Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May is the cruelest month.

My apologies to T. S. Eliot.  April may breed lilacs out the dead land, mixing memory and desire, but in May the City of Bowie melts the ice for two months just as many skaters are right on the cusp of passing the next ISI level!  Two months of struggling to find higher priced ice time close enough to get to after work.  Two months of struggling to keep from going backwards skill-wise.

I'm just back from the last public session of the skating "year".  The usual crowd was there plus a coach with two very good women hockey players going through drills.  I'd not seen this trio before but they were a welcome addition.  I've got no beef with actual hockey players (they very seldom show up at publics and as a rule are VERY good skaters).  The coach was a tall, shaven dome man with hawk-like eyes.  The women went through their drills like greased lightening.  Later I overheard one of the rink staffers ask how they did this year and the young ladies indicated that since their team finished number one they reckoned they'd done OK...

But enough about them--what about me?  I savored my last swing rolls and waltz jumps and will no doubt be grumpy later in the week as withdrawal settles in. My choices in order of length of drive distance from Bowie are:

Piney Orchard ~9.1 miles/15 minutes away

Wheaton Ice Arena ~22.8 miles/32 minutes away

Columbia Association Ice Rink ~22.9miles/34 minutes away

Capitol Club House ~32 miles/43 minutes away

Piney is the obvious choice.  They have a public on Friday evenings (hopefully not a DJ/disco ball affair) and a Sunday afternoon public which diaristdaughter and I can make.  Trouble is that Piney is a dark hole with so-so ice.  Yes, I'll skate there but don't be surprised to see a "new" geezer show up on your ice if you skate at Wheaton, Columbia or Waldorf.  Tis the season for Bowegian skaters to become wandering ice tourists--sigh....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Free Style 1: Still a work in progress

Today was the last group lesson of the current set which I signed up for back at the beginning of this month.  We did skate our program and afterwards coach Mike handed us our assessments.  None of us passed but all of us made progress.  For comparison, above are my two scores.  The first is from January of this year and the second one is from today. Back in January I got a passing mark for three out of the six FS-1 elements (5 is the minimum passing mark for a given element).  Today I increased that to passing five out of six.  The only thing holding me back is the 1/2 flip jump, but since I've discovered how to make my boots snug I'm confident that both the jump and the left FO3 turn which proceeds it will quickly improve.  On Wednesday, 1 May, our rink melts the ice for two months in order to do annual maintenance of the building and ice making machinery.  I'll skate when I can at other rinks and I plan to enroll in group lessons during July and August.  Hopefully I'll be able to get over the top of  FS-1 before I'm 90!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Heel cup update

Of all the various things I've tried in an attempt to get my Jackson Freestyle boots to fit properly the gel heel cups which I blogged about earlier today are easily the most effective mods to date.  I skated the late afternoon public session today and slipped them in my boots just prior to taking the ice.  Truth be told I still had to come in and retie my laces after about twenty minutes but that's twice as long as previously and once retied, my boots stayed pretty much spot on for the remainer of the session.  For the first time my heels felt locked into the boots.  As a result all the elements which depend upon the left foot improved immediately.  That not only included left outside 3s but also alternating back cross-overs at speed.  I can't wait for power stroking tomorrow!  Maybe it's all in my head but I don't think so.  My confidence increased with each successfully completed jump and improved turn, spin, etc.  I just wish I'd tried this sooner.  The heel cups I purchased were relatively inexpensive at $11.65/pair (tax included) at my local Sports Authority store compared to the similar Silipos brand items listed at one on-line site for $29.99 plus shipping.  If you are experiencing heel movement with your boots by all means give these a try.

Boot Fit: The Saga Continues

Above is my latest gambit in the seemingly never ending war of boot fit--yes, my boots and I are still at war.  When the laces (and boots) are snug then my clockwise skating is markedly better than usual but after ten minutes I can almost always feel my heels (left one in particular) moving around in the boots when I do forward swing rolls, for example.  Hopefully these gel heel cups will take up just enough space to eliminate the slop without elevating my heels to some new weird angle.  I'll find out this afternoon.  Little by little I'm getting these boots to bend to my will.  Being somewhat fatalistic, I'm inclined to believe that I'll finally achieve perfection about a week before they wear out!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ain't no cure for the summer time blues--or is there?

I don't know about you but after an energetic skating session the insides of my boots are good and sweaty.  Maybe it's a guy thing.  Maybe I just have sweaty feet.  Don't know.  In winter this is usually not a problem since in between skating sessions I take my skates out of the bag and open up the laces while they "rest" in our heater room.  With the utility room door closed and the gas heater cycling at regular intervals, the interior of the boots usually dry out by the next morning.  However, now we're in spring here in central Maryland.  The heater is off but we haven't turned the air conditioner on yet.  Spring is nice and green and humid. I skate four to five times per week and my boots most times are still damp the next time I put them on, but the worse thing is that this is the time of year that they get mungy (might be a word) smelling.  If other people can smell me coming that's their problem, but when I can smell my own equipment it's problematic for me!  In the past I've tried baking soda and a house-hold product called febreze. Neither one worked well in my hands.  The baking soda simply caked inside my moist boots and then got all over my socks the next time.  As for the febreze, the boots still smelled like stinky boots but ones now parked in a vaguely scented meadow.  Yep, in both cases the boots still smelled and took forever to dry out.  This year I decided I'd needed to do better.

