JOINING a herd of skaters tentatively making their way across the cold, wet ice with arms outstretched for balance has become a staple element of a good Cork Christmas.
Since 2007, Cork on Ice has been getting Corkonians and their visitors to get their skates on for a little jiggle on the ice.
Every year the experience is golden. From the hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies sold in the cafe to the 800 square meter ice rink, it is an outing the whole family can enjoy and remember for years to come.
This year, I took on the challenge of learning to figure skate, just to make the whole thing that little bit tougher, and it turns out, it’s a lot harder than it looks.
It may be easy enough to pick up the basics you need to skate on the ice, but to develop those skills into a talent takes a lot more work than I was willing to put in.
I arrived early in anticipation of my lesson on the ice. Before my session, there was a kids’ class in the mini ice rink. I went over to have a look. Watching the Bambi-legged youths struggle to stand on the slippery cold surface, I began to rethink my aforementioned prowess.
Also, seeing one particular participant repeatedly crash into the hard ground, I began to feel reluctant about my own soon-to-begin adventures on the ice.
Yet the show must go on as they say, and when the kids finished their lesson, it was my turn.
Kelly Dwyer, who has been ice-skating and figure skating for the past 40 years, gave me a schooling on the ice.
She grew up in Canada, skating daily, and moved to Ireland in 1997 with her Irish husband.
Kelly, along with Sabrina Vassia and Leanne Leiler, set up the Cork Figure Skating Association in 2011 when they randomly met at Cork on Ice seven years ago.
They are the first figure skating club in Munster, and the only inline figure skating in Ireland with a premises on Centre Park Road.
Keely said there is great demand for their club in Cork with over 100 members on the books.
“We compete all over the world and next July, Cork is playing host to the 8th World Open 2018 Inline Figure Skating Competition. The prestigious event is being held at the Mardyke on July 5.
“It is a great honour to play host to this competition and all our members are very excited about having it here in Cork.”
Kelly outlined the immense health benefits that ice skating and inline skating can offer an individual.
“It is hugely beneficial for your core, balance, coordination and on top of that it is an intense cardio workout.”
After a few minutes on the ice, I soon realised Kelly was right. After a few short laps of the rink, I was wrecked.
A few things I learned from my time on the ice.
I learned that I was not the natural on the ice I had thought I was. Everything I thought I knew was wrong. Leaning forward does not help keep your balance and it is an unflattering pose. As well as this I realised the direction of your hands is vital to the progression of your skating.
Outstretched aeroplane hands are good and should be maintained in order to stay upright. Moving your hands in advance of your movements will help your movements to be smoother and more defined. For example, swinging left should be lead by moving your right arm forward, pointing straight ahead, with your left arm moving behind you. A technicality that makes your skating slighting more professional looking, but in the grand scheme of things, is not essential to having a good time.
The best thing about ice skating is the sheer novelty of being on the ice, gliding to and fro, among many other novices all haplessly sliding into barriers and each other as we repeatedly make the treacherous trip around the rink.
The worst thing is the cold. With gloves, a big winter coat and several layers I still managed to be cold. While Kelly maintains that if you are cold you are not working hard enough. I maintain, as a leisurely activity to be enjoyed casually, it is a hazard to your vital organs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great day out. With a few friends or family members, I can understand why this is such an attraction. It is a lovely way to spend an hour and it is conveniently located alongside Mahon Point Shopping Centre in order to ensure your Christmas shopping does not get neglected.
However, in terms of a hobby or a pastime, I don’t think ice skating is for me. Beyond the novelty of playing on the ice at Christmas, I think I found the whole thing a bit beyond me. Despite this, I have a newfound appreciation for the skill of ice skating and revelled in the beauty and prowess of the well-executed movements of my teacher, Kelly.
Perhaps understanding how hard it is to attempt something like that made me realise how good you have to be to make it look effortless.
In terms of my ice skating future, it seems the odd trip to Cork on Ice is enough to satisfy my appetite for icy adventures.
Despite that, I do think I will be making an effort to attend the 8th World Open 2018 Inline Figure Skating Competition when they come to Cork in July.
More than 500,000 skaters have glided around the rink at Mahon Point over the past ten years and after my excursions on the ice, I can only emphatically endorse the event as a worthwhile experience over the Christmas period.
Take the kids on a nice day out, cajole your friends off the couch for a guaranteed laugh as you bump into each other again and again, bring your parents for an experience they will remember forever.
Whoever you bring with you, remember to wrap up warm and start slow. The ice is slippy and cold and you don’t get hot cocoa until the very very end.
Cork On Ice runs until January 28 at Mahon Point Shopping Centre. For more information log onto www.corkonice.ie.