Rosaria Locasso of Hawthorne had never ice-skated and knew nothing about hockey when she began playing it four years ago at age 35.
"I was from Oklahoma," she said. "I never even knew what hockey was."
Now Locasso, a computer-systems analyst, averages about three times a week on the ice. She is one of about half a dozen women in her league of nearly 300 players.
Thanks to the Winter Olympics in Calgary and accompanying media coverage, ice skating throughout the nation and in its various forms is coming off the best winter it has had in the last four years, according to Michael Paikin, general manager of two rinks--Pasadena Ice Skating Center and Van Nuys Iceland--and a director of the Ice Skating Institute of America.
Sport for All Seasons
In Southern California, however, ice skating is a sport for all seasons and all ages.
Rinks are open year-round. When the mercury is soaring toward the 100-degree mark outside, ice skating offers a different way to cool off. Some rinks capitalize on this incongruity by staging summertime snowball and snowman-building contests.
Skaters, who number in the thousands in Southern California, range in age from 2-year-olds to senior citizens in their 80s.
"Grandparents bring their grandchildren ice skating," Paikin said. "It is one of the few sports, in my estimation, that the whole family can do together.
"On Thursday nights at Pasadena, we have almost 50 adults taking classes, all different ages and both sexes," he said. "Ice skating is great exercise. You do it at your own speed, you get off the ice when you want to. You're in complete control."
The sport offers camaraderie too.
Most rinks have amateur figure-skating clubs associated with them. The largest of the local clubs, the 749-member Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, uses the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank. Founded 55 years ago, the club offers social as well as competitive skating activities.
As in many sports, both skating equipment--the strength of the boots and design of the blade--and the skill of competitors have improved.
"Kids coming up have much higher coordination levels," Paikin said. "The things we are doing with youngsters today weren't even thought of 15 or 20 years ago."
Eleanor Schultz, president of the L.A. Figure Skating Club and a skating judge, agreed that competitive figure skating is becoming increasingly athletic, with triple jumps virtually a must in advanced competition and quadruple jumps on the horizon.
Skaters who hope to follow in the footsteps of Olympic gold-medal winners Brian Boitano or Katarina Witt must start young.
"Nine or 10 is rather late," said Shirley Alexander, director of the skating school at the Courtyard Ice Capades Chalet in Rolling Hills Estates. "Five or 6 is much better.
"To become a competitor, you need a lot of dedication, parental backing, and a lot of hours on the ice--six hours a day, six days a week," she said.
But recreational figure skaters who have no interest in becoming the next Debi Thomas (Olympic bronze-medal winner) still have plenty of opportunity to show off their talent and to measure their improving skills.
One such opportunity is Showcase America 1988 at the Pickwick arena in Burbank this weekend (see box).
Jack Curtis, a CPA in Granada Hills and frequently a judge for national ice-skating competitions, came up with the idea for the showcase 15 years ago. "If you want to jump," he said, "fine, but nobody is counting revolutions."
He explained wryly: "A large number of talented skaters--because of their intelligence or other debilitating limitations--didn't like to hurl their bodies onto the unyielding ice, which is what it takes to learn jumps when you are beginning.
"The skaters might be very entertaining, spin, dance, do all kinds of things, but advanced jumping was not there for them. There was no place for them to go, nothing to challenge them."
Along with Showcase America, skating schools at various rinks also put on summer ice shows that give their students an opportunity to perform, sometimes before standing-room-only crowds. The shows may be headlined by well-known performers. For example, Olympic competitor Christopher Bowman starred in the Pasadena center's show earlier this month.
Two national organizations, the Ice Skating Institute of America, which promotes recreational skating, and the United States Figure Skating Assn., which oversees competitive skating, sponsor regional and national competitions. Each organization also has a series of tests, which can be taken at local rinks, to measure a fledgling figure skater's increasing proficiency.
Residential Summer Sessions