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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Having a wheel of a time

By Claire Heald
BBC News

They're trainers that leave adults slack-jawed as children shoot past on the pavement. Heelys - shoes with built-in wheels - were a summer holiday hit and look set to be a Christmas must-have.

Across the shiny floors of shopping centres or the flat tarmac of playgrounds, children nonchalantly whiz along at speed.

One foot in front of the other, they go gliding past without the merest hint of a flexing muscle; their shoes seemingly lifted off the ground on a wafer-thin cushion of air.

Observing adults invariably are left rubbing their eyes in bemusement. Roller skates are one thing, but how can one slide so effortlessly on an ordinary pair of trainers?

Sneaky: the wheels are almost hidden
Heelys, shoes with small wheels in the heel, were the hit toy of the summer holidays. The very idea might sound precarious, but when did the thought of a grazed knee deter a thrill-seeking child?

Any adult slipping on a pair of these shoes can't help but be guarded.

The technique and balance take a while to master.

For starters, try sliding a foot into a Heely, and it suddenly darts out across the floor.

Stand up, and there is a bit of a wobble. While the shoes are fairly heavy and broad, aiding balance, there's no avoiding the two wheels sticking out of either heel. I gingerly attempt a few steps and slowly it becomes apparent my feet are not about to fly out from underneath me. Even stairs become navigable.

Practised "heelers" such as Rebecca Henehan, say it's then just a short learning curve to gliding along at 10mph, letting the wheels do the work.

Rebecca Henehan

However, preferring to keep my ankles out of plaster cast, I'm willing just to take 11-year-old Rebecca's word for this. She says the attraction to Heelys comes in their speed, freedom and the shock value to passers-by.

"Shops with shiny floors and the airport are amazing," she says. "It feels like you are ice-skating in a big rink, you can go on one wheel, or backwards.

"I like them because lots of people stare at me or ask what's in the bottom, some think I'm floating. They take off their glasses as if they think they're seeing things.

How does she do it? Each shoe has one, or a pair of wheels in the back. Lift the toes and the wheels engage to slide. To stop, the heeler drags the back of the heel down, like a stopper on a roller-skate, or at higher speed, runs forward out of the slide.

Christmas list demand

Thanks to advertising on children's TV and playground peer pressure, Heelys will be high on Christmas wish-lists this year.

Sales in the UK have increased more than a thousand-fold since 2004. This year, an estimated 250,000 will be sold. In the US, where, surprise, surprise, Heelys were invented, they notched up sales figures of $28.5m for the first six months of 2006.

All the guys in the studio use Heelys 'cause they're big kids
London office-worker
Keira McMinn

Heelys Dealers, the British importer of this patented footwear, has struggled to keep up with rising demand. Over the summer, shops sold out of all but the smallest and largest sizes, despite the hefty price tag - 55 - 100.

"As soon as one influential child in the playground gets a pair, all the children want to get a pair," says director Charles Allen.

The company is constantly fighting its patent against cheap Chinese versions in Asia.

Wheels of ire

And, as with the mini-scooter craze of the late '90s, Heelys have even won a following with big kids, who perhaps should know better.

"We've got one of those big warehouses so all the guys in the studio use Heelys," says Keira McMinn, of Bright PR. "It's 'cause they're big kids."

Not everyone's a fan though. Complaints from frazzled, elderly shoppers have already prompted some supermarkets to ban children seeking the shiniest of floors to practise on.

Schools too are sending out "no Heelys" notes to parents. And, inevitably, perhaps, doctors have warned there's a risk of injury if you travel in them faster than running speed. They even say the shoe's structure could have an impact on young bones and tendons.

Heeling may take the fearlessness of the young, or the recklessness of the old to master, but the appeal of being able to wheel at a moment's notice may bring out the child in all of us.

How to heel
1. Heelys have one wheel in the heel, or two for beginners
2. To start: lift toes to tilt foot back and engage the wheels
Kick off, and put one foot behind the other to glide about
3. Balance and technique can take a while to perfect
4. To stop: drag the heel down or run forward out of the slide

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Speaking as the responsible parent of a 15 year-old daughter ... How cool is that? ... I want a pair ... now!
Ian Sedwell, Weymouth, UK

I lived in Jersey C.I. twenty odd years ago and there was similar things being sold by the 'Jersey Evening Post'. I bet that they were available before that too.
Nigel Brock, Waltham Cross

Kids, Kids! Roll your way to childhood obesity!
ben, guildford

My wife is from the Philippines. When we went back there for a visit 2.5 years ago these shoes were all the rage, everyone was wearing them. In the Philippines they were called 'flying shoes'. We bought our 7 year-old daughter Hannah a pair and she brought them back to the UK. No-one had seen them here then and she drew lots of strange looks as she glided past people in shopping centres! We went to the Philippines again this Easter and I didn't see a single pair, they must have fallen out of fashion already!
Mike Durtnall, Ascot, UK

