This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

- sand

When you are on the ice for hours at a time, you begin to appreciate the minuscule and subtle differences of where your feet contact this piece of Earth, this artificial layer you triage with steel blades and a millimeter of meltwater. Ice conditions vary from rink to rink and even within the same rink, depending on the weather outside, the humidity management, and how "thick" they are resurfacing.

Ice can feel "fast" or "slow", hard or soft, springy or deadening. Not to mention rough, smooth, slick, bumpy, and even wavy. Most rinks have an inconsistent surface at any given instant due to the uneven wear in the surface or the inconsistent cooling underneath it. I've even been in a couple rinks with skylights where the sun's path across the ice leaves a trail of slush.

But wait, there's more. Just a few inches under your feet lies the substrate, what the ice is built upon. Every decade or so a rink will completely resurface; if you ever get the chance don't miss the opportunity to watch this. The whole process can take a month.

After they turn off the freezer pipes and let the ice melt, draining and mopping off the water, they will bring in the shovels and rakes and remove the paint. Then you have freezer pipes under a couple inches of sand (some of it quite wet now, depending on the condition of the prior paint). Lift out the pipes, then bring in the mini bulldozer to scoop up the sand and the gravel under that. Now you are left with a big empty building.

Of course things are a little trickier when you get ready to build the ice up again in reverse. Is all the new gravel and sand level and equally tamped down? Are all the pipes flowing leak-free? Is the paint dry yet? Is the new water clean? It turns out that what determines most of the ice's personality you don't even get to see: you are skating on gravel, sand, and paint.

Friday, March 18, 2011

- repeat repetitively

One thing that stultifies the participants (and the spectators as well) is that the artform enforces itself through relentless repetition. More than anything the repetitive practice, demanding in its tedium, separates the pros from the pretenders.

To seriously critique the sport you have to spend entire days ... in a row ... watching. Mostly this is due to the unusual competitive dynamic that you don't find in any other sport: since the skaters compete one at a time over the couple minutes of each program, the whole competition stretches for days.

This tends to incur a "live, breath, and eat" mentality in both the participants, the skatemoms, and to some extent the fans.

One big side effect of the repetitive nature of the sport is that, for the serious fans, it induces a sublimely entranced pattern of imagination. It is almost as if the sensory deprivation of the enforced attention to music and whitebooted skating feet creates a meta framework for using your imagination to visually enhance the music.

Sit for a couple of hours with a hot coffee and your jacket and the sklish of white boots on ice, colors and patterns, swirling and sparkling to the music. Repeat repetitively.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

- a pleasant surprise

I suppose a lot of the practice gets dedicated to the standard and expected competitive moves, but the more amazing things for a parent are the individually unique endeavors. I suppose a good deal of the creativity of the skaters happens under the radar, behind the scenes during practice.

Sometimes they see and get ideas from one another, and a lot of times they just experiment around, either individually or in small groups. Once in a while my daughter will practice a move that catches me completely off-guard. I'll see her go through a three turn, enter into a standard spin, and then gracefully catch her foot and move into a position that I've never seen before. Wow, where did she get that?