By Judy Benson and Amy Shafer
The information in this column is based on interviews with John Gilmour, a Skate IA instructor; and Joe Franz and Dave Manfredi, owners of the Boot and Blade Skate shop in Rutland, VT.
To be better skaters, we need to get over our fear of falling. If you watch stunt skaters, you'll see that they actually expect to fall. They do it expertly, then hop right up and try their next stunt.
How do you learn to fall without getting hurt? Wear protective gear to cushion your fall. With proper gear, if you fall forward, you'll fall on your kneepads and slide on your wrist guards. When falling backwards, your wrist and elbow guards cushion the impact. And always wear your helmet. Even if you learn to fall well, you still can hit your head.
Skate in your balance zone. To find your balance zone, stand on the grass with a partner. Face each other and hold hands. Lean forward onto the balls of your feet. As long as you don't need your partner's support, you are balanced. Once you do, you are out of your balance zone. Now do the same leaning backward onto your heels. Always skate in your balance zone. If you are going to fall, don't fight it; but to avoid falls, teach yourself to regain your balance.
Forward falls usually occur when your skate strikes an object and stops, but your upper body continues its forward motion. Practicing falling forward on your bed: With your protective gear on, stand on your bed. With arms out in front, fall forward onto your knees. Keep your knees pressed together; otherwise, the pads will slide out from under you sideways and you will do a split. Keep your elbows slightly bent, in front of and close to your body, not straight out and locked. The hard plate on your wrist guard is designed to slide on the pavement, not to slam straight down. The object is to crumple into the fall, using your body as a shock absorber. Next, practice on grass. When you are ready, try rolling slowly down some pavement and onto the grass.
Try to regain your balance the moment you feel your skates slipping out from under you. Resist the urge to flap your arms. Keep flexed forward, elbows bent, close to your body and out in front. The heart move is one technique to regain your balance at slower speeds. Bring your hands in front of you and trace a small heart shape in the air, and do a quick hop backward. The heart tracing is a controlled, miniature version of your natural instinct to swing your arms like a propeller. The short hop back puts your skates where you want them—under you!
In the chop-the-tree technique, you twist your upper body around and fall forward, so that you're facing the other direction. When a cat is dropped backward it lands on its feet because it twists its upper body around and the lower half follows. Imagine there is a tree behind you. Bring your arms together in front of you, holding an imaginary ax, and swing the ax up and behind your head between your shoulder and head as if you are trying to "chop the tree." You will now be in a position to fall forward.
One last technique, turning the other cheek, will help protect your tailbone. If you are definitely going down on your butt, lean to your side and land on one cheek. At the same time, flex the arm on that same side so that your wrist and elbow are parallel to the ground.
Use knee pads that fit securely. If you weigh more than 150 pounds or are an aggressive skater, our experts recommend heavier duty kneepads such as Dr. Bone Savers, Pain Cheaters, or Fat Boys. If you wear Lycra pants, wear two pairs. The two layers will move against each other if you fall, protecting you from painful road burns. Sweat pants and shorts afford no protection and get eaten quickly by the pavement.