Instead of my usual start-of-skating-season post for n00bs I’m posting this all-new one, written de novo, ab ovo, ab initio, and ex vacuo. Alright, I won’t do any more Latin. Here’s the most recent version of the usual post if you want to read that one too.
I’ll start with some quick bullet points for total n00bs:
• Wear layers so you can adjust your temperature to suit. Every rink is different and every person is different.
Female figure skaters love to wear all black when they’re practicing, for some reason. Sometimes the rink looks like some sort of Ice Ninja training facility. This is not required; you’re allowed to wear actual colors.
• Bring tissues. Every rink is a different temperature, but they’re all cold, natch, and this is likely to make your nose run.
• When you start, make at least one slow circuit of the rink in which you look for any imperfections in the ice. Ice can have gashes and chips from previous skating, even after resurfacing, and there can even be mounds of ice if there’s a drip from the ceiling. I’ve seen one half as big as my fist.
Let’s get deeper into it:
“It’s just like walking on ice, dude.” NO IT ISN’T!
Why does ice skating seem weird and difficult when you first try it?
Well, for one thing, you can’t plant your feet, as you’ve been doing on terra firma (I lied about the no more Latin thing) ever since you could walk. This seems weird and unsettling and makes you fall down at first.
Yet you see hockey players hurtling around at high speed, figure skaters jumping into the air and twirling around three times before landing on their feet, etc. (Twirling, always twirling toward freedom!) More casually, the rink where I mostly skate these days is predominantly populated by regulars: Come there and you’ll see us standing around on the ice chatting when we’re not working out. Everyone’s at ease; falling is not a thing for this crowd in that situation.
How? “Practice,” you say. Yes, of course.
But it’s also a change in mindset, in the whole basic approach to how you’re interacting with the medium under your feet.
On ice there is no stillness. There’s no “plant your feet and just stand there.” It is inherently dynamic. This is what makes ice skating so exhilarating.
Watch the feet of those practiced skaters standing around chatting. Unless they’re leaning against the boards, their feet are almost always in motion, at least a little. Ice is slippery (news flash!) and when you’re standing on ice, perched atop blades an eighth of an inch thick, you are by default in motion. It’s play, constant glorious play.
Another thing you must re-learn: On ground, both moving and stopping involve pushing with your feet against the ground in the same manner, whatever the direction in which you’re applying the force. Want to move forward? Push either foot backward. Want to move to the left? Push a foot to the right. Etc.
But your skates’ blades point from the front to the back of your foot, so your ability to push against the ice depends on which way your feet are pointed. I suppose that to noobs this seems like a mad universe with mad laws of physics.
Want to move forward? Pushing a foot straight backward doesn’t work. You’re sliding a narrow blade straight back on ice. All that will happen is that your foot will go back. To go forward you must turn the pushing foot to the side so the blade’s inside edge digs into the ice when you push back.
(Skate blades have an inside edge, toward the side of your foot that faces the other foot, and an outside edge, that’s on the side of the blade that faces away from the other foot.)
What about stopping? Trying to plant your feet doesn’t work if your feet are facing forward; you’ll just continue gliding. Again, you have to turn your feet sideways so the blade’s edge can scrape against the ice and friction you to a stop. (Yeah, I just verbed the word “friction.”) But it violates your instincts at first that your ability to push against the ice depends on which way your feet are pointed. No wonder n00bs fall sometimes. Really, it’s impressive that they fall as little as they do.
To turn on ice you have a couple of options. As with firm ground, you can turn by stepping in the desired direction. But when you’re in motion you can also turn by simply shifting your body weight in the desired direction. The way your edges interact with the ice will naturally induce a curve in your direction of motion.
So most of your instincts are wrong when you’re first starting. I always cringe when I overhear noobs with false confidence telling their friends as they’re lacing up, “It’s just walking on ice, dude.” No!
(1) By default there is no stillness on ice. To be on ice is to be in a world of wonderful, unceasing free movement.
(2) Simplified summary of the basics for noobs: The effects of applying force against the ice with your feet are not the same in every direction. The front-to-back direction of your feet is very low-friction. The side-to-side direction of your feet is very high-friction. You use these two facts together to control your movement. Gliding is effortless on ice, and you use your edges to push yourself into motion, to stop yourself, or to turn.
We’re not meant to walk; walking is a second-best activity we have to settle for when we can’t be on the ice.
Confession: I love watching noobs trying to skate. They act like the ice is their enemy! Silly noobs! Ice is not your enemy! Ice loves you and wants to be skated on (as long as you respect it). Let me re-purpose a statement Ben Franklin made about wine:
Ice is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.