Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Politics of Skating

I just want to skate. I want some decent ice with relatively few people on it so I can do my thing. I want to mind my own business and skate. What is it about the human psyche that coerces us into politics and makes things difficult for everyone involved? I skate at four different rinks, five if you include Lake Placid. At every single one there is upheaval in the skating clubs that run the figure skating programs. One club just ousted a popular coach who took close to 20 students with him when he left. He estimates that the club will loose close to $60,000 this year as a result. Of course, I heard from other people that he might poach the occasional student, which is not the done thing and highly frowned on by other coaches. At another rink the president has two kids that skate and are now old enough to coach. Now, there are trained, certified and insured coaches who can't get work there since the kids are teaching. I wonder if the parents have figured out that the teachers aren't certified? What happens when some kid is hurt and the rink/club gets sued and they find out there is no insurance? Yet another club is having trouble since a second club is muscling in on their territory setting up a skating school on their home rink. So what is a skater to do? Ignore it? Just keep skating and make pretend nothing is wrong? Go on a crusade trying to fix everything? Why does running a club turn into a big political mess?

Of course this isn't just in the skating world. I saw it happen in the gardening club I was in. One of the women made a grab for power trying to shut out people that had paid dues but didn't come to the winter meetings. She didn't like it when I stood up to her and said that if people paid dues they had a right to participate in the club decisions. Then I was in Toastmasters, a speaking club, and I watched a power grab at district level which governs the eastern half of my state. A group had banded together and had the sitting president removed. We have no idea what happened or why since everything was done behind closed doors. Why were people taking this so seriously? It is just a speaking club. Why did they have to go and crush this poor woman who was just trying as hard as she could to run the district? Was that really necessary? It is only a speaking club.

What is it about the wiring in our brains that makes us this way? How can we avoid it? This is supposed to be a democratic society with everyone having a say and a vote so why are there grabs for power? Why do club presidents think they have been filled with the power of God?

I just want to skate.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I have been looking forward to today for several weeks now. This morning was our first adult group class of the season. I love skating this session. It is my absolute favorite. The reason is pretty simple, me, my coach and my skating buddies are all on the ice at the same time paling around with each other and trying out new stuff. It isn't a regular practice session because we don't have the whole ice which means it is a "lets try something new" session. Today was also extra special since my coach was going to teach us loops. The old fashioned school figure loop NOT the loop jump. Ever since I saw this school figure done when I was ten years old I wanted to learn how to do one. It is a small figure eight with an inner tear dropped shaped loop at the top of the figure, hence the name. In order to do it the skater gets into a contorted position and then whips the leg and arm around to make the tear drop. Of course many others think this is about as exciting as watching paint dry but for me it was love at first sight and now I was finally, 30+ years later, going to learn one.

Loops have suddenly taken on new meaning for other skaters besides myself and I keep seeing coaches practicing them since they haven't been performed for decades. This year USFSA has reintroduced it into the kids MIF test because too many of the younger kids are getting injured doing a certain jump (of course I can't remember which one specifically). Loops teach the correct hip and torso position for this particular jump so it got put back in the test after a 30 year absence.

Loops are a bit tricky. They look like they should be easy. After all it is only a single edge with no sudden turns like a three turn or bracket. However, in order to actually execute one you have to go into the loop while bending the knee down, bringing the free foot around then suddenly unbending the knee and bring the free foot suddenly to the front all while switching arms. The stored kinetic energy in the knee and free foot steer you into the teardrop and the sudden release of energy steers you out of the teardrop. This all happens in the blink of an eye. Not as easy as it looks due to the huge coordination of knees, feet and arms. Oh, and I forgot to mention balance because the weight shifts suddenly as well or you go down off your heel.

We started off with both feet on the ice (double footing as it is called) to get the trace of the pattern down along with the foot movement. Once I got a feel for the loop I started doing them one footed. Amy fell several times since her upper body wasn't staying over her skating foot. Me, I was somehow inserting a three turn into it!?! Where did that come from? I would get 2/3rds the way around and bingo a three turn. My coach was madly correcting both of us until we all decided to give it a rest.

