Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Skatefreestyle workshop: May 4th and 5th near Bremen, Germany

Tim and I will be heading to Bremen, Germany for a freestyle slalom workshop on May 4th and 5th. We are greatly looking forward to it, as it has been a long while since we've given a workshop, and in the meantime we've gained quite a bit of teaching / skating experience that we're both eager to share.

The content of what we teach will of course depend on who our students are. In the recent past we've had success doing choreographed slalom runs with students, which gets people working on every aspect of their slalom at once --including the flow, transitions, the individual moves making up the combo, as well as getting people to see how they can combine things in new ways themselves. So we'd like to incorporate this into the weekend, as well as teaching you some stylish new slalom moves. However, please let us know what you are interested in as well, so we can get an idea of what everyone in the group is looking for.

The weekend will be a time for eager slalom skaters to learn, share, and practice. Whether you are a beginning slalomer or advanced one, as long as you can skate forwards and backwards and are ready to practice for at least a solid eight hours (spread over Saturday and Sunday) and learn some slalom theory as well, then the workshop is for you.

The skating hall will also be open later on both Saturday and Sunday for some extra hours of skating (if you've got the energy left in you).

What: Skatefreestyle slalom workshop. Slalom style, techniques, and combinations.
Who: ICP certified inline slalom instructors Megan McIntosh and Tim Schraepen
Where: Zum Schoofmoor, Lilienthal, Germany Street where the sporthall is located in Lilienthal, Germany:
When: May 4th and 5th, from 10:00 - 17:00 both days (1 hour lunch break plus several 15-minute pauses for snacks and recharging)
Price: Workshop price is €90 per participant. This covers two days of instruction. It does not cover the cost of your lunch, so either bring your lunch along with you or be prepared to buy some food while we are there.
Minimum level: Basic skating skills (forwards, backwards, stopping, be able to balance on one foot for short stretches).
Protective gear: Encouraged
Participants: Maximum 12 people (sign-up and deposit in advance required to confirm your spot, so please don't wait until it might be too late)

How to sign up:
  1. In order to reserve your spot in the workshop, make a deposit via the Paypal button on the righthand side of the blog page. You can either make a €20 deposit to reserve your spot and pay the remainder in cash on the day of the workshop, or you can pay everything at once by selecting the €90 option.
  2. Please email me (Megan) at megan9mm@gmail.com and include the following information:
    • Your full name
    • Your telephone number
    • How much slalom experience you have
    • Any particulars you are interested in learning during the weekend. 
    • Whether you made the deposit or if you've paid in full
    • Approximately when you paid, so I can cross-check my payment list with the sign-up list.
Any questions, please ask! Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

WFSC 2011 Geisingen! Also, Nerves

This year's world championships might actually be my favorite competition of all time. For the record, this year's PSWC probably clocks in as my second favorite of all time.

However, I think as far as my own skating goes, Geisingen takes the cake. Not only was I able to have a positive, carefree attitude about the whole experience, but I also skated better in competition than I ever have before, which turned out to be terribly good timing, it being the world championships and all.

Actually, aside from London where I flatly refused to participate after flubbing my classic (again) and being road-weary and just wanting to be home (in Belgium), I think my skating has gotten better in every competition this year. Of course that has something to do with training, but I think more of it is finally being able to skate in a battle without feeling like my legs have turned into cooked spaghetti.

In the past I have always felt like I am fighting two battles when skating in a competition --the one that everyone sees in the Youtube clips, but more importantly the one in my head where I was willing myself to go into the cones and feebly imitate the tricks that I could do so well in practice. That was always the most frustrating thing about competing: knowing I could do something perfectly well, but never being able to show it when it counted because of being incapacitated by nerves.

Now, three years later, I am finally at the point where I can use nervous energy positively, instead of letting it sink into my stomach and fill me with dread.

The last time I was "bad nervous" in a competition was in Bremen back in April. Actually, I was only nervous before the competition, because by the time I had to skate, I had made the decision that I wasn't going to let that get to me anymore, and then it started to be fine. I didn't do it alone; other enlightened people (especially Sinead!) helped me. :)

If only it were that easy, right? But really, every competition since then, it's gotten a little bit better and better, but only because I maintain my commitment to that decision and I reinforce it all the time. I still have nervous flutters, but now they don't seem so bad, and I can use them differently than I used to.

