Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Pilgrim's Progress: I journey to Paradise (Skater's Paradise that is).

I booked an appointment with Mike Cunningham at Skater's Paradise back in September after my ice dance coach told me that she thought I had equipment issues with my right skate.  Conversely, I've had "issues" with the left skate almost from the beginning.  Mike is a busy man and is only available a few days per month.  After a month, my appointment day had finally arrived.  It proved to be Ymmm, Ymmm, Good.

I'm surprised the sign doesn't include weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs--they seem to cater to practically everything else.  Skater's Paradise is located within the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center in Waldorf, Maryland.  Waldorf is about a 45 minute ride down route 301 from Bowie.  The rec center is tucked away, back in a shopping mall and is invisible from the road.  I've passed this way many times going to boat regattas in Norfolk, Elizabeth City and points south and didn't realize until recently that I was passing a Skater's Mecca. 

Paradise lies somewhere inside this building.  I arrived way early for my 1pm appointment just so I wouldn't risk being late.

Skater's Paradise shares space with a hockey oriented shop.  The fitting room is a small closet to the right of the shop's entry door.  The tool room where magic is performed is to the left, deep within the hockey side of the enterprise.  The hockey part of the store is also, somewhat confusingly, run by a different "Mike".

After listening to my tale of woe, the good Doctor took my skates back into the inter sanctum.  The first thing he did was to place my left boot up side down on a cobbler's anvil and rest a steel straight edge against the side of the blade.  The blade proved badly warped.  The right blade was also warped but not as much.  Hey, maybe it's not all me after all!  If you look at the end of the work bench closest to the camera, you will see a blade straightening tool.  Basically this is a flat platform with a steel wheel on a handle which can be moved horizontally along the side of the blade, allowing pressure to be applied at targeted locations.  Mike quickly tweaked the blades on this truing stand and worked the warp out of both.  One of the best parts of going to Skater's Paradise is that Mike has an agreement with rink management so that he can put skaters out on the ice for a few minutes after a modification to see if a particular tweak is an improvement or not.  After remounting my blades we did this.  The ice at the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center proved to be fast hockey ice which amplified the fact that my blades also needed sharpening--I could barely hold a right edge (which is what my ice dance coach had picked up on).  It's always a good thing if the patient can present the symptoms in front of the physician--this is usually not my luck with either medical issues or car repairs, but I digress.  We came off the ice and Mike took the right blade off again and made up a couple of shims from a sheet of thin plastic material.  We on-ice tested several positions and thicknesses under the outside portion of my right blade before Mike was satisfied with my edge.  I was both impressed and humbled by the amount of time he took with a low level figure skater who showed up at his door with middling level equipment.  This, after all, is a man who has been the US figure skating Olympic team's skate technician for several Olympiads and has worked on the blades and boots of elite skaters.   

After spending an hour and a half tweaking my equipment, Mike took the skates one last time to the back room for a sharpening.  I waited in the fitting room with his wife Joan, admiring the autographed memorabilia from various Olympic games.  This framed sweat shirt is from the 1998 Nagano games where Tara Lipinski narrowly edged out Michelle Kwan for the ladies gold.

Yes, that's the "Kween's" autograph (with the butterfly wings over the M) above the U of USA

This autographed banner is from the 2002 Salt Lake City games.

An autographed poster from the 1994 games in Lillehammer signed by Surya Bonaly among others. No, I didn't look for Tonya or Nancy's signatures.

Michael Weiss is another satisfied customer.
For those with a technical bent here is a of pix showing the shims Mike installed under the outboard side of my right blade.   The rear stanchion has a similar shim.  Hopefully this will translate into me holding better edges on this foot. 

With over 600 hours on my current three year old boots and blades, I have a feeling this will not be my only visit to Skater's Paradise. I asked him about laces and told him that I have to retie mine after the first twenty minutes or so.  He said that's a sign of the boots breaking down rather than the laces stretching.   Mike told me many of his regulars are lucky to get a year out of a pair of high end boots.  Mike said my blades still have plenty of life in them but after having the warping removed he wouldn't bother mounting them on a new pair of boots.  All in all, a very productive session.  Of course now I've got to stop compensating and get used to blades which aren't warped and a right boot/blade combo which is angled slightly differently!  That all starts with my next moves lesson at 7am this morning...


  1. Wow!
    I think we should expect much improved performance -- Looking forward to a full report.

  2. @Amy: Oh dear, Oh dear! (that's what I like about you--no performance pressure) I can report some improvement from yesterday's foray on the ice (a moves in the field lesson at 0-dark thirty, an ice dance lesson a few hours later, plus a public session in the afternoon) but don't look for my autograph on anyone's T-shirt in the immediate future! Blades were a little spooky at first but feeling great now.