While I have been skating off and on for over 40 years, competed in numerous events and am currently a coach for adult skaters, I recall the very first time I stepped onto the ice. I was only nine years old and was so excited to go through the ice for the first time. Obviously, back then I was not doing it to the physical and mental advantages of the sport. I didn’t know any of that stuff – I just wanted to glide around and have a terrific time, the way all those figure skaters seemed to have fun on TV. Little did I know that if I took those first wobbly steps, I was beginning a lifetime love affair with the sport of ice skating!
On this first day, I had no clue what to expect. I’d roller skated a lot around my neighborhood, but had a feeling that ice skating would be wholly different. As there are a lot of unknowns when you pick up a new sport or hobby, I want to share with you my initial experiences back then, and how much things have changed now for beginners. More importantly, I’d like to share with you what, as a new skater, you can expect when you venture on the ice for the first time.
I still remember that day, when my mother took me to the ice rink one summer afternoon. We drove up to this big old building with a sign that read,”Ballard Ice Arena” on it, in big blue letters. The ice rink was located in Seattle, Washington, in an older part of the city, so the building had that old classic look you would expect from Rocky films. As we opened the door, I remember looking into a gloomy reception and being unimpressed. It looked so much older on the inside of the building than it had been on the outside.
I approached the skate counter with my mom by my side to receive my first pair of rental skates, and almost started giggling when I was handed these gloomy and quite unattractive skates. They were nothing like the beautiful and glamorous white skates I imagined. They looked as though they’d been through a war–with many gigantic feet!
As I sat down and started lacing up my skating boots, they felt like they were just two foreign objects attached to my feet rather than like a comfortable pair of shoes. Then, when I awakened for the very first time that I remember thinking,”How on earth do people walk in these things, let alone skate in them?!”
Slowly, and ever so carefully, I proceeded to wobble down the hallway to the ice with my ankles trying to balance over the very thin blade, trying to not look like the beginner that I had been. I remember how chilly the air smelled too, as I progressed into the ice, but nevertheless it had a clean and crisp quality to it, due to the cold temperature. It’s still a smell I love, even now, because of all the beautiful memories I associate with it.
Yes, I understood ice was slippery but, wow, it was really slippery! I just stood there for a minute or so to get the feel of things and see how to balance on the ice surface.
As I began to get a better sense for the blades, I gradually began shuffling my feet forward, in a walking-like motion. I was still hanging on to the railing, but as I moved along, I realized that skating was very similar to moving ahead on roller skates. So, I started to push off with one foot a little as I skated. It got easier and easier as I went until I finally could let go of the railing.
While balancing on skates was initially hard, what was a surprise to me is how simple it was to maneuver. Much easier than roller skates! I could turn in a variety of directions easily and the gliding felt almost effortless.
But just like the sidewalk outside, the ice wasn’t completely flat. Since the rink was old and there was a little dripping coming from the ceiling, the moisture froze, and eventually accumulated into bumps on certain parts of the ice, especially around the border. I remember going over the bumps and it seemed a bit like the moguls on skis-something to be avoided at all costs! Hey, I just learned to balance myself; anything more than that was too much!
While falling was still a distinct possibility, I seemed to have the ability to balance fairly well. So I continued skating for about 45 minutes or so before I had to sit down for a break near my mom. She asked how I liked it and I told her,”I love it!” My mom was really happy for me, because she found a new action for her daughter to keep her out of trouble for the summer!
While I rested on the sidelines, I watched slightly older skaters perform all sorts of cool spins and jumps in the center of the rink. I laughed at myself as I just struggled to stand and skate forward in these contraptions known as”ice skates,” and here these kids were almost dancing on the ice! I recall thinking to myself about how much I would love to learn how to do that!
Well, that first experience may have been a very long time ago, but I can still relate to new skaters and the challenges of starting in a new sport. Needless to say, it was different for me as a kid than it is for my adult students. But I need to say that after looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Skating has been a huge part of my life and a huge passion. But a lot has changed in skating and like all sports it has evolved-thank goodness!
1 huge change is that ice rinks today don’t have a tendency to be dingy and old, but are typically either stand alone buildings, or are part of a sports complex, or are smaller venues in shopping malls. They’re frequently preserved well and are beautiful. Back then, it was a different culture. Rinks were often family owned and there was a certain amount of prestige associated with learning to skate in a dingy place and end up in some large, glamorous competition. It was mostly about competition, and amenities beyond the principles were thought to make you soft. Hey, if you could not skate in some run-down construction with only the bare essentials, how can you stand the pressure of a huge audience in a competition?
The ice was also different. These days, many rinks have more than 1 sheet of ice and are open all year! There are even some rinks that are outdoors, like one place in Vail, Colorado. I once skated on an outdoor rink in Canada at a park surrounded by a shopping area that was quite lovely, and had a friend who skated in a rink in New York that she said is in a building high over the city! The rink was suspended on one of the floors of the building with windows all around it. That is a far cry from the rinks 40 years back.
Today, the ice is frequently equally as beautiful as the rinks. It is often cleaned every one and a half to two hours in most rinks today so there should be no lumps on the ice and the temperature is maintained so there are no drips from the ceiling creating the obstacle course which I experienced in the old Ballard Ice Rink. And surprisingly, the temperatures in many rinks are rather warm.
The one thing though that’s still questionable is the skating equipment, specifically the rental ice skates.
Some rinks have great rental skates and keep them well, while others… well… not so much! As a coach, this disturbs me because plenty of people get discouraged if the equipment is worn down, since it causes pain for the new skater and they don’t stick long enough with the game to give it a chance. Often skaters will stop, thinking that it’s their ankles that are the issue, rather than the poor equipment that is not supporting their foot properly. (A little trick to help with that would be to bring to ACE bandages to wrap the ankle for support before putting on the skate for additional support.)
The sport has grown so much and the environment in skating rinks has changed a lot so the experience for beginners is a great deal more fulfilling. A whole lot of rinks have games and amenities in the lobbies such as snack bars and skating stores. They are quite pleasant today and do a lot more to make the beginner feel welcomed and appreciated.
Ice skating is a wonderful sport and holds something for everyone and individuals of all ages. I did the vast majority of my skating as an adult and it kept me fit and in great shape for ages. It’s great exercise! But, it’s also a sport that builds character, teaches grace and makes you powerful. And, it’s so much fun! I invite folks of all ages to give this game a try and see the difference it makes in your life; physically and psychologically.
Happy skating! Rat droppings free!