I also used to wonder why women skaters seem to get more nervous than the men during battles, but somebody pointed out to me that the men don't feel any less nervous than the women; it's just that the women talk about and/or show their feelings more. Ha. So true.

Anyway, one skater (who reads my blog! Yay!) actually came up to me at WFSC and asked me what I do in order to deal with nerves during competition, and I've been thinking about his question since then. I feel particularly qualified to answer this question, because I have personally gone from feeling debilitated by fear to actually enjoying skating in competition, with most of that progress having been made this very season. So, here are a few things you can also try to do, if you find yourself at a competition (or anywhere) and you feel like you might want to run away and hide instead of doing the thing you are supposed to do.

Mastering your nerves takes time and practice, just like slalom itself. So don't beat yourself up when you have a slip-up and retreat back into scared, I-don't-want-to-do-this mode. If you hold yourself to too high a standard, you will get too nervous trying not to be nervous!

Here's what I recommend:

1. Acceptance. The first thing to do is to accept what you are feeling, and know that it is a physical response to chemicals being released in your system. Realize that this response is programmed into you so that you can use it to survive, and that you can learn to use this flood of chemicals for something positive, but that it takes time and practice.

2. Be positive, even if you don't feel positive (aka fake it til you make it). When you are at the competition, feel free to talk about how you are feeling, but don't be negative, and don't reinforce your fears. For example, it might help you feel better if you say out loud, "I'm nervous," because then you are acknowledging your feeling, and then your friend next to you can reassure you and encourage you. But it won't help at all if you say "Oh no, I'm going to skate so badly!" The latter statement won't help you feel or do any better, and in fact it will probably make you do worse.

3. Stay warm, but don't overheat. When practicing before your competition, keep the blood flowing through your muscles, and don't skate too hard or too much. Staying warm will help you temper some of the nervous energy before your competition, and will also distract you from analyzing every minute of competition before you have to go on, which can wreak havoc on your nerves. If you are sitting down for awhile and feel your muscles start to stiffen, get up and roll around for a few minutes and give people high-fives. Then take a few passes through the cones without trying to perform anything impressive. But by all means, warm up your harder tricks so that you feel confident about them. If there are tricks you don't feel confident about, then it's probably best not to try them in the competition anyway. Stick to the tricks you know you do well. You will feel less nervous doing skating you are comfortable with, and you will feel better about it when looking back at the Youtube clips. (How I wish I had learned this in the beginning...well, Naomi told me, but I didn't listen.)

4. Gravitate towards the people with good energy. Skate with them in the warm-up area, support their performances, and let their energy be contagious. Instead of making you feel like you are shit at skating and not worthy of being there, you will be filled with the wonderful knowledge that you are all in it together, that you are all connected. And we are. We are all passionate about this lifestyle, and if we weren't, we sure as hell wouldn't be traveling to competitions. Guess what? We all pretty much hang out in parking lots and are all abnormally thrilled by the sight of polished cement. If I am feeling the nerves creeping in and trying to take over, these are the kinds of thoughts I usually try to distract myself with, and they always make me feel better. The little Buddha I wear around my neck helps me remember this, too.

5. Focus your energy where it's most effective for you. Where do you do your best skating? Is it showing off in front of a crowd of passersby in the city park? Is it when you are all alone with your headphones on? For me it's the latter. So when I compete, I have to shut the people out and enter my own little world, because if I let other people in while I am skating, I immediately become self-conscious and uncomfortable. I hate to do it, because I know the people around me are supportive and it's comforting to hear their cheers, but when it comes to the actual skating part, it has to be just me and the cones. Any deviation from that has to be really careful, or otherwise I will lose concentration. On the other hand, some skaters seem to be lit from within when a crowd (or a camera) is nearby. These people might never want to shut the audience out when they are competing.

