of like rock’n’roll.”