By Michael Collins

Smooth skating with Derby on the Los Angeles River Run

Los Angeles boasts some of the world’s best inline skating paths, including the Strand, the famed 26-mile-long concrete ribbon stretching along the beach from Malibu to Palos Verdes. Speed skaters, however, have an aversion to the sun-drunk masses who crowd the path, often trundling along in family groups the size of small nations. Luckily, a 4.7-mile secret skate exists in the heart of this metropolis: The River Run is nearly deserted, boasts asphalt as smooth as a baby’s butt, and is landscaped with postmodern light standards and greenery reminiscent of Disneyland’s Autopia.

Derby loves rolling along the Los Angeles River especially in the wild parts.
Derby loves rolling along the Los Angeles River especially in the wild parts.

My Eastside skater gal and I discovered this remarkably private stretch of “black ice” while stuck in traffic on the Golden State Freeway near Griffith Park. The River Run starts by the Channel Boulevard Bridge in Burbank, hard on the Los Angeles River between the zoo and Travel Town. Heading east, with exceptional views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the skate path snakes above a more natural section of the river that lacks a concrete floor. Arundo plants, willows, and grasses thrive in the sandy bottom.

Located just south of Los Feliz Boulevard is the only footbridge that spans the L.A. River and connects to Atwater Village. The path is right next to the freeway at times, yet rarely can skaters smell the fumes. The route’s pool-table surface makes it a favorite for long-distance speed-blading, with gentle twists and turns in places connected by wide-open stretches with mild elevation changes. The skate path ends at Fletcher Drive in Silver Lake, where an encampment of friendly homeless folks make easy conversation as speedsters rest for the run back up the river.

[2021 UPDATE: The photos of Derby were taken after this article was published before the COVID-19 pandemic. She was photographed as I tailed her over a mile past the former Fletcher Drive terminus headed down a smooth as silk skate path that now ends in Egret Park north of downtown Los Angeles. Speed skaters, rollerskaters, bicyclists, walkers and runners enjoy this unique environment squeezed between the Los Angeles River and Golden State Freeway now virtually accessible.]

Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat – August 3, 2006