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Get your skates on - John C. Kirk

May. 15th, 2010

11:50 pm - Get your skates on

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Skating is something I've tried a few times, with varying levels of success. I had some roller boots at school: those were the "quad" style of skates (one wheel on each corner), with stoppers on the front that looked a bit like big rubber corks. I tried them a couple of times, but I had trouble stopping. I'd roll along with feet together, point my toes down (a bit like a ballet manoevre), then my feet would stop but the rest of me would keep going, and I'd sprawl flat on my face. Since then, I've discovered that you're supposed to move your feet apart (one in front, one behind), and I can see how that would work a bit better!

When I went to university (in Durham), a bunch of us went ice skating together. The girls had done it before, so they were pretty good, but the guys were all new to it. The other two guys were quite cautious, and edged their way around the rink holding onto the side, so they didn't fall over at all. I agreed to a slightly different approach: a couple of the girls would skate with me (one holding each of my hands), so we'd build up speed, then they'd let go. I fell over several times, but by the end of the evening I think I'd progressed a lot further than the other two guys.

In 1996 (when I was living in the Docklands), I rented a pair of inline skates (aka "Rollerblades") for an evening. I trundled up and down the path outside my flat, clutching onto the railing, but nothing too impressive. In 1998, I then bought a pair of inline skates; I tried them out once, but didn't do much better, and put them aside until I could book some lessons. The next time I used them was in 2003, when I went to Hyde Park with a friend. In 2008, I was inspired to try again, so I booked a set of lessons with Citiskate. Unfortunately, the course was cancelled due to low numbers; they've promised me that they'll refund my money Real Soon Now.

Two years later, and twelve years after I bought my skates, I booked a beginner's lesson with Skatefresh, so I was back in Hyde Park today for that. This went really well, so I'd definitely recommend them to anyone else who's interested in learning to skate.

There were a couple of other things that amused/impressed me while I was at the park. There's a sign up in the loo that says "No water fights are allowed in the park, by order of blah blah." Someone has then written some graffiti above it, which says "Spoilsport!" Also, while we were skating we saw someone go past on an iBOT: it's a cross between a wheelchair and a Segway, and when he stopped it balanced perfectly on two wheels without any movement. (Meanwhile, my arms were "windmilling" to achieve the same effect!)

We started out by "marching" for a few steps, i.e. putting each foot down flat rather than doing "heel-toe" as you would in normal walking, then putting our feet parallel to coast along. The main thing that the instructor kept emphasising is to bend the knees properly; in particular, he kept saying that my legs were too straight. We then learnt to "scissor" (one leg in front), which is important for braking. I can more or less do that, but I'm often not sure whether the brake was actually stopping me or whether I'd just coincidentally coasted to a halt. A frame turns were the easiest bit for me: you keep your feet apart, then push your big toe down inside the boot (on the outside leg), and you do a big turn.

A slightly more advanced technique was the "lemon". This involves moving your feet apart, then back together, then apart again, etc. So, if you were painting lines with your skates, the aerial view would look like a set of lemons. After we'd practiced that, the instructor set up some cups on the ground, and we had to "lemon" our way through, i.e. both feet inside one pair of cups, then outside the next pair. When I made it through, I said "Yes!" out loud, and I may also have punched the air. I felt slightly embarrassed after this, but the learner nearby just grinned; I think there was a shared sense of accomplishment whenever one of us picked up a new skill.

I did fall over several times (I stopped counting after 10), but it didn't really hurt. I was wearing a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads; I also have a certain amount of natural padding on my backside for when I fell over in that direction!

At the end of the session, we played a couple of games; the instructor did a good job of pairing us up based on skill level. The first one was based on "rock, paper, scissors": we started out facing each other, then whoever lost would turn and dash for the next line, while the winner had to chase them. If the loser reached the line first, they got 1 point; if the winner was able to touch them, they got 2 points. Things went slightly amiss in my pair when we both thought that we'd lost, and dashed off in opposite directions!

For the second game, we all lined up in two teams, and the instructor put a cup in the middle. He then called out a number, and that pair (one in each team) had to race for the cup. If one person could pick it up and bring it back to their line, they got the point; if the other person touched them first, they'd get the point. When my pair got called, I reached the cup first, then went sprawling on the ground when I tried to pick it up. However, that meant that my partner didn't actually touch me, so when I'd got up I made it back to my line. The next time, I took the lazier option, and let her crouch down to pick up the cup, then just prodded her while she wasn't moving very fast. The instructor kept up a running commentary of "1 point for you", then after a while he asked whether anyone was actually counting the points. None of us were, so it really was a case of playing to have fun rather than competing to win.

We stayed in a fairly small area for the duration of our class, near the Albert Memorial. Afterwards, a couple of us skated through the park to get to Lancaster Gate. The main difference is that this involved gravel paths: since the surface is uneven, it's harder to skate on than concrete. That said, the other person did better than me, so there's also an element of skill involved! Anyway, it looked as if the east-west paths tended to be concrete, while the north-south paths are gravel, so that's something to bear in mind for future visits.

The instructor demonstrated a few things that we can learn on the improvers course, but I won't be signing up for that right away. One issue is that it's difficult for me to commit to having the same day free several weeks in a row, since I have so many SJA activities going on. However, I also think that I need to practice what I learnt today before I go any further. Potentially I can combine skating practice with a trip to the Serpentine Lido, depending on how tired I get. Anyway, it's good to finally get some use out of these skates!

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