Wednesday Night Skate NYC is also known as WNS NYC. It’s one of several well-established groups in the city. Some say it’s the biggest group of them all. WNS is run by volunteers since the late 1990s. Every Wednesday from April to October, weather permitting, organizers show up wearing yellow-green vests at the south-side steps of Union Square around 7:45pm. By then a sizable crowd of skaters have already gathered at the steps. At 8pm an organizer gives a brief safety speech and introduces the route planner of the week, as even more skaters materialize all of a sudden at the steps. One organizer is appointed the leader of the day, and another the sweeper. Folks are told not to skate ahead of the leader. The sweeper makes sure to leave no skater behind. Shortly after, skaters launch like a swarm of giant locusts, to descend upon the streets of New York City at dusk. The leader signals followers to take breaks at pre-designated stops along the route, so that the rest of the group may catch up, with the sweeper being the last person to arrive at each stop. The route circles back to Union Square, where a day’s skating concludes.
WNS uses Facebook to disseminate official information, at Wednesday Night Skate NYC 2.0. There’s scantly anything else online about WNS. Their official website weskatenyc.org only points to the Facebook page and an Instagram account. Nobody knows what route has been planned for the day ahead of 8pm. But event cancelations are announced on the page. A few days after the event Edward Vargas, the official photographer, posts magnificent pictures which are showcased on the WNS page. That is basically what you’ll find about WNS in the guarded garden of Facebook. Elsewhere online you may find mentions of WNS at New York City Inline Skating Guide, and Empire Skate Club.
A typical WNS Wednesday starts with a handful of skaters hanging out at the appointed south-side steps of Union Square, as early as 7pm. An average route lasts two hours, covering about 12 miles. Seasoned skaters come prepared, with enough water, light reflection tapes, LED lights, and everything else that may be needed. Some people skates to Union Square. Others put on their skates at the steps. Yours truly bought a skate bag just for this event, as shown below, with the south-side steps in the background.
By 7:30pm, more skaters show up. Now even tourists can tell that something is happening at this place.
This being the world-famous Union Square, there is always something to entertain folks waiting for the event to start. On this particular day, someone tried to burn a very large paper bag. Then with encouragement from onlookers, our hero proceeded to prove that his hands were in fact resistant to fire.
By 7:40pm, cones were set up, and folks are showcasing their slalom moves.
15 minutes before 8pm, our organizers show up in uniform. It’s at this point that some skaters try to trick one of them into revealing today’s route.
At exactly 8pm, the crowd suddenly grows two to three times larger. It’s not clear whence skaters appear out of thin air.
At this point, an organizer calls today’s event into session, and explains basic rules. Folks gather around to try to make out what he or she is saying. Usually nobody other than those within a few feet of the speaker can hear anything resembling human speech. Nonetheless, everyone is paying close attention, because the speaker will eventually point out today’s route planner, and more importantly, the leader and the sweeper. At this point the crowd cheers. Those with large, 110mm or 125mm wheels know whom to follow. And the slow skaters such as yours truly know whom to keep an eye on, lest they be left behind.
Now the leader of the day launches off, and all skaters follow. On one particular date, June 29th 2022, a crowd of a few hundred skaters followed the leader off Union Square, and sailed right into Manhattanhenge, as shown in the following video.
When the crowd numbered in the hundreds, one observer likened the flash mob of skaters to giant locusts from Jurassic World Dominion. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic halted in awe of the spectacle.
As mentioned, the leader will signal followers to rest at designated stops along the route, in order for those of us, the slower skaters, to catch up. Here is the swarm camping at Penn Station.
On a different day, the route took the mob downtown.
The event usually lasts two hours. At some point, the night sets in. Here is the crowd resting at Battery Park.
The route took the mob around lower Manhattan to the East side. Skaters stopped by Pier 16 at South Street Seaport with the ship Wavertree in the background.
On a different day, skaters gathered at Hudson River Greenway midway through our night journey.
The route then took the mob into Central Park for a tour of the park, and exited the park at Grand Army Plaza, with a spectacular night view of buildings.