6.  Skate like you've got nothing to prove. Even if you are a beginner (or just still feel like a noob) and feel embarrassed that you are not better than you are, try not to let that bug you about competing, because everyone was a noob once, and everyone learns at a different pace. Besides, some people have a lot more time and energy to dedicate to slalom than others. And not everyone is going to become as good as Martin Sloboda, no matter how much they practice, nor should that matter, because you are YOU, which is entirely unique. Your level shouldn't detract from your enjoyment of skating in the competition. Just show what you've got, and know that if what you've got ain't that good, the next time will be better.

As a side note, if you are one of those people who are "waiting to be good enough" to compete, just an FYI: you will NEVER feel good enough, so just start now and get the benefit of all the learning competition provides! Hell, I've been competing almost as long as I've been slaloming and I'm all the better for it. The only damage it's done me is produced more than a few embarrassing Youtube clips, which are starting to look kinda cute to me a few years later, and in the meantime I've learned so much about myself and about slalom, not to mention met the most amazing people I've ever known. So if you're on the fence, just come down and hang out in the cones...in front of the judges. :)

Well, that's pretty much the only advice I have to give on coping with nerves. There is still a lot that could be said about the approach to competition with respect to other factors, but this is (again) a long post and I'll leave you with the vids of my classic run, which was really fun to do!

Here is Carmen's video of my run:

Here is the Frozwheels video of my run, which is beautifully made, but I thought I was posing for a still picture at the beginning, not video, and therefore I blink into the camera like an owl in the sunshine...

Well, it still wasn't perfect, but I'm happy with it, and I hope they are all better from here on out! By the way, the song is "Drop That Thing" by Groove Armada.
Thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You Know You’re A Slalom Skater if…

10. You think of distances in terms of the spaces between cones.

9. You think of the people on the sidewalk as human cones.

8. You never travel out of town without your skates, tools, cones, chalk, and a meter.

7. You have had a skate signed by your favorite slalom skater.

6. You got a smartphone so you can watch Youtube trick clips while you are out practicing.

5. Half of your Facebook newsfeed is in a language you don’t understand because of all the international slalomers on your list.

4. When you meet Korean people (non-skaters), you ask them if they’ve ever heard of Kim Sung Jin.

3. You hoard old wheels and rationalize that you’ll use them for slide. You learn slides in order to validate this practice.

2. You are always on the lookout for the Holy Grail: the weather-proof outdoor place with perfect floor where you won’t get kicked out.

1. You’ve saved up for months and traveled a long distance to take part in a slalom competition, even though you know you won’t come close to winning.

Just a silly little list I came up with on the train ride home last night. :)
Off to the World Championships in Geisingen tonight with Tim, Pierre, and Alexandre representing Team Belgium, and myself representing Team Americelgium, or something like that. It will be a tiring weekend, but I hope it's memorable and fun, and that I can learn something new from Asian skaters! Also, I hope I do a good job with my classic routine this time, because I've prepared very carefully and had a good time doing so.
As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Training for kazachoks [strike that, new title: EXPLOSIVE POWER!]

Okay, so from the title alone, I've already lost readers, but I'm not concerned with that.
[Edit: The new title is much more appealing, but would have been better if the text strikethrough feature was enabled for post titles.]

And yeah, so, instead of pondering deep philosophical questions of aesthetics this time, I just wanted to share some things that have been helping me train sitting tricks, which I've been lustily attacking since Battle Belgium as part of my ironic "I want to be able to do everything for 20 cones" mission I have been on. It's an ironic mission because of my last post, but I'm just going to ahead and not worry about that and go with the flow. If I'm fixated on training tricks for 20 cones, I might as well, right?

Well what I've been doing is training a different trick at the beginning of each session for 20 cones. Sometimes it goes well, other days it does not. If I'm not in the mood for disciplined trick practice, I only take ten minutes or so and pound out a trick as well as I can, before moving on to more interesting matters. If I am in the mood for this kind of work, an hour or more can slip by, which generally leads to a certain level of progress and / or frustration, depending on the day. However, in lieu of getting too frustrated, I will sometimes switch to a different trick in a different family in order to keep my slalom session productive and fun. Of course, before I do this, I force myself to stop and address WHY the trick isn't going well in the first place, and I can usually pinpoint an answer, even if I can't seem to make improvements at that moment.