I started out by calling the folks who made my boots.
If you live in North America you can call up Jackson: 800.263.1666 and talk with their tech peeps.  I asked if I could use a typical boot drier with electric heating elements, like the ones used to dry out wet hiking boots or cycling shoes.  My concern with that approach was that the drier might not be consistent with heat moldable skating boots.  The nice lady fielding my call put me on hold for a few minutes and  came back to say that her supervisor didn't think that this was a good idea.  She then asked me if I'd tried baking soda.  When I told her that I had and didn't like the results her reply was that everyone has this problem and to have a nice day!  So much for the manufacturer.  They probably gave me the correct information but it didn't add up to a solution for the problem.  My next step was to go to my local sporting goods store (Sports Authority) and ask for their advice.

The products above are what I came home with.
The Sneaker Balls are the same strategy one might find in a powder room; basically an "air-wick" type substance enclosed within a plastic sphere.  You twist the ball to open the vents and drop one into each boot.  The vents on the sides permit the contents to volatilize and diffuse within the moist boot.  The Fresh Fogger is an athletic take on febreze.  Neither product will dry the interior of the boots and it remains to be seen (or smelled) if either one has a leg up on febreze.  In the end I just may go ahead and see if there's a boot drier that has a temperature setting.  Ideally, what one wants is just a smidgeon of warmth to complement a fan blowing air into the boots.  Too much heat and the boots will lose their shape.

Now if any of my readers has cracked this nut I'd love to hear what works in the comments box.  I promise not to make any snide jokes about your smelly skates!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Ice for Bowie?

The city of Bowie has hired a consulting firm to investigate the level of support for a new indoor sports complex that would feature two sheets of ice along with a fitness center and perhaps an aquatics center.  This is hopeful news, particularly in an era where local government support for any "frills" (yes, believe it or not, that includes ice skating) is generally shrinking rather than expanding.  If you live in central Maryland and think you might skate at a new rink complex here in good ol' Bowie, please take the ten minutes or so to complete the survey.  The survey closes at the end of April so don't put it off.  I may take it several times! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Free Style-1 Programing Continued

OK, the district championships are over and while they were great fun to watch, coach Mike says it's time to get back in the harness (figuratively--I'm not advanced enough for the jump harness).  A couple posts ago I outlined the first half of our FS-1 test program.  You can refresh you memory by clicking on the link in the preceding sentence if you don't want to scroll down a noodge.  Last Saturday he gave me and my three foot tall classmates the rest of the moves.  The kids quickly caught on but I realized that I'd need some practice time to knit all the parts together without ploughing a furrow.  With only a couple of lessons to go the heat is on.  So it was off to a couple of public sessions earlier this week.

Recall that our program left off with us doing a forward spiral and dropping into a lunge.  The last half picks up at that point.  We rise from the lunge, do a couple of forward inside edges and then a forward inside Mohawk which places us in position to do our required outside and inside back edges.  From the last back inside edge we step around and do a waltz jump, then a couple of back cross-overs, step into a two-foot spin and finally stop with a presentation pose.  The required elements for FS-1 are the forward pivot, back inside and outside edges, the waltz jump, the half-flip jump, a forward spiral and the two-foot spin.  The lunge, forward and back cross-overs, forward edges, Mohawk, etc. that knit the program together are from lower test levels and are not graded--which is a good thing.  That blasted ccw Mohawk cost me a broken radius last year.  I'm rigging the order of my forward edges to set me up for a cw Mohawk instead!  We'll see if Mike buys it...

Monday afternoon I got to the rink and saw one of my classmates.  Lydia, smiling as ever, quickly got down to practicing the program.  I was distracted by a couple of adult skaters and instead of working on the program I got involved in learning the steps for the chassé which of course has nothing to do with the business at hand. 

Now the several figure skating books that I have attempt to explain the chassé but either they don't get the job done or I'm a poor reader because I could never quite figure out what now seems to be a simple sequence of a stroke, followed by lifting the skating foot followed by another stroke by the original pushing foot.  This is followed by the same steps but with the roles of the feet reversed: push, lift, push; push, lift, push.  I circulated the rink practicing this over and over, mesmerized by the rhythm of thing.   I guess it was one of those elements I just needed to see done on-ice.  All this was a nice revelation and definitely worth learning, but before I knew it the session was over and I'd accomplished diddly-squat in terms of practicing the program!  Yes, I'm easily distracted, sigh...  Why is it that when you have a test coming up that almost anything but the assigned task seems so irresistible? 

