A speedy shoe that just sneaks up on wearers

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A speedy shoe that just sneaks up on wearers

Have you ever been forced to make a long transfer at a subway station and wished you had skates on? Now you can skate those daunting distances, wearing shoes with wheels.

Walk around the ground floor of Techno Mart in eastern Seoul, a mammoth shopping mall specializing in consumer electronics, and you'll see shops selling a variety of low-tech products, such as casual clothes, home furnishings and photo developing services. Amid the hodgepodge of goods for sale is another anomalous product which was recently added, sports shoes that have a wheel housed in the soles to enable sidewalk skating. Called "Heelys," their wheels are detachable, and they function as regular sneakers without them.

The shopkeeper who sells Heelys at Techno Mart, Kim Jin-pyo, doesn't sit still waiting for customers. He dons a pair of Heelys himself and wheels around the mall, zipping through the labyrinth of shops. "This is the secret of attracting customers," he says.

Heelys were first introduced in the United States in December 2000. Since then, some 2 million of the shoe-skates have been sold there. Soon after, Heelys were marketed in Hong Kong and Japan, and attracted enthusiasts. Heelys made their way to the local market about three months ago. Available at big discount shopping malls and several other shops, 5,000 Heelys have been sold in Korea, according to the company that imports them, EM Communication.

Heelys will set you back from 139,000 won (about $110) to 169,000 won. Most of the people who buy them are males aged 15 to 35.

Heely buffs have formed a number of clubs, and about 25 exist online. Kim Jong-hun, a 21-year-old college student majoring in Japanese at Changwon College, leads one of them. "Our members meet offline on a regular basis to have some fun and go heelying," he told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition. They hang out wherever they can find some open space, like a building with a vacant floor or at a park with an open expanse of concrete. "The good thing about Heelys is that I don't have to make time for leisure," Mr. Kim said. "Wearing Heelys, I can enjoy myself anytime, anywhere."

Another leader of an online Heely group, Ahn Gyu-hwan, likes to Heely inside subway stations. He said many new stations with transfers have long walks from one line to the other. "It's a pain in the neck to walk the distance, but once you wear these, it's fun," he said.

A manager at EM Communication, Park Ju-young, warns that Heelys can be dangerous, and beginners should start out cautiously, "especially on Seoul's busy streets."

by Chun Su-jin

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