The discipline comes from not giving up after the trick begins to fail, fighting to save the trick, and making it through the entire cone line, no matter how many cones are knocked in the process. Once we start trashing the cone lines, the overwhelming urge is to skate out of the cones and fix them, I know, but there is a mental satisfaction that comes from NOT doing this, so I recommend it for all your slaloms. I may not have a 20 cone perfect footgun in the 80's yet, but I make it all the way to the end of the line, dammit, and feel all the better for it.

In our Tuesday night lessons, that is actually a rule we have in place: Don't fix your cones until you made it through all 20 cones. It's something Naomi has always advocated, and it's a good rule. Stopping to pick up cones interrupts your learning process, so don't do it, okay?

Anyway, about the sitting tricks. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a major trick family, and I've been learning to love them even when they don't love me back. Now I'm working on kazachok, which involves more than the average footgun, because it's jumping from one footgun to the other, without letting the heel of the air leg touch the ground. You will probably see a lot of people with their heels touching the ground in their kazachoks, but any Russian will tell you that it doesn't count if the heels touch. Personally, I'm not particularly opinionated on the matter, but I'm aiming high and not letting my heels touch.

Ok, so on to the good fun trainy bits. Or the quadricep torture, depending on how you look at it:
  • Train your footgun so it is really good. 20 cones good.
  •  Train your other leg footgun so it is of the same depth and quality as your "good" leg, but it doesn't have to be perfect for 20 cones. Practicing in cones is better because it makes you stronger, but a nice off-cones footgun will be fine, for your "bad" leg.
  • Repeat the first two steps, but backwards.
  • Off skates training: Wearing sneakers, and preferably on grass (it's easier on the knees), begin by sinking down into a footgun on your "bad" leg, not using hands. Extend your hands in front of you to help keep balance and not fall back onto your butt. While still squatted, retract the air leg so you are squatting on two feet. Extend your other leg in the same manner. Stay down the whole time. Do this ten times every day and you'll see improvement in a week.
  • Off skates, next step: Begin jumping from one leg to the other. Start small with just three jumps; from your bad leg, to your good leg, and back to your bad leg. Then try it again, starting from your good leg, to your bad leg, and then back to your good leg. If you find yourself coming off balance in this exercise, steady yourself by touching the ground with a hand or two, and try to push your weight forward if you feel like you are falling back. Do everything in your power not to fall out of the exercise, to get yourself back onto two feet, and to stand back up. Why? Because when you are skating, you will want to do the same. It might be murder on your quads, but that's kind of the point.
  • On skates again, practice forwards as well as backwards, in order to create learning synergies. To clarify, you will learn faster by working on both forwards and backwards at the same time, as opposed to saving backwards for when you've already mastered forwards.
Note that these exercises do not have to be mastered in order; rather, you will probably find yourself working on all of them. That's why I opted for the bulleted list as opposed to numbering it.

General tip: Make sure you extend your legs out until they are as straight as possible. It looks so much nicer when the extended leg is perfectly straight. Not to mention it's a lot harder to do while keeping your heel off the ground, but the result will be worth it.

Another general tip: Stretching is your friend. I attend a yoga class once a week so I know I am going to get deep stretching at least one day in the week, but take care that you incorporate an intelligent stretching routine into your training. I rarely do deep stretches before slalom because it leaves the muscles temporarily weak. By deep stretching, I mean spending 30-60 seconds in a stretch, right at the point where you have to direct your thoughts away from the uncomfortableness of it but not at the point of causing actual pain. I try to save that for after slalom or for an off-day. However I do stretch lightly nearly every day. I'm not going to go into a long tangent about stretching at this moment, but keep in mind that it will help you with this whole sitting tricks thing, as well as in general.

Last general tip: Don't cheat and come up off your heels. That will not help you. I don't even know if this is a tendency for anyone, but I just know for a fact that it is a lot easier to do a footgun squat in high heels than it is in sneakers. Great, now this means I will have to try kazachok the next time I'm in heels...

