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.

Friday, May 18, 2012

- venues

Baseball is an interesting sport as much for its ballparks as for its players and contests: each park has its own personality that colors the experiences of the fans and participants. Once you get out and about in the competitive skating world you will find the same is true of ice rinks -- they range from the sublimely ludicrous to the sublimely astounding.

Sometimes when you walk into a rink you get the distinct impression that it's there by luck and chance, left behind from the remnants of some former activity. The rink near my apartment (here in Van Nuys) is adjacent to a tiny factory that sells ice (cubed, block, snow) and it looks and feels like an old small repurposed ice warehouse. The rink in Simi also has that warehouse repurposed feeling to it. The rink out in Oxnard used to be a gigantic Ralphs supermarket that appears to have drifted into a commercial zone.

I once walked down two long flights of stairs to a rink beneath a San Jose mall that, for all I can figure, must have at one point been a bomb shelter. The old rink in Pasadena (just decommissioned late in 2011) used to be a historic ballroom, complete with chandeliers and tall skylights. All of these places, although slightly weird, had their mundane charm.

Then you get the rinks that are strictly business: they specifically serve the need to skate or earn revenue. At Worlds in Los Angeles next to the actual venue at Staples Center, they cobbled together a steel and Plexiglas makeshift full Olympic size practice rink inside the middle thirds of a cavernous room at the Convention Center. Another interesting pop-up rink appears in October in Woodland Hills: a small outdoors revenue generator in a vacant parking lot by the Westfield mall. Pop-up rinks are good for what they're good for, I suppose.

Then you get that grouping of pop-up rinks that are, well, something slightly more. The new Pasadena Ice Center looks like a simple v-shaped fabric tent structure, but once you're inside you recognize that it's the highest end technically perfect inexpensive rink possible. Staples Center ice seems to professionally pop out of nowhere (from underneath a basketball court?)! Folks created both of these rinks to meet very specific design ends.

All these are fine and well, but they don't hold a candle to the feeling you get at an establishment with the full skating experience forefront in its development. My daughter used to compete at Pickwick, a lovely garden-adjacent full size slab of ice with large wooden grandstands to seat a thousand. The ice rink in the San Diego University Center Mall has a fair amount of seating and is also viewable from the food court, with mesmerizing outside landscaping.

East West Ice in Artesia has an actual purpose-built glass enclosed gym attached at an upper level. Both the Valencia complex and Anaheim's Disney Ice have two full Olympic surfaces and grandstands. Valencia also has an arcade game room, a snack shop, and a small bar. Skaters Edge in Torrance has an entire hockey-themed restaurant attached visible through adjoining windows.

And yet even with all these accoutrements, the small outdoor rink at Yosemite still is the only venue I know that comes with the attached scenery of a National Park.

Because sometimes skating is about more than just the skating.

Friday, May 4, 2012

- judging

Judging figure skating is confoundedly frustrating. To start with one has the abstract sense that "to judge" another's efforts is innately evil... after all, it makes you "judgmental." Heck a skater practiced incredibly hard and is doing the darn best she can out there on the ice. Alone! In front of people!

Another confounding thing about judging is that the metric itself, a "score," is too narrow to reflect upon what a skater brings to the ice. She brings spins. She brings personality. She brings beautiful stroking, incredible flexibility. She brings stamina. She jumps! She balances in impossible configurations. She displays audience presence, she entertains! And no two skaters bring forth a similar mix across all of these skills.

When you judge a local competition you get immediately struck by how unfair the whole process seems. Well maybe "unfair" is imprecise: it's more like scoring local skaters is totally inappropriate. As an exact measure of how well a gal skates, scoring misses the boat by half a mile. It's okay as a rough approximation: the top half of a given group are clearly better than the bottom half, yet individual comparisons fail.

When you watch with judge's eyes the thing that rather immediately stands out is the fragmentation of skills: one skater can have amazing blade control yet no jumps, another can have all the expressiveness in the world but no center of gravity control. It makes it seem a bit unfair that you have to give a final numeric quantity: each skater has her own strengths.

And all of this is aside from the fact of how imperfect judging can be as we allow our emotions to sway ourselves too much (or not enough).

Yeah sure a skater wants to be judged (as this gives her some goal to grow towards) and we rationalize our judging because something about "competing" is just a part of human nature. Without the judging it is no longer a competition, it is just an exhibition.

So what can it possibly mean to "judge" such a combination of disparate traits? It's totally confounding. Maybe we need a different way to rate the local competitors based upon something simple and totally subjective: grace, improvement, expressiveness?