Kssh, kssh, kssh.
There’s something soothing about the sound of a single skate blade slicing the ice, even more so if the arena is empty and you can glide around in solitude before the music blares and the masses arrive.
The kids are back in school after a two-week break that drew throngs to SEAPARC. Enthusiastic hordes of young skaters of all ages and sizes, many with parents in tow, no longer flood the ice. The chatter and laughter that occasionally rose above whatever mix of music flowed from the speakers hanging from the rafters above the frozen surface has been silenced.
I skate alone occasionally for brief stretches, relieved to no longer have my head on a wheel so I can dodge kids who can skate like Bobby Orr and those that may tumble in a tangle of limbs on me.
While part of me welcomes the return to normal on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I miss the little critters, the enthusiasm of those who fly around effortlessly and the determined smiles on beginners clutching the boards for support.
We’re back to the usual suspects now, a group of five to 10 who show up with the regularity their lifestyles permit. I’ve gotten to know a few a little during the past couple of years, and we chat in circles about an eclectic range of subjects that runs the gamut from sports to local topics and international politics.
Most of those that fall into my demographic have been skating since childhood, and have to slow their pace to maintain a little conversation with me because I only laced them up after I turned 62. While it makes me feel a little wistful for what might have been had I started skating when they did, it doesn’t dull the feeling of accomplishment that washes over me when I skate the full circumference of the rink backwards without a stumble.
The Stingray tunes piped in most days also draws a mix of emotions. While certain songs may elicit a shrug of the shoulders and skyward roll of the eyes, others unlock the memory vault of songs you are genuinely surprised and happy to hear again. I don’t really care for the days when hip hop rules, but it puts an extra spring in my stride, as if faster laps will end the tune sooner. It’s ironic how much I used to hate the sound of Drake’s “You Used to Call Me on my Cell Phone,” and how often I find myself singing that singular line in the shower, although I had to look up who the singer was.
The plan is to lace them up as long as the deteriorating discs in my neck will allow. There’s something familiar about the friendly greetings at the front desk staff that starts every skate off on the right foot. That quiet feeling of tired for the all the right reasons, and the subdued sense of exhilaration I feel after I leave the rink have a way of staying with me throughout the day.
Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.