Once you've made it this far with your footguns and jumping on your feet, you should be able to do a few jumps reliably well on skates. And if you can't yet manage to sink into footguns off-skates, at whim, you might want to take a look at this post where I talked about getting into a footgunny frame of mind. And when you can do some jumps on-skates, don't stop training the off-skates jumps, because you will need to develop explosive power in order to be able to jump from one side of the cone line to the other. The best kazachoks (in my humble opinion) are not mere footguns jumping from one foot to the other with a short slalom pump in between, but footguns jumping across the line continuously, not straight up and down but actually from side to side, which requires a lot of strength and explosive power. Gotta love that explosive power.

Yeah, I want to get me some of that.

Well, if you try these things out, I'll be training right along with you, so good luck to all of us. I know it's a lot of training, but it's exactly the kind of project that will keep me occupied in the coming weeks and months. Once I get further along I might be able to contribute more info on the subject, but for now, I still have work to do on those pesky footguns.

Thanks for reading, and happy skating!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Where's the Freestyle?"

The time has come, dear internet friends, for me to blog. In the past two months, it has often crossed my mind, but only now do I feel truly ready to say something on this internet platform. Every time someone says they read this, it startles me a bit, but people are reading (even if they don't comment), so it's nice to know I have an audience.

So, the Cobra still waits, a recluse in his dank and foul den, but that's not what we are here today to talk about. No, no, we are here today to discuss something else which is equally mysterious in nature. It is a thing from which the sting cuts just as deeply and painfully as that of the dark serpent. It is elusive, unpredictable, and surprises many with its swift, cruel justice. And like its shadowy counterpart, this beast will likely warrant several sessions of Socratic questioning, wringing of the hands, and general melancholy and stomach upsets.

We are, of course, talking about battle judging.

But what about battle judging? We all know about the rules. What's that, you say? You DON'T know the rules of a slalom battle? Oh, well, why don't you go ahead and download them from here. There you go.

Great. Now that you are well-versed in the law of battle, let's take a look at some stuff, now, shall we? And since I am not in the habit of publicly critiquing other people over the internet without their consent, let's just go ahead and look at some video starring little ol' me.

Let's start with Battle Belgium 2009, when I had been slalom skating for about one year, and thought skorts were the greatest thing EVAR:

The reason I chose this video is because, well, Chloe is in it, and I just happened to come across it when looking for the video of this year's women's final.

NOW, take a look at the video from the women's final from this year's edition of Battle Belgium:

Can you please tell me what's wrong with this picture (video)?

Yes, that's right. My freestyle looked better two years ago.

How depressing is that? Sure, I can do some TRICKS now. Oooooh, how we all love TRICKS. I'm stronger. I'm faster. I am smoother. I fall (slightly) less. My fashion is less 1980's-Madonna. There are a lot of things improved about my skating in general, and also specifically my slalom. And when there is no competition in sight, my freestyle is actually very good, sometimes rather awesome, I must admit. But as far as freestyle in competition goes, I was stylin' it out better in '09, because I didn't really care about doing tricks during the battle. Because, well, then I couldn't do any.

Well, I will be the first to go ahead and say that I spent too much time during this final doing screw-type tricks. I did a bunch of toe-toe screws, swans, and toe-heel screws. I have been training these tricks really hard so that I can do 20 of all of them, so doing about half that number of each felt about as ordinary as eating Loops for breakfast. I really enjoyed the power of being able to turn as many as I wanted, without being controlled by my own lack of technique which, in the past, used to dictate how many of each of these things I could do.

And for that, I would like to thank Polish women skaters. :)

I didn't sleep for two nights in a row after judging the battle in Berlin. It was a thoroughly traumatizing experience, because the essence of battle judging is lining up four of your friends, and then telling two of them that they can't play slaloms anymore. And then there are all the gray areas. Which is better --a line of beautiful, playful freestyle; or 20 labored toe shifts? You tell me.

No, really. You TELL me.

After Berlin, I found myself preoccupied with the concepts of rules and justice. I started reading about all kinds of rules, systems, ways that people cope with and eliminate uncertainty. I might have gotten slightly carried away with my learning, but I was looking for answers to help me sleep at night, because after all, I DO take this whole slalom thing rather seriously, even though I try to keep it light.

