For the 71st daily installment of Big Wheel Blading’s Inline Skating and Life During COVID-19 series we talk to Craig Ellis. Craig, also known as Gravity Master, is a 61-year-old inline skater and former general manager of SG Sports Distribution, living in Los Angeles, California.

What is your occupation?

I am retired. My primary career for 30 years, was in the aerospace industry. Early in my career I was a manufacturing engineer, responsible for all of the composites on the B2 bomber.  I also led the strategic planning for the Advanced Technology division, was CIO of a major division, CTO of the company, then head of Corporate real estate and facilities.  

After retiring, I established a small company, to develop and market a skate brake patent I was awarded, to the skate industry. While I was unable to secure a licensing agreement for Gravity Master brakes, in the process I met Gregoire Pinto and Sebastien Laffargue, who were relocating the US distribution for SEBA (plus FR Skates, and Luminous Wheels) from Seattle to Los Angeles, and they needed a general manager onsite in the US. So, from early 2015 until mid-2019, I led SG Sports Distribution, Inc. I felt like Santa Claus every time we shipped directly to a skater… knowing how joyful they would be when the package arrived!

What steps did your Califronia take to battle COVID-19 and how are things there now? 

Within the US, which was seemingly “late” to the COVID testing party, California was the first state to implement any lock-downs. As a result, the state seems to be doing relatively well, so far, in terms of per capita cases and deaths.  

Over the past Memorial Day weekend (the traditional unofficial start of summer in the US) it was clear that people are ready to get outside. Coastal access areas were swamped with people. Traffic on the roads was very high, almost “normal” volumes. I was even served a beer, inside of a pizza shop, while I waited for the pie! All the chairs were turned upside down on the table, no-one else was there, employees and I were wearing masks, so it was all “good”.  But it was weird to be sure! I was happy to get back outside into clear air!

Were you skating during the COVID-19 lockdown?

In some ways, my life did not change with the lockdown, which is to say I kept on rolling. At the risk of sounding anti-social, I almost always skate alone, so social distancing hasn’t been an issue. Normally I skate 3-5 days a week; during the lockdown it was more like 5-6 days a week, as I took advantage of the emptier-than-normal streets!! And, for sure, cleaner than normal air quality. I skate between 10-25 kilometers generally, with about 200-800 meters of climb/descent.

Where are you going out to skate?

Although technically not allowed, I skate in my little home city.  I have a good relationship with the local authorities, who let me skate as long as no residents complain. To keep this from happening, I follow a few simple rules: I give everyone else the “right-of-way”. If the road is narrow, I’ll stop and step aside for the other to pass. People really, really appreciate this, because no one has any idea what to do when they see a skater on the street! Sometimes I use UBER to get a lift to the top of a couple of nice downhill runs; they freak when I climb-in with full protective gear and 5 or 6 wheel blades on my feet!

Is there anything that would make you stop skating?

Well, this is a timely question!  Pretty much only one thing: injury.  I am currently not skating, for the first time in many, many years. A few days ago I sprained my ankle while washing my car. Don’t ask…! Eventually, age will catch up, and I’ll have to stop skating (down hills, at least!)

Are you doing any cross training? 

I originally started skating at age 40, as a way to prepare for the ski season.  Today, I probably skate 150 days a year, and on average, I ski about 40 days a year.

What other activities are you doing to occupy your time? 

I ride my mountain bike, walk the dog, wash the cars, look for ways to save money (just scored some GREAT deals on new skis, and cut my cellular bill by 40% and my cable/internet bill by 30% woo hoo!). I’m not much for TV or movies, especially if there is any violence, but I have watched a lot lately (notably OZARK, Breaking Bad, and Schitt’s Creek). Now that it’s getting warmer, I’m getting out on my boat again.

How has COVID-19 affected your normal everyday life? 

The past two winters, I have been “living the dream” spending time (measured in months) in the mountains skiing via the #vanlife experience. Two years ago there was a trifecta for me: (1) I retired (2) I bought a Sprinter van and (3) the IKON Pass was born. Win/Win/Win! So, I was on my way to Tahoe and Mammoth for my second month on the road, for what turned out to be an amazing March for snowfall, when I received news that they were closing down because of the virus. So, while small in the real world big picture, that was a big personal disappointment. 

My wife, an operating room nurse, was home for six weeks because the surgery center was closed (they only do “elective” surgeries). So that was different and nice. I started shaving regularly, again 🙂

What are your major concerns right now and looking into the future?

As everyone, I am anxious for a vaccine to be proven and available. I am concerned about the depth and duration of the pandemic’s impact on the global economy and peoples’ lives. I recently read a research paper from one of the US Federal Reserve Bank, who studied the economic impact from wars and pandemics, dating back to the 1400’s. What they found was, in summary: the economic impact of pandemics, on average, last 40 years. I am concerned for the young people just starting their careers in this environment. It’s going to be a struggle for a large fraction of them for a long time, I fear.

How is your local skate community responding?

As I said, I normally skate alone, but from social media evidence, the local group skates (LA TNS, Santa Monica FNS) stopped, but may be starting again soon.

Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Despite the “why”, it has been absolutely thrilling to see the uptick in interest in skating. I coined the phrase “Skate like a Skier”™ about 10 years ago; so I’m enjoying seeing and hearing of the massive increase in skier interest in inline skating. Inline is the BEST cross-training sport for skiing (IMHO!).  I have felt, for many years, that skating was “primed” for a big comeback. Based on conversations with a few manufacturers / distributors, the curve is definitely pointed in that direction! YES!

And, finally, good skate brakes are highly under-rated 😉

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