How not to make a fool of yourself on city's festive rink
Two years ago I was (unfairly) the laughing stock at the Christmas ice rink in Germany.
I bought the trip away as a present for my girlfriend, who pleaded with me to go ice skating with her.
I gave in and agreed to make my skating debut. I was on the ice a matter of 10 seconds before locals whipped out their phones to grab a shot of me - the star attraction - one hand on the railings, the other holding on to my girlfriend while tiptoeing forward.
The pressure was high with hundreds watching me going around the famous Neptune Fountain at the Alexanderplatz Christmas market.
Despite not falling over - a result in my eyes - it is safe to say my confidence was shot and I never intended on returning to the ice again.
But I decided to give Edinburgh’s ice rink at St Andrew Square a bash to see if I can be transformed from Bambi to Torvill and Dean, or even just able to stand unassisted.
The elliptical ice rink has become a firm favourite and a major part of Edinburgh’s festive celebrations with tens of thousands of people putting their skates on each year.
The skaters are of all abilities so I was swayed to stop being stubborn and give in another go. I got the help of ice rink employee Matej Durec, a skating enthusiast who took to the ice for the first time aged six in the Czech Republic.
Matej, 26, was very knowledgeable and talked me through the simple steps of staying on your feet. It is important to bend your knees and keep your weight forward, bringing your chest in the same line as your knees so you’re in a more sitting position. Keeping most of your weight in the balls of your feet, push off until you begin to glide along the ice.
Matej said: “Keep your heels together and make moves from inside to out, bending your knees and push your weight forward which should make you stable as you’re going from side to side.
“You need to not twist your upper body and just try and stay relaxed. When you’re in an upright position you are more likely to fall because you’re not able to adjust as quickly.”
After a nervy first 10 minutes I could tell Matej’s advice was beginning to have a positive impact on my skating.
Don’t get me wrong there was a wobble here, a crash into the barrier there but there was certainly an improvement. I was even beginning to pass others who were on the rink; something I never would have envisaged beforehand.
I’ve previously suffered a broken ankle which makes me even more cautious when it comes to activities such as this, when the likelihood of me falling over is pretty high.
I imagine many beginners putting their skates on have the concern about falling. But even with 20 years experience, Madej is adamant he can still make a fool of himself on the ice and vows it is vital part of improving. Now he glides across the ice effortlessly.
He said: “Hockey is huge in my country and many towns have stadiums for families to go skating for half of the year. I have made many mistakes in my time but it is what makes you better. I try and get the fear of falling out of my mind by pretending I’m stood on the ground. When I’ve fallen it’s nothing to which I wouldn’t survive. I’m just going to stand and try again.
“We are supporting people who do not know how to stand on skates. For some people it will be their first ever experience on the ice we know we can see they are struggling and give them tips in order for them to get more confidence and become better skaters. It’s also about enjoying yourself, we just want to make it more fun for them.”
I may not be ready for Tokyo 2020 just yet but I made it a full half an hour without hitting the deck and definitely left the rink a much better skater than I was when I arrived.
Top tips for skating beginners
Try not to lean backwards while you are skating. Instead, bend your knees and keep your weight forward, as one common mistake beginners make is being too upright. If you have your arms held out in front of your body and opened wide, this will help with balance.
Keep most of your weight on the balls of your feet, pull your stomach and chest in, and have your chest and shoulders facing forwards.
Start with small steps with toes pointing out until you start to glide. Between each push, bring your feet back so they are centred. To stop, bring your feet so they are parallel, then push your heels out with your body still upright and knees bent.
Steer with the shoulders, turning the outside one forward, and try to speed up as soon as you feel confident.
Push in a more powerful fashion and bend your knees a bit more to go faster.
Finally, if you do fall, get your hands away from the ice as soon as you can. Get on to both knees, then try pushing yourself up from your raised knee.