I continued my lesson with the coach while Amy practiced some jumps. My coach wanted me to do some stroking and then we got into a big discussion on my blade position on my new boots. We started to try to figure out if the blades needed to be moved some more and whether they needed to go toward the inside or the outside of the boot. She had me try some outside edges. Apparently leaving snow on the ice is bad and means the blades aren't quite right. I left a hell of a snow track with my left foot and I can't do an outside edge on my right foot for beans. I'm guessing they need moving a bit more.

On to some spins. My coach wanted a camel spin. I did a nice one right off. Three entire revolutions; I got upright and finished with a nice scratch spin. I skated over to her and she told me "that is your best spin" and she doesn't give out compliments lightly. I was so happy!! It is probably the best camel I have done in 20 years. Yeah!! While I'm having trouble with edges on these blades they are a dream to spin on. I've been doing some killer scratch spins in practice already and I'm not used to the boots yet. My coach moved on to Amy for her lesson leaving me to diddle around on my own.

I went back to loop practice. I decided to do them as a figure eight which seemed to help me with the timing immensely. Knowing that I had to go into the loop at the top of the eight made me set up for it correctly. Doing eights also forced me to practice on each foot. After a half dozen times I was getting the timing down of the knee bending, free foot swing and arm change. However, I was executing it too slowly to make a tight loop. Mine were large loops almost the same size as the circumference of the eight circle itself. You know, while they aren't close to anything passable for a test I was rather pleased for my first day trying them.
According to the USFSA rule book (an old copy with no date on it):
"Loops: The diameter of the circle of the loop figure should be approximately the height of the skater. Loops should be clean cut, without scrapes or points....The distance from the center of the loop figure to the entry-exit crossing of the loop should be about 5/6 of the diameter of the circle. The length of the loop should be approximately 1/3 of the distance from the entry-exit crossing of the loop tracing to the short axis of the figure. The width of the loop should be approximately 2/3 of the its length."
The diagram at the top of the page is one half of a full loop figure. This would be repeated, flipped of course, on the other foot in the other direction forming a weird looking figure eight. In math it is called a limacon. Of course I was doing forward outside loops. There are also forward inside loops, backward inside and outside loop and all of the above in a serpentine pattern (three lobed eight). These are all advanced figures which is why I never skated them as a kid. I didn't make it far enough along in the school figures to learn them. I am very happy that I finally had a go at them. I think they are fun and it is going to be a challenge to do them correctly. Woohoo!! Let the skating season begin!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Agony of da Feet

Yeah!! I picked up my new boots last Saturday. They are custom made Jackson boots with a Paramount blade. Way too much money but I got a little bit of money from the car accident settlement so I went for it. I am now the proud owner of new boots and blades.

It is an odd feeling getting new boots. I am excited that I finally have boots made just for me but I am in serious pain from trying to skate in them. This always happens. It takes months to break in new boots. I had just been thinking that my old boots were just beginning to feel really good when the lining fell apart. I could have had it fixed but the blades had already been ruined by some over zealous sharpening. So I went for an entire new ensemble. There are many break in methods for new boots out there but my favorite is Ice Mom's (another blogger). Put the skate guards on, set a timer for fifteen minutes, vacuum the rug with your boots on. When the timer goes off, sit down, take the boots off and wiggle the toes and feet. Put the boots back on and repeat until the whole house is clean. I haven't been this adventurous yet but I did wear my new boots to unpack groceries and clean the kitchen. I hate vacuuming so I'm not sure I will ever get around to using Ice Mom's method. Apparently the back and forth motion is similar to skating and makes you bend your ankles which is one of the critical aspects of breaking in new boots: lots of knee bending.

