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There's nothing like the Sportin' Life, especially when the weather is inviting. Summer's the time to learn a new outdoor sport; learn how in our series every Monday in the Today section.

I'm thinking: I'm hip; I'm happenin'. I'm thinking: I'm gliding through Central Park and, oh look, there goes Kevin Bacon on his blades. I'm thinking: I'm in a bikini, rolling down the boardwalk at Venice, Calif., and the wind is ruffling my sun-bleached hair.

I'm thinking: Hmmm, I've never really taken the time to appreciate the pavement from this close before -- really see its fine gradations of color, feel its texture and solidity, get into the concrete experience of it all.

Ah, the highs and lows of 'blading.

'Blading, or in-line skating, is a way of saying "Rollerblading" without putting the manufacturers of Rollerblades (the original manufacturer, now facing lots of competition) into a trademark frenzy.

Some 3.6 million in-line skaters -- including the celebrities you see photographed in People on a near weekly basis -- have made this the hot urban sport of the '90s. And indeed, there's something so futuristic about striding above the hot pavement with practically every extremity protected in mutant ninja hard shell. Punctured ozone layer or not, you won't need much sunscreen.

Rollerblades -- and yes, I rented that brand -- are kind of like bumblebees, with that same anti-ergonomic appearance that makes you think: They'll never fly. The boots are fat, earthbound-looking things, balanced on impossibly narrow rows of wheels. I was kind of disappointed that my rental skates were all black -- boots and wheels and all.

But the protective gear included in the rental price appeased my fashion sense -- the kneepads were red and white, the elbow pads purple and the wrist guards teal. Plus, they're functional -- all hard-shell for protection and Velcro-ed for a personalized fit. Some people also recommend wearing a helmet, like bicyclists use.

Putting the polyurethane wheels all in one line has the advantage -- or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it -- of speed. (There's less resistance from the pavement than if the wheels are positioned in the traditional, square shape.)

I've never ice skated, and hadn't roller skated since I was a kid and we used to spin around my basement to the accompaniment of Monkees albums. "I'm a Believer" was just the right tempo.

But surprisingly, 'blading turned out to be a breeze, even for a post-pubescent, pre-arthritic adult like me. The hardest part -- after the pavement, that is -- is getting over the fear of falling. I thought I'd give myself whiplash the first couple of steps out, taking gingery little steps and wildly jerking around from the waist to avoid falling. My shins were aching after about two minutes, until I got used to the tight ankle supports that immobilize the lower part of your legs.

After you get the striding motion down pat -- think forward and out, like with any other kind of skating -- 'blading is fun. You whip up your own little breeze and a lot of attitude as you roll along, and although I didn't run into any other skaters, literally or otherwise, it seems like something that would be fun to do either alone or in a group.

While actual skating seemed no problem, stopping or turning was another matter. The brake, on the right shoe, was behind the last wheel, meaning you had to bend your left leg and push out your right heel. Riiiighht. I suggest a nearby tree or (parked) cars. Turning seems to involve slowing down on the foot you're turning toward and continuing to push out with the other foot. Or, the totally uncool way: come to a dead stop and mince your way around.

I took the skates out to Lake Montebello in northeast Baltimore, wondering on the way whether 'bladers were supposed to use the walking-running lane, the bicycling lane or perhaps even the car lane. It turns out the city recently decided what kind of beast a 'blader is -- newly painted instructions on the pavement puts skaters in with the other bi-peds on the innermost and counterclockwise lane. I've seen in-line skaters elsewhere in the area, especially on the B & A Trail from Glen Burnie to Annapolis and in parks (Herring Run has a good, rolling trail), vacant parking lots, and streets with minimal traffic.

Lake Montebello's lanes are nice and flat, although the pavement is rough in parts -- especially one stretch that apparently hasn't been repaved in a while and you can feel every bump right up to the fillings of your teeth.

I've heard of people going 30 mph on these things. I know I got nowhere near that. At first, I was keeping pace with the three middle-aged ladies walking around the same course. Soon, I was overtaking them. Then, I started overtaking the runners. Ha-ha! I was Raquel Welch in "Kansas City Bomber," and I had to resist sticking my elbows out to mow them down. Next, I figure I'll take on the cyclists. But not today.

There must be something about elevating yourself off the ground that hikes up the aggressive-meter. It's the same philosophy behind the big-wheel monster trucks, I think. I got the urge to skate faster and faster and faster . . .

Which is where the pavement comes in. Whoa, instant hubris. I didn't get to test out the elbow pads, but the knee pads and wrist guards did their job just fine. If I were going to go for some real speed, or on bumpier pavement, or around more human or vehicular traffic, I'd wear my bike helmet as well.

Anyway, it was a trip, it was 285 calories per half-hour, it was quite the attention-getter (not all wanted, such as the cyclists who started imitating my flailing arms). And now, in the words of those great musical philosophers, I'm a believer.

Where to find in-lines

In-line skates are available at sporting goods and toy stores from about $40 to $300 or so, which is why you might want to rent a pair before you go for broke.

Several stores rent in-line skates and protective gear. They include:

* Princeton Sports, 6239 Falls Road, 828-1127, and 10730 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, 995-1894, $15 a day or $25 for the weekend.

* Ski Haus Sports Center, 450 Revell Highway, Annapolis, 757-6444, $5 an hour, $10 for three hours, $18 for 5 hours (free travel time to and from B & A Trail, about 15 minutes each way).

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