So what's the answer? Which is better, the freestyle or the toe shifts?

Well, according to the rules, it's the technical difficulty of the skating being presented that must be considered. Technically, we are supposed to leave aesthetics out of it, while still incorporating into the judgment the qualities of speed, continuity, finishing of each trick, integration into other freestyle, and the range of tricks presented. That's a whole lot to see, and judge, during somebody's 30 seconds.

However, this still doesn't give us an answer. Let's say that the toe shifts were executed without fault, that they were clean, but that they just looked like they were a lot of hard work and they weren't pretty to watch. And let's say that the freestyle was gorgeous, it gave you goose bumps, and it was fast and fluid and clean.

Out of these two things, which is more technically difficult to display?

Now, here is where we get to the fact that judges are humans with souls, and that they are very often impassioned skaters themselves. Personally, as a skater with loads of experience practicing one-wheeled tricks with only moderate success, and also with loads of experience simply expressing joy through my feet, I would be tempted to say that the toe shifts are more technically difficult. After all, I seem to have no problem coming up with nice-looking freestyle, right? So it must be easier to do.

Also, it's taken me a long time to train to be able to turn as many screw-type tricks as I want, and to be able to do them consistently in battle as well. The "freestyle" part I have also worked on, to be sure, but I've spent more time gritting my teeth and PRACTICING on the non-freestyle movements. And maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

WAIT. Maybe it is only easier for me. What about this "trick monkey" type skating (Dance, monkey, dance!), where skaters execute their complicated trick sequences like good little robots and then roll on over to their coaches for a Sweet Cookie? (Yum yum.) And, of course, if they fail, they get a Shame Cookie. (Yum yum, but with tears rolling down their faces as they choke on the bitter crumbs that taste of their own ineptitude.) How easy is it for them to bust out a line of gorgeous freestyle?

Of course I'm being completely over the top and sarcastic (and mean no offense to anyone who sees himself in this category of skating) but I'm also not going to pretend that I've never fallen prey to this mentality myself...after all, how many screws did I turn in the battle final? And can I please have a cookie now, hold the shame?

So, how do we define and reward the soul of freestyle? Because I want to. It's very important for me, and I know it is for so many people. This discussion has been on everyone's mind all year. I know the answer lies in the fact that we have to reward both the difficulty and beauty of slalom, but the beauty part is so often perceived as subjective. However, it's only subjective to a degree. As a culture we can define our own standards of beauty, and in fact these standards already exist, which is in part amusingly demonstrated by the huge wrench in the system that the Koreans' dancing has thrown into everything. :)

Well, before I write again, I WILL have revisited my art philosophy books. There must be some applicable thoughts in there somewhere, and if not, I'll just keep questioning til I discover the answers.

Anyway, it's all part of a greater adventure, and I'm very happy to be a part of it.

Until next time, enjoy your slaloms (however you like them served up!) and thanks for reading. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

So pretty much this whole post is a good advertisement for skating with protective gear.

Let's see, in the past nine days, I have

-been to 3 rollerparades
-gone ice skating and tried ice slaloms (!)
-tried out speed skates for the first time
-messed around on quad skates at a rollerdisco
-practiced lots of slides
-enjoyed & practiced lots of slalom in several places
-gone to yoga, of course

Oh yes. We hung around a bit in a skatepark as well, but I'm not really counting that because I was too chicken to drop in on the quarter pipe there, because of the fact that it's more concave than anywhere else I've dropped in before, and also, I didn't have any guidance from Vicky Denissen, who taught me how to do it in the first place and has a good eye for when I'm about to do something dangerously wrong, and a knack for reassuring me to go ahead when I'm doing something right.