Mostly I've been wearing my boots on the ice. Wednesday was my first day out. I was SO excited. I got to the rink early, paid my $5, and walked into an empty rink. Marvelous!!! I sat down and laced up. I walked over to the boards and opened the gate. I took my guards off and gingerly stepped onto the ice. I held onto the boards and slid the blades back and forth making sure they slid. I also checked where the toe rake hit and where the back end of the blade was. Then I went for a slow glide across the ice. The blades felt sticky. Probably my imagination but I was skating very slowly on them. I couldn't get the speed I normally do; not that I wanted to go fast. I was scared to death I was going to fall over. The new blades are much shorter than my old ones and have a violent toe pick on them. Nothing but stroking and edges today. I tried patch but that didn't go well at all . These obviously not patch blades. I still can't figure out why my push offs are ineffective and noisy. I'll have to have my coach watch and let me know what is going on with my feet. As I took slow laps around the rink, it was annoying the hell out of me that I was the only one on the ice and I couldn't do anything. I finally got up the nerve to try some edges. A lap of forward outside edges and an even slower lap of forward inside edges. I don't have the nerve to go backwards yet. A few slaloms and I'm done. There is searing pain on the outside of my left leg where the tongue is rubbing my leg. Did I mention that they are extra wide tongues? They wrap all the way from outside ankle to inside ankle. I sit down and take off my boots and sure enough I have rubbed and popped a blister on my left leg. No more for today.

Friday after patching my legs up with bandaids and moleskin, I got daring and decided to try some three turns which went remarkably well. Neat and crisp. No toe rake marks and my usual skid mark on the entry was missing. Hum. Maybe I like these blades after all. I wasn't so sure after not being able to do patch on Monday. I steeled myself and turned around and went backwards for a bit. Using both feet of course. Just some elementary pushes. Nothing one foot. I managed to gain quite a bit of speed. The blades seem to be less sticky today. After fifteen minutes of edges and slaloms I decide to try a spin. I did a nice one right off. About a one foot radius series of circles. Not bad for not even trying hard. I am definitely warming up to these blades. My legs were killing me. Time to get off again.

Today was better. I lasted the entire 50 minute freestyle session. I unlaced my boots twice to wiggle my toes and give my feet a rest. I did front and back crossovers, front and back edges both inside and outside, forward three turns inside and outside and some damn nice spins. I am totally warming up to these blades. It is very easy to spin well on them. I did one highly centered spin with only a six inch radius. Woo hoo!! I tried some camels and managed one three rotation spin after tripping over my toe pick a couple of times first. Not too shabby. Maybe my blade is in the right place on the boot. With a little practice I should have a camel spin soon.

I had an extensive talk with my coach after skating today (she was teaching someone else during the session). I can't decide if my boots fit. I am so used to wearing boots that are too short or too long and always too narrow that I can't tell if these fit or not. I've always had to have a half dozen spots punched out to make the new boots fit better. Not so with this pair. Just heat them up and off we go. My toes wiggle freely which is a novelty in itself. My heel slides a tiny bit up and down but apparently that is normal. There is no pressure on my arch at all which is weirding me out. I'm used to the boot arch cramming uncomfortably into the side of my foot, not necessarily where my actual arch is located. Apparently orthotic insoles are an option and I seem to have enough room to accommodate them. I might try them out depending how much they are. Meantime I'm going to give a pair of Dr Scholls a try. I am mostly interested in getting some better arch support since right now I have none. I am also going to have to buy some of the gel ankle cuffs. The tops of my boots are killing me where the tongue is rubbing. I think I am going to cut back some of the foam on the tongue. It is very thick and goes right up to the edge of the tongue which means there is a huge gap between my boot and my leg along the edge of the tongue. I might make a slope out of the foam so there is a transition from thick to thin towards the edge. Then again maybe I should leave it alone. It doesn't slip at all like my old one did.

Overall a vast improvement over my old boots even though they feel a bit big (which might just be my imagination). Mixed feelings on the blade. The spins are great but patch is an issue. I might have to invest in patch boots and blades. A used pair of boots is best for this since they need to be more floppy than freestyle boots.

In the meantime, I just purchased a brand new pack of moleskin so I can skate this week. Oh the pain..............