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, February 26, 2012

- balance

It's a curiously entrancing dynamic, watching a coach teach the seven year old gals to skate backward along the center ice circle. The coach already has years upon years of her customary sense of centering and balance, but the seven year olds are cronked between their desire for the same grace as the coach and responding to their own internal millisecond body signals of muscular imbalance.

The coach focuses on teaching them arm position and yet their natural instinct is to use their arms (rather than their trunk muscles) for balance. Maybe that's the first unusual thing to observe when the skaters are just starting out: the sport generally requires arms out, or arms posed, whereas from infancy the natural inclination is to lift your right arm in immediate response to an unexpected body tilt to the left.

As if keeping balanced on one foot over an eighth inch wide blade of steel isn't already hard enough, we ask the young skaters to furthermore ignore using their natural tendency for having their arms help them balance!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

- vapor

After your kid has been competing for a while you get a pretty good sense of the variety of ice rinks. Aside from the big mix in amenities and heating for the parents in the stands, you soon recognize that all rinks share a sublime difference that has more of an impact on how your kid skates. At first you may think it has to do with the Zamboni or the rink's temperature. Somehow they must be affecting the ice's surface. But after years of sitting in a wide variety of rinks I suspect the difference is something deeper, more sublime, and environmentally holistic.

Consider this: over the lifetime of an ice surface, in between complete melts, a couple years of running the Zamboni a couple dozen times over the ice daily, probably deposits a good 20 feet of additional vertical surface above the freezer pipes. Yeah it also scrapes off a bit of the snow on top. Still, how come the ice doesn't rise right up out of the building? The answer my friend, is that ice evaporates.

Natural ice sources, like a lake, have a resupply of water from underneath. The rink however has to always add water on the top. So what influences how the ice evaporates? I am sure there must be some lengthy technical article about this in some trade publication (is there such a thing as Rink Maintenance Monthly?), but my guess is that rinks strike a balance between four variables: temperature, humidity, dehydration rates from the mechanical air conditioning, and the quality of the rink enclosure's "vapor barrier."

Although I can never quite come up with a simple rule that ties them all together, I am quite confident that the vapor barrier is the key determinant to good skating. Compared to a building that has been "repurposed," modern rinks specifically designed for the sport are hence both fifty times more comfortable and have much better ice conditions. It's all about the vapor.

ed note: After writing this I did a bit of research and found this PDF, which explains a lot.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

- jumps

One of the things a parent rather quickly gets an education on is the terminology for the individual figure skating moves. Many are quite distinct in appearance and once you know their names they are easy to spot: a split jump, a sit spin, a spiral, a camel, a layback; all of these you will know right away. I found however that I was always getting confused over the standard jumps. My daughter sat down with me one day and we came up with this (for a right handed skater):

* Skate Dad's Guide to Jumps *

Waltz Jump -- used for warm ups, a simple half rotation, taking off forward

Toe Loop -- turns going in, pick and jump with left, land on right

Salchow (pronounced sow-cow) -- turn going in, jump with left (no pick), land on right

Loop -- turn going in, jumps with both feet, makes "shuush" sound, land on right

Flip -- turn going in, pick and jump with right, land on right

Lutz -- no turns going in, straight back with big trigger and kick on right pick, land on right

Axel -- forward takeoff, one-and-a-half rotation before landing

:: With a pick kick to jump ::
-- Left foot jumps: Toe Loop
-- Right foot jumps: Flip (turns into), Lutz (straight bkwd into)

:: No pick to the ice ::
-- Left foot jumps: Waltz (in forward), Salchow (in bkwd), Axel (in fwd, one-and-a-half spin)
-- Both feet jump: Loop (shuush)

Well it helps a bit, but I still don't have the eye to get them correct completely.