NEW YORK – If you've ever wanted to get anywhere Dorothy-style, with the click of a heel, Heelys are today's ruby slippers.
The newest fad for sporty types of all ages, Heelys transform from fashionable athletic sneakers into "shoes that roll" at any given moment. By shifting their weight, Heelys' wearers engage a small wheel below the heel that allows them to glide to their destination.
But because there's only one wheel, Heelys newbies might want to test drive the skates before they pick up speed. "The learning curve depends on your age," said Mike Staffaroni, a Heelys spokesman. "Most 8-, 12-, 16-year-olds pick it right up."
When Fox News took some Heelys for a spin around the office, we got closer to breaking a bone than picking up speed. We're told kids over 20 often need a little practice before they get their balance.
Nevertheless, the sneaky skates have struck an unexpected chord with adults.
"When we started we were expecting success with young males, ages 8-14," said Roger Adams, founder of Heelys Sports. "But now 20- and 30-year-olds are using them in office buildings, and I live in them and I'm 47!" he said. He added that even his 87-year-old father wears Heelys.
The rolling shoes also appear to be bringing generations together. Shane Smith, of The Colony, Texas, said his 7-year-old daughter "never takes her Heelys off," and the two of them have begun "Heeling" together.
"They're good for both fun and transportation," Smith said.
Heelys' most devoted fans are definitely teens, which doesn't come without the usual problems. Adams joked that more than a few schools probably "have a contract" out for him for inventing the sneakers.
In fact, some schools, such as those in Texas' Arlington and Plano districts, have put a ban on the wheels.
"Some students are not able to afford more than one pair of shoes," said Malcolm Turner, executive director of student services for the Arlington school district. "Therefore we didn't ban them from the district. But we banned the ability to ride them."
Kyle Berkemeier, a Dallas high school student, said most of his friends' schools have flexible rules about the sneaker/skates, while rollerblades and skateboards are completely banned. "The worst thing is they'll make you take out the wheel, which easily pops out," he said.
Heelys are speeding things up on college campuses as well. Brookhaven College student P.L. Smith, 23, (not related to Shane) said at her school, everybody's Heeling.
"I use them to get to class, the supermarket, the park, the mall," said the Edison, Texas, resident. "I have all the Heelys, every single one."
The wheeling shoes come in four types: Predator, Shredders, Rage, and Stealth, and in a variety of colors. They ring in at $89.95 to $109.95 a pair, but knockoffs can be found for $25 in some areas.
While the trendy skates appear to be a bit more popular among men and boys, Smith said Heelys have become a crucial part of girls' night out. They might even inspire a modern version of roller discos.
"You can dance in them if you're really good. My girlfriends and I wear them when we go clubbing," she said.
Heeling is also becoming a street sport. Impromptu competitions have sprouted up on street corners and in parks, said Staffaroni.
"The types of competition we've seen haven't been an organized thing," said Staffaroni. "It's a street thing. They find an area with railings, like with skateboards or roller blades ... One skater does a trick, then another one follows."
But some self-described stunt skaters said Heelys are for amateurs. "They're not that good, especially for ramps," said 16-year-old blader Ben Bromberg from New York.
Kevin Moore, 16, agreed. "It would be totally uncool for me to wear them. You need trick blades, with a grinding plate."
Adams countered that he didn't invent Heelys to replace skates or blades.
"They're not meant for really aggressive skaters," he said. "But you can't wear skates at school. Heelys you can."