Huffington Post says, “You’re not Canadian until you’ve skated through a forest in the dead of winter.”
And while I’m not ready to go that far, forest skating did feel pretty Canadian.
Being able to skate at all feels very Canadian to me. I learned to skate when I started school, just after moving to Grand Falls, Newfoundland, Canada from England. My father learned with me but shortly after that I was zooming around the rink leaving him behind. Like most Canadian kids, I skated with school for physical education classes, trundling over to the rink carrying our skates. I took figure skating for a few years until it got too fancy, dance-y, and frilly.
Later, with my own kids, I started skating again. I’m not very good, a bit wobbly, but I still love it. When we were on sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand, and we wanted to feel competent at a sport, we went skating. They have ice rinks, they rent skates, and there we felt like stars on ice. Our average Canadian skating ability put us in pretty elite group at a family skate in the southern hemisphere.
But back to skating in the woods this weekend, without kids, not in a skating rink. Instead, outdoors! The woods! My favorite place to be.
What is it? It’s an ice trail through the forest. So cool. They’ve flooded a road connecting campsites and they maintain the ice surface with a zamboni.
There’s an outdoor fire place where you change and outdoor lockers to store your boots.
I loved the woods which seemed to block the wind. Previously my outdoor skating had been on open lakes, ponds, and rivers and so wind was definitely a factor.
The slight inclines, both up and down, presented a new challenge. I’d never skated up or downhill before. Also, no boards to hang on to when you’re taking a break or retying your laces.
There was a great range of ages. Lots and lots of little kids but also some speedy senior citizens whipping around holding hands.
Jeff and I ended up skating in part because our cross country ski plans were set back. We arrived at the park on the day of the Muskoka Loppet, a cross country ski race, and all the ski trails, the easy ones anyway, were in use.
So we skated for a bit instead.
Some evenings they light the trail with by tiki lanterns so you can skate through the woods after dark. I’d love to do that!
I love to skate. I grew up figure skating, but when I started to teach power and hockey skating classes nearly a decade ago, I got myself a pair of hockey skates– and I loved them! Since then, I’ve always wanted to play hockey, but it took me up until a few months ago (when I moved to Halifax) to actually gain the courage to give it a shot.
All these years, I’ve avoided playing hockey because I was skeptical about finding equipment that would fit my curvy, short, and muscular body. I was afraid that if I did manage to find equipment, I wouldn’t be able to skate with the extra bulk on my already bulky body. And I was terrified that I was going to look ridiculous with all that equipment on. I imagined that my body in hockey equipment would look more like the Michelin Man (yup, that big puffy tire mascot), than a hockey player.
Deep down, I told myself that it would be less embarrassing and easier if I just lost some weight before I started playing hockey. Ugh… my feminist-self is embarrassed that I felt this kind of body shame!
Waiting to lose weight before trying a recreational sport (or living your life!) is silly. I know. But, it still took me years (of not losing weight) and moving to a new city (where nobody I knew would get to see me playing in full hockey gear) to finally try something that I didn’t think I had the “right” body shape for.
When it came time to actually buy the hockey gear, it turned out to be less embarrassing, but way more challenging than I had imagined.
I curbed some of my embarrassment by bringing a hockey-gear-shopping buddy. I told her that her job was to make sure that my butt didn’t look “too big” in my hockey pants—ha! But really, she was the moral support that I needed. It was nice to have someone on my team when exposing myself and my body to the sales guys at the sports store. With her support, it felt easier to tell the sales guy that something didn’t fit and to explain what I needed for my body. (Telling the teenaged sales guy that “my boobs and butt are too big for this gear” felt less embarrassing with my friend’s support). Most of all, it helped having my friend there to tell me just how exciting my new hockey adventure was going to be. She told me that I looked like a hockey ninja with all my gear on. And it helped.
Finding gear that fit me properly was a different story. Before I started I Googled “best hockey equipment for curvy women” and nothing came up. I wasn’t that surprised. I don’t look anything like the men or women I’d seen playing hockey.
Here’s what I learned about hockey equipment: In general, the men’s gear is too long for my body. The women’s gear is too narrow. Most stores don’t carry that many options for women’s gear, anyways. Some children’s gear (like the XL hockey pants) fit okay, but the straps and padding on most of the other children’s gear are way too small. I haven’t been able to find should pads and chest protectors that fit my shoulder to boob ratio. It seems that to women’s chest protectors don’t have cup size options. Nor have I been able to find elbow or shin pads that are short enough, while providing good coverage with straps that are long enough to go around my arms and legs.
I’ve chatted with some of my teammates about this. And some of them had similar problems with finding hockey equipment. If there are any hockey gear manufacturers reading this, how about you make some equipment for differently shaped women!?
In the end, I settled on some combination of men’s and children’s hockey gear. Still, none of my gear fits me perfectly, but it will have to do—because I’m excited to play!
On the ice, I adjusted pretty quickly to wearing hockey equipment. The hardest thing to get used to was wearing a helmet with a cage. For the first few games, the cage made me feel nauseous, but at least I could skate.
My concerns about what I look like in full hockey gear are fading. In the beginning, however, I did catch myself checking out my reflection in the rink glass a few times. But the more I play and the better I get, the less I give a shit about what I look like.
And it turns out that no one else cares about what I look like either. When I finally let some of my friends come to watch me play they didn’t think that I, or anyone else, looked ridiculous or out of place. To them, we all looked like hockey players, because we were playing hockey.
Surprisingly, I still don’t know what I look like in my gear. Because it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I get to play. And this little hockey ninja wishes that she hadn’t waited so long to try playing in the first place.
Angel is a postdoc at Dalhousie University. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario. She is a feminist philosopher. She is also a skater— and the rink is where she feels most at home.
Follow her on Twitter @APetropanagos