Sorry, but these aren't new at all. I saw these in Hamleys for Christmas 1997.
John Airey, Peterborough, UK

In my day we were lucky to have a pair of shoes made of cardboard. And pay mill owner for permission to walk in them.
niall macceide, Kullu India

What a great idea. Shame they're just for kids really. I'd love to have a go myself. i wonder if they make them in adult sizes...
julie, london

I bought a pair of these for my son 2 years ago in South Africa for R80 which is the approximate equivalent at that time of 7
BA Robertson, Bournemouth

Great! The kids don't even have to lift a foot in front of the other and actually WALK anywhere now. Probably to only excercise many of them get with Mummy and Daddy driving them to school as well...
Peter, Tunbridge Wells

Karen, Hampshire, UK

I saw someone with these shoes for the first time yesterday. I honestly thought the guy had hurt himself because of the ridiculous way he was walking. He looked totally idiotic and from what I saw of his gait, definitely not good for growing kids' joints and just another way for us tired commuters to be knocked over.
Rachael, Rotterdam

My husband & I saw similar shoes in South Africa some time ago and thought they our children would love them. However we were dissuaded from buying when we saw reports in the newspapers warning parents of the danger; apparently hospitals had treated several cases of children with fractures limbs and other injuries after falling whilst wearing these shoes. The risks involved should also be highlighted to consumers.

They look like they will keep A&E busy over Christmas. I saw a small boy in brighton this weekend fall backward and really bash the back of his head, using them on the promenade. You would be better off buying in-line skates and the proper protective gear.
Chris Horner, Cheltenham

I rode the skateboard craze when it started, would do myself a real injury if I tried it now though. This looks like great fun. There will be a law or some Labour council banning them in a few months.
Robert Bahrani, London, UK

Not fair! I want to be 11 again not 53, All we had was Jacko Skates.
Andy Dear, Benfleet, UK

Well, that should make the morning commute a bit different...!
Rachael Ward, Oxford, UK

Finally, the UK catches on. These have been huge in Asia for years. When in Malaysia 2 years ago I would estimate that well over half the children I saw (under 13 or so) wore these, even out of the big cities and towns. They look like fun.
Steven, London, UK

There's nothing new in the world. When I was young, and after the first craze of rollerskates, there came the "clip-on" ones with a key underneath to tighten wheels onto standard trainers. And then sometime in the early 80's there were trainers/sneakers with built-in four wheels (like rollerskates) that could retract/pop-oout with a button on the side of the sole. I'm surprised that these were granted a patent based on just having fewer wheels, but stranger things have been patented!
Chris O'Shea, London, UK

I feel genuinely sorry for the youth of today in this country. On the one hand we bemoan their sedentary lifestyles in front of video games and computers, then on the other when they discover a fun energetic diversion we ban it in all schools and public institutions. Heelys look like good innocent fun to me I'm 30 but I'd love to give them a go.
Will B, London, UK

These kids are so behind the times, I've had my Heeleys for years!
Sionell, Wolverhampton, UK

How long before we get Heely lanes to follow bus and cyle lanes? Aadditionally, since all bikes now have to have bells by law will do Heelys?
Nigel Collin , London

I must be getting old- this is the first I've heard of them... if it was April 1st I'd presume it was a joke.
Peter, Nottingham

These were available in supermarkets in France, years ago. There's certainly nothing innovative about them and are sure to be short-lived fad like so many.
Bill, Southall

I must be getting old to have not heard about these till now but they seem like a great idea! The bemoaners will always be against kids having fun but they have got to be a lot safer for everyone than those stupid mini moto's!!
James Shadwell, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

My son bought Heelys in America back in April. Despite several efforts he has only managed to break his arm once! He's a whizz with a shopping trolley - I wish I had some!
Janette Sear, Leighton Buzzard, England

We lived in Singapore for three years and these were all the rage then, however very quickly the malls and school banned them as they were very very dangerous. Out of control kids were collidiing with passers by and many accidents resulted in the kids falling over and breaking limbs not to mention the damage to their fragile growing ankle joints. A nightmare, ban them before it too late.
KC, London

Genius. Why didn't we have these when i was at school?
Craig, London

My two boys, aged 9 & 17 have had Heelys for over two months now, and they think they are the best thing since sliced bread. I do understand the concerns raised, but I do feel that a lot of these concerns are misplaced. We could fall and hurt ourselves anywhere and at any time, the secret is about good and realistic Risk Assesment. Lets not stop doing things, BECAUSE something might happen. There is 9 people every day killed on UK roads. How many people have been killed on Heelys?
Johnny, Livingston/Scotland

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