Fortunately for me, Tuesday also offered a late afternoon public session and I was able to get away from the lab in time to take advantage of it.  Equally fortunate for me, neither Lydia or my adult skating buddies were present this day and with the rink almost deserted I got down to work. I was able to run through the entire program several times and iron out a few question marks that were part of my faulty recall when making notes after the lesson.  And it appears that my half-flip jump is slightly improved.  I think at this point if I can get the required six revolutions for the two-foot spin I just may be able to pass this thing.  Towards the end of the session I knew it was time to get off the ice as my ability to execute deteriorated.  At least I had the satisfaction of a couple of good run-throughs before my performance started to go pear shaped.  I'll get another shot practicing all this on Friday afternoon.

The remaining missing puzzle piece is the music.  This coming Saturday Mike will no doubt introduce that.  I'm not sure how I'll be able to practice timing the program to the music after the lesson unless I can download what ever he selects to my iPod shuffle.  Our test will take place on the last Saturday of the month, the 27th.  On the 1st of May the rink closes for two months.  It would be nice to escape FS-1 and have the last couple of skates before the annual shut down just to enjoy skating!  We shall see. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

ISI District IV Championships--this weekend at Bowie Ice Arena.

Although I'll have my usual power stoking session and performance class on Saturday morning, from 2pm on, my rink will be given over to the above mentioned ISI District competition. Even though I won't be able to watch all the Saturday events due to other commitments I do plan to watch the Artistic Silver group, from 6:30 to 7:00, since a couple of my adult skating buddies will be going head to head (I'll need to know who to congratulate and whom to console the next time we're on-ice!).  The schedule of events for the two days can be found here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Programs, Programs, get yer Program. Ya can't tella Knight from a Day without a Program...

My sincerest apology to Bugs Bunny for today's post title. This line bubbled to the top of my memory bank from the hours upon hours of watching "Loony Tunes" as a kid and I just had to steal it.

Today was my first class in a group lesson series billed "Free Style Program".  Basically this is a 45 minute Saturday class, spread out over the next four weeks that follows my power stroke session, so for once in my life I ought to arrive at a lesson warmed up!  The idea is to take skaters of similar free style abilities and for the first 30 minutes work on the skill elements that are part and parcel of whatever free style level they are attempting to pass.  The last 15 minutes of this class is devoted to stringing those isolated elements together in a pleasing-to-watch array set to music. 

Now this class is a bit different from the Adult group lessons diaristdaughter and I've been taking on Thursday evenings.  The class density is roughly the same but instead of having a broad spectrum of skill levels typically ranging from nervous board-huggers to free-stylers, this class was subdivided into skaters all at about the same level.  It was more like a true lesson rather than like being in a one room school house.  Our instructor didn't have to split attention between folks attempting vastly different skills.  Instead he could focus on specific elements within a given ISI free-style level and work all of us through a specific skill and after watching each of us attempt the skill have the luxury of time to break a given element, say the half-flip jump, into pieces for us to practice, according to our individual weaknesses.  As a result, my forward inside pivot greatly improved with the very first lesson and I now have a piece of the half-flip to practice the next time I'm at a public session.  I suspect this is why young, competitively driven skaters have private coaches!

Oh, and the other major difference between this class and my regular adult class is that my three classmates were "perky" and on average about three feet tall--the kind of skaters adults usually worry about tripping over.  Fortunately, for the sake of my ego, they weren't too much beyond me skill-wise!  The young ladies could all do pivots and two-foot spins more gracefully than I but my Waltz jump and back edges were better than theirs.  As the thirty minutes progressed we all worked through the half dozen required FS-1 elements: forward inside pivot, two-foot spin,  half-flip, Waltz jump, forward spiral and back inside and outside edges.

For the last 15 minutes of this 45 minute class our instructor told us we now needed to knit these skills together to form an interesting program.  We quickly ran out of time but so far our "program" is as follows:  we start off facing the long axis of the ice and do an inside pivot (two turns, then freeze facing the original direction) we then take a couple of forward strokes, do a couple left forward cross-overs into a left forward outside 3 turn which provides the entry edge for the half-flip jump.  The jump is followed by a couple more forward strokes and cross-overs to bring us into position for a forward spiral.  The spiral is followed by a lunge.  Time ran out and we still have to figure out how to incorporate a Waltz jump, the two-foot spin and the required FS-1 back edges.  That will be work for next Saturday.  After we have the basic program figured out the next step is to make it work to music.  Ah yes, the music.  I'm a little antsy about this.  Will the music be something classy or will it be something dripping with teeny-blopper angst? 

Now it's one thing for a grown man to attempt to do something "graceful" in the arm gesture department and something else again to do so while skating to music from the discography of, oh I don't know, maybe Miley Cyrus--oh the humanity!  The risk in all this is that some smart-aleck will capture the moment with a smart phone and with my luck the resulting video will go viral on youtube.  It's so true--one must suffer for one's art!  Programs, Programs, get yer Program!