Sk8r Kids


As published in Time Out KL magazine (July 2008.) and website.

Life just cannot get crueller than this: Fully grown adults, garbed in Backstreet Boys meets Vanilla Ice fashion (complete with Aaron Carter headgear), scramble on their feet and crawl against the walls of the Sunway Pyramid ice skating rink; while high-pitched little children in bright costumes and rainbow-coloured gloves whizz right past in steady little twirls. The kids fall too, of course. But when you’re waist-high and have cartoon characters on your skirts, falling on your backside is actually cute.

And if you’re three years old, refuse aid as you do the penguin stroll across the ice and have hair clips bigger than your thumbs, it brings the definition of cute to a whole new level. This is Ioanna Su, waving my hand away as I try to help her onto the chair next to me. A knee comes up first as she laughs at everyone’s attention. Needless to say, she was never planning to actually sit on the chair, but I suppose children articulate their aspiration to heights in different ways.

Ioanna’s sisters, Jeannie, 7, and Leila, 5, dressed in matching pink outfits giggle excitedly on the sofa next to me. Both are multi-medal winners in a collection of ice skating competitions and not all against each other, mind you. Both the girls started skating since they were about as young as Ioanna.

Jeannie, who is now at Level Freestyle 3, tells me that one of her favourite games to play on the ice is ‘Freeze Tag.’ When asked to describe the game, both sisters stumble upon each other in peels of laughter, telling me how to ‘freeze’ and ‘unfreeze’ their friends. This is when Leila, Level Freestyle 1, offers me a critical piece of advice, should I consider taking up the sport: ‘When you’re near a wall, you should stop.’

Telling me that she enjoys competitions, Leila tells me that she aspires to be a ballerina when she grows up. Jeannie’s favourite subject in school is mathematics. That is about all I got out of the girls before they once again transform into a pair of restless, giggling monkeys, with little Ioanna, still sharing my chair, cheerleading them on.

Bella Fung, 39, the girls’ mother talks to me about how much self-confidence ice skating contributes to the character of the child, especially in groups. Both Jeannie and Leila attend international school, and while Jeannie can be a little shy sometimes, ice skating does give her the courage to speak up in public when she needs to. Leila, being surrounded by the ice skating world for over two years already practically grew up on the ice and is very comfortable at expressing herself.

Let’s not even start with Ioanna.

Bella tells me that occasionally she does worry about the girls as they are quite short, and some skaters do tend to skate into them. But that is definitely not stopping her from learning to skate. Three-year-old Ioanna has been skating for five months.

Julian Yee, 11, struts along. The Level Freestyle 6 prodigy was a little suspicious of me in the beginning but quickly warmed up. He tells me that he has been skating for about seven years and has more friends here on the ice than he has at school. Having acquired a collection of gold medals from both national and international competitions, and being the darling of Sunway Pyramid’s public performances, Julian is best known for a unique limbo stunt that never fails to wow the audience.

This I had to see for myself.

I tease Julian as he changes into a costume with silver glitters. He laughs as he gets onto the ice, and promptly whizzes away, speeding to the end of the rink and manoeuvres over in his signature move. The rink guards tell the other skaters to make way, but that was not going to be a problem. Most of them have stopped in their tracks as they gaze at this kid showing off his stuff.

Irene Cheow, 47, Julian’s mother raves about the confidence he has when interacting with people from different ages. She tells me that skating has taught him essential social skills and with a sense of humour like that, Julian definitely has had quite an upbringing. Irene says that skating fosters a unique relationship between kids and their mothers by creating a common ground that they are able to relate to. In this family’s case, Irene too, is a skater, and will be performing as part of a ‘skater moms’ showcase come this August.

Both Irene and Bella agree that skating can get expensive. Besides personal coaching fees several times a week, they also invest in skating equipment for their children. These costs escalate, sometimes quite tremendously, when a competition approaches as the children attend extra lessons and the parents pay for competition fees and costumes. I am hinted that these costs can average in the hundreds and even into the thousands of ringgit.

‘It is definitely worth it,’ both the mothers tell me. The mothers work closely with the coaches in monitoring the progress of their children and pick and choose the competitions they go for.

Sunway Pyramid Ice Head Coach, Harry Janto Leo, 29, says that it is not necessarily difficult to teach children to skate but it is important that coaches know how to handle children themselves. Coaches need to play and interact with the children, and capture their interest while on the ice. Essentially, they have to be able to make learning fun. Harry estimates that two to three lessons is all it takes to grasp the very basics of skating steadily, which in turn breeds confidence to try new things.

Despite the size of the child, Harry says that the age of three or four is a good time to start the child skating, as the child will need to acquire his/her maximum level by age eleven. This way, the child will be ready for big league competitions by the time they’re 13.

Harry tells me that ice figure skating is a unique sport, in the sense that it teaches children about expressions and feelings. When a skater prepares a routine for a competition, he/she needs to be able to interpret the lyrics and the harmony of music into the skating moves. Skating also trains the child to overcome fear in performing in front of the public. While at these developmental years, taking up a sport trains the parent at how to effectively motivate the child, it also teaches the child self-motivation.

A mob of screeching girls shriek their goodbyes to me as I leave the rink. Julian has that smug look on his face. Turning, the kids glide easily onto the ice laughing, ignoring the members of the public twice their height pulling themselves against the walls of the ice rink. The sense of humour all the years of ice skating has taught these children, is priceless.

– Majidah Hashim
Wednesday, 30 July 2008

More photos here!


One Response to “Sk8r Kids”

  1. 1 Sk8ing Kids « wysard

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