But anyway. We went to a "roller disco" night last night, which was really fun even though there weren't a lot of people. I played with some quad skates for awhile, and they are really great for dancing, because of the stability they afford, and also the way your foot is applied to the ground. This was maybe the second or third time I've been on quads (not counting any birthday parties at the roller rink I attended as a small child), and I really got a feel for them last night, even though I didn't keep them on too long. It's brilliant (and a novelty) being able to shift your weight to the outside of your skate while keeping your foot flat on the ground, and vice versa. Instead of outside and inside edges, you have outside and inside wheels. Sitting tricks are ten times easier (in a straight line, anyway!) because of the fact that you have a stable little platform to roll on, and dancing moves look and feel very, very cool. Slalom is much more difficult with quad skates, of course, but it is possible, and I could manage some tricks quite well, but only up until the moment that I would forget I was on quads instead of inlines, and then I would screw up fantastically. :)

Also, here is what I've learned about downhill since my last post, which is actually embarrassingly obvious, but I just didn't think of it myself at the time:

As slalomer on a rockered setup, we are only riding on two wheels. Therefore it's much less stable and more difficult to get speed than if we were on a flat setup going downhill. It's also scarier. :) The solution? Duck down low (duh). The scary feeling is gone, you go faster, and your wheels make more contact with the ground. I should have thought of it last week, because I've done this many times during the rollerparades. Anyway, this time was WHEEEEEEEEE! I'm still not as fast as I'd like, but then again, I'm also not really ever satisfied with anything about my skating, so there you go.

However, the rollerparade in Brussel this time didn't hold a candle to the one the week before. We took a path that didn't include the huge hill from the last time, which was disappointing. :(

One of the coolest parts of the night was at the end of the tour when we kept barreling down the entrance ramp into the parking garage, ducking under the arm of the parking gate (I was doing footguns underneath it), and looping further and further down until the very bottom level, leaning left the whole time and feeling the centrifugal force. We kept taking the elevator back up to the top and doing it over again.

Let's see, in other news, I bruised my tailbone at the first Brussels rollerparade I attended, thanks to going for a parallel slide on a tiled floor and getting my blade caught in the tiny gap between two tiles and suddenly BAM! I was down. I'm still sore, but luckily that's not a fall I've experienced ever before and hope not to again. I think surfaces for sliding are just like for slalom...if you're strong at what you are doing, you can manage almost anywhere, but I'm definitely not good enough at sliding to be pulling off parallel slides where the ground is not forgiving. By the way, they do make such a thing as butt padding, and it would have literally saved my ass had I been wearing it at the time.

Within the same ten minutes of that happening, I also had a head-on collision at a good speed (I was gearing up for another slide) with another skater, who was also getting ready to slide. We had been skating in the same direction but maybe six feet apart, which was probably a little too close. Then he turned unexpectedly and we pretty much ran into each other at full speed. It was like playing a game of chicken where nobody chickened out.

In the moment before impact, though, I realized what was about to happen, so I reached out to absorb the energy rather than try to deflect it, which worked pretty well. Neither of us were knocked to the ground, and I only ended up pinging the bone above my right eye on his helmet (Helmets: Great if you are both wearing one. Not if only one of you is.). At the time I worried that my eye would be black the next day, but it never got beyond pink and a bit puffy, which was fine by me, and it didn't really hurt after the fact, unless I pressed on it.

This other skater was actually really cool to skate with (which was why we were running around sliding in the first place), and he was doing something which I would be tempted to call heel-heel cobra (!) as we were skating along with the tour. There was another guy cruising along seemingly endlessly, and REALLY FAST, doing back toe-wheeling (!), and at one point he also busted out an impressive back-flip from practically a stand-still.

So yeah. A lot of the Brussels guys can already slalom pretty well because they are such good skaters, but they don't seem to prefer the cones, which is too bad for slalom! Because they can really SKATE.

Well, that's all I'll say for today, and the title of this post kinda says it all. However, to be fair, much of the skating I've described here is not really slalom-related. I've been wearing wrist guards and sometimes knee pads when practicing slide, although I have to say, they only place I've fallen down hard is on my butt. I did wipe out rather poorly on ice in a hockey slide and bruise my leg, but that was due to the fact that I was still figuring out the mechanics of sliding on ice again, as opposed to on concrete.

I never thought there would come a day that sliding on asphalt would be easier for me than sliding on ice, but hey, look, here we are.

