While I have been skating off and on for over 40 years, competed in a lot of events and am currently a mentor for adult skaters, I recall the very first time I stepped onto the ice. I was only nine years old and was so eager 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 understand any of the stuff – I just wanted to slip 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 starting a lifetime love affair with the game of ice skating!
On this first day, I had no clue what to expect. I’d roller skated a lot around my area, but had a sense that ice skating could 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 first experiences back then, and just how much things have changed now for beginners. What’s more, I want 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 mom took me to the ice rink one summer day. We drove up to this enormous old building with a sign that read,”Ballard Ice Arena” on it, in large blue letters. The ice rink was located in Seattle, Washington, in an older part of town, 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 seemed 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 gorgeous and glamorous white skates I imagined. They looked as though they’d been through a warwith many gigantic feet!
As I sat down and started lacing up my skating boots, they felt as though 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?!”
Gradually, and ever so carefully, I proceeded to wobble down the hallway to the ice with my ankles attempting to balance over the very thin blade, trying to not seem like the newcomer that I had been. I recall how chilly the air smelled too, as I progressed into the ice, but nevertheless it had a clean and sharp quality to it, due to the cold temperature. It’s still a smell I love, even now, because of all of the beautiful memories that I associate with it.
Yes, I understood ice was slippery but, wow, it was really slippery!
As I began to get a better sense for the blades, I gradually began shuffling my feet ahead, in a walking-like movement. I was still hanging on to the rail, but as I moved along, I realized that skating was very similar to going ahead on roller skates. So, I started to push off with one foot a bit as I skated.
While balancing on skates was initially hard, what was a surprise for me is how simple it was to maneuver. I could turn in a variety of directions easily and the gliding felt nearly effortless.
But just like the sidewalk outside, the ice was not completely flat. Since the rink was old and there was a little leaking coming from the ceiling, the moisture froze, and accumulated into lumps on particular areas of the ice, especially around the border. Hey, I just learned to balance myself; anything more than this was too much!
While falling was still another 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 rest near my mom. She asked how I liked it and I told her,”I really like it!” My mother 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 saw marginally older skaters perform all kinds of cool spins and spins in the center of the rink. I laughed at myself as I only struggled to stand and skate forward in those contraptions known as”ice skates,” and here these children were almost dancing on the ice! I recall thinking to myself about how much I’d like to learn how to do that!
Well, that first experience might have been a very long time ago, but I could still relate to new skaters as well as the challenges of starting in a new game. Needless to say, it was different for me as a child than it is for my adult students. But I need to say that after looking back, I would not have changed something. Skating has been a huge part of my life and a enormous passion. But a lot has changed in skating and like all sports it’s evolved-thank goodness!
1 big change is that ice rinks nowadays don’t have a tendency to be old and dingy, but are typically either stand alone buildings, or are a part of a sports complex, or are smaller places in shopping malls. They are frequently preserved well and are beautiful. Rinks were often family owned and there was a certain amount of prestige associated with learning to skate at a dingy place and end up in some large, glamorous contest. It was largely about competition, and amenities beyond the principles were believed 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 massive audience in a competition?
The ice was also distinct. These days, many rinks have more than 1 sheet of ice and are open all year! There are some rinks which are outside, like one place in Vail, Colorado. I skated on an outdoor rink in Canada at a park surrounded by a shopping area that was quite beautiful, and had a buddy who skated in a rink in New York that she said is in a building high over the city! That is a far cry from the rinks 40 decades back.
Nowadays, the ice is frequently equally as amazing as the rinks. It is often cleaned each one and a half to 2 hours in many rinks today so there should be no lumps on the ice and the temperature is maintained so there are no drips from the ceiling making 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 gear, especially the rental ice skates.
Some rinks have excellent rental skates and keep them well, while others… well… not so much! As a trainer, this disturbs me because plenty of people get frustrated if the gear is worn down, since it causes pain for the new skater and they do not stick long enough with the game to give it a chance. Often skaters will stop, thinking that it is their ankles which are the issue, rather than the poor equipment that’s not supporting their foot correctly. (A little trick to help with this would be to bring to ACE bandages to wrap the ankle for support before placing on the skate for additional support.)
A whole lot of rinks have games and amenities in the lobbies like snack bars and skating stores. They are quite pleasant today and do a lot more to make the newcomer feel welcomed and valued.
Ice skating is a wonderful game and holds something for everybody and individuals of all ages. I did the vast majority of my skating as an adult and it kept me fit and in excellent shape for ages. It is great exercise! However, it’s also a game that builds character, teaches grace and makes you powerful. And, it is so much fun! I invite folks of all ages to provide this game a try and see the difference it makes in your life; emotionally and physically. Keep away from the Rat droppings should any be around.