How to prepare
The night skate is an intense experience. If you have just picked up inline skating, you may want to first master a few basic techniques before you join the expedition. It seems that there is a group of organizers onsite to teach beginner skaters who show up at Union Square. I am not sure what the beginner group does. I doubt they even partake in the first leg of the expedition. You can show up and ask around. For very basic techniques, see How to Inline Skate. But that is not enough. Keep reading.
Skills alone do not guarantee that you will finish a Wednesday circuit. This is a 12-mile trip lasting two hours. Stamina matters. If you have not skated for 12 miles in one day before, you should plan ahead so you can safely abort a trip midway. The trip includes several predetermined stops. These stops are safe areas, usually with plenty of tourists around. Before your body completely breaks down, you should make a decision to abort at a stop. Let the sweeper know you are not continuing. You will need to pack your shoes with you on the trip, if you plan to abort midway. Not all stops are located near streets or subway stations. You may need to change into your shoes and walk for a bit.
Even in the best scenarios, you will be skating in the dark of the night for the second half of the trip. In some months, the entire trip takes place after sunset, so you’ll be skating completely in the dark. The streets and bikeways are usually illuminated. But there is no guarantee that you can clearly see obstacles or irregular surface conditions all the time. Nor is it guaranteed that vehicles will see you clearly, when you are detached from the flash mob. Wear reflective clothing, or put some LED lights on your person.
People trip and fall during the expedition. Often your view is obstructed by skaters in front, when folks are not spaced out far enough. Skating over a manhole cover you didn’t see coming will cause you to stumble. When funneled from a broad road into a tiny walkway, skaters bump into one another. Some bikeways have speed-check bumps which will do serious damage if you skate over them at high speed. For instance, the Hudson River Greenway section shown in a video earlier sports at least 8 of these bumps. They are not discernible until you come close. The bikeway leading north to South Street Seaport had unexpected steel T-bars on the ground. Two T-bars are mounted flush with the ground surface, but there is a wide gap between them. Skaters either jump over them, or scissor over them. You will also find occasional sand and mud puddles on walkways and bikeways. For instance, at Central Park, one downhill section of a road leading out to Grand Army Plaza had a large section of mud puddle. It caught at least one skater unaware. Be prepared to fall. Wear proper protection equipment.
You don’t see pictures here on this article showing skaters coming back to Union Square, at the end of the June 29th 2022 trip. That is because I got leg cramps as we came out of Central Park. I never finished the last leg of the circuit. Now, it was a hot day. So I brought and drank two bottles of water. And that wasn’t enough. I chalk it up to a lack of electrolytes. I have been packing Gatorade ever since. But I also confess to never having skated for 12 miles in a day, prior to this expedition. Perhaps my muscles simply couldn’t sustain continued skating for two hours.
Manhattan is a surprisingly hilly city. One doesn’t usually appreciate this because tall buildings hide the profile of the land from one. The expedition circuit includes sections that go downhill drastically, to the point that I felt unsafe sailing down at high speed, unless I applied intermittent braking. I hear that they also take bridges across NYC boroughs at times. You will need to know how to safely brake (not stop) to reduce your speed, while cruising at very high speed downhill. At a red light, you need to know how to stand and be stable on an inclined surface. At the same time, you must track skaters barreling down towards you, and be prepared to react as needed.
Then, there are the uphill climbs. Folks in the group skate uphill surprisingly fast. Some manage by sheer stamina. Others use moves such as linear crossover to conquer these terrains. Be aware if your skating requires a wide berth, such as linear crossover. There will be skaters overtaking you from behind, and they may not be aware that you sway left and right on a whim.
You don’t see pictures and videos of downhill and uphill rollercoaster rides on this article. That’s because I was busy holding on for dear life while flying downhill, and laboriously climbing while struggling uphill. One day I may update this article with thrilling downhill videos.
Be safe, and enjoy your Wednesday Night Skate!
Video and picture updates
2022-08-05: There is scarcely any capture of WNS NYC events in video out there. I’ve been uploading short clips from my phone myself on Reddit recently. But I stumbled on this video on YouTube today which puts everything else to shame. This is a beautifully-done documentary showing the actual experience.
Here are my own subpar video clips just for laughs.
Often slalom cones are set up before the trip, and even at breaks.
I doctored the end of this clip for fun