Thanks again for reading and HAPPY SLIDING!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Rollerparade / Megan's first downhill

Well I touched on the fact that I went to the Brussels rollerparade last week, but I didn't really say anything about it, and it was a great experience. I think I've been missing out all my life, because when I took up inline skating, I went straight for slalom and didn't really involve myself in these kind of skating tours. There is also the small fact that these sorts of skating tours DO NOT EXIST in the United States, so that's probably also part of it. Well, maybe there is a skate somewhere in the US (Big Apple Roll? Skate Boston? I don't know) that somehow compares, but I've never seen anything like it before. In Belgium, it's all very official, you see, and in the States, if skaters plan on marauding through the city, it's usually just that --a bunch of skaters who meet up and attack the roads together because it's safer than doing it alone or with just a few people. Safety in numbers (and also fun).

Here, there are hundreds of skaters, followed by a throng of cyclists, and the police block traffic at every intersection as we roll on through, and there is a bright pink Evian pickup truck with DJ in the back who looks like he is very much enjoying hanging out in the back of this pickup truck as he is paraded all through the city while he plays music that booms out of big speakers which are set up alongside him in the back of the truck. Along with this, there is a separate Evian truck stocked to the gills with bottles of water, which are doled out at pauses, as well as a Red Bull VW Bug, which also provides free jolts of energy at several points in the tour.

Now, I've been taking part in these tours in Hasselt since I moved here, and it's always a nice skate; usually it's no more than three hours, most of it is flat, and it's very relaxing. We can talk with people while we're skating, we can goof around with wheelings, and it just feels good to be able to stretch out and skate on roads that are usually full of cars. During the pauses, we put down cones and slalom until it's time to go. It's a nice way to spend a Monday night. Also, in Hasselt, the numbers are much smaller than "hundreds," although I couldn't really aim to guess accurately at how many people actually *do* show up. 150, not counting bikes? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's still waaaaaay more people than I've ever seen skating in one place at one time in the USA.

However, when I went to Brussels on Friday, it was a whole different game. There were maybe more than twice as many people as come to Hasselt, plus lots of cyclists. The group left from Palais de Justice at 8:00 pm, and we got back to the same spot at 12:00 midnight. It was fantastic. Unlike in Hasselt, the skate was anything but flat. I was told that the route is never the same twice, but I'm guessing that there are certain bits that get woven into the tour repeatedly, because there was one amazing and looooong downhill section which everyone knew to anticipate. A bunch of longboarders were also there at the top of the hill to take advantage of the road being closed, so they had to know in advance that the tour would go through that spot.

I've never done much downhill, mostly because once I get the feeling that I'm going too fast to be able to stop effectively (and I'm not wearing any protective gear), I get quite nervous. As my skating improves, the upper threshold for how fast I am comfortable going for a long period of time continues to go up. However, I didn't really know what to expect going into the downhill. Naturally I wanted to play the same game as everybody else, so I lined up at the starting line at the top of the hill, ready to run à la speed slalom. Some people counted down, and then suddenly everyone tore away running madly to get speed going into the downhill. However, the running wasn't really necessary, because we picked up speed anyway, and enough of it to get that feeling I get when Tim's driving and I stick my head out the car window and I can't quite catch my breath...it's very exhilarating.

After the initial start, I was going at a good clip and trying to get comfortable with it, but I got going too fast and had to slalom to slow down until I felt comfortable again. After that I let the speed build back up and it wasn't as frightening as it was the first time, and I relaxed into it a little. My bearings were great (I was so happy I had cleaned them the night before!) and my wheels didn't jitter like they used to when I would skate down a big hill very fast, at least not until I was going *too* fast and had to slalom a bit again. There's nothing like bombing down an asphalt hill on your two feet at top speeds to make you think about the fact that you have absolutely nothing protecting you if you fall down or crash into something.

So yeah. Downhill is kind of scary, the same way riding a motorcycle is kind of scary. But it's also fun. :)

On that note, please enjoy this short clip of Greg Mirzoyan bombing down the salt mine in Poland. (!) It's pretty badass. :)

Well I still have stories to tell but they will have to wait til next time.
Thanks for reading and have fun out there! And also, BE SAFE.