Well, it's been months since I wrote about freestyle on this site, and it's time to come good on my predictions. ... So how did it all go then? And how does it look for the future? It's best, I think, to take a look at the places I sampled.
I visited five U.S. cities, and in each one, I had the pleasure of teaching and skating with all kinds of skaters.
It all kicked off in San Francisco, where I stayed with the wonderful David Miles. The workshop was a sellout. One of the students was 72-year-old instructor Phil Lenihan. He was a pleasure to work with, even if it was scary to teach an instructor so well known that I'd heard of him thousands of miles away in London!
Also at the San Francisco workshop were Barry and Casey Chin of Sacramento. They already knew a lot of freestyle moves, which they picked up from online videos. They came to the workshop to learn some new tricks.
James Prial was there, too. He lost a leg below the knee many years ago, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming adept at traditional downhill speed slalom. I'd watched videos of him before the workshop and was comfortable I wouldn't need to cut him any slack, as he could clearly get an outside edge. But I wasn’t expecting him to give me such a run for my money on the Friday Night Skate ... grrr, I was tired dammit!
Of course the very star of the workshop, the special celebrity attendee — Robert Burnson, webmaster of the oh so very wonderful inlineplanet.com — came along for the express purpose of lazing around and making sure that no one else felt like the worst of the bunch. ;)
Whilst I was in town I also got the chance to skate with Kim Perkins, which was great for me, as speed skating is one of my lesser known hobbies.
Seattle was my next port of call. It was a return visit — I taught a workshop there last year. And it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to have most of last year's attendees sign up again.
Last year, I had a full intro workshop (with Kathy McSparran traveling in from Boston). This year I had a full dance workshop, full intro workshop and an almost full intermediate-advanced workshop.
It was great to see how enthusiasm for freestyle had grown in one year. It was also fun to train with the local speed skating group, which included four skaters who attended my freestyle workshop. (That made sense to me since I use freestyle as my principle method of training for speed.)
When I last visited New York City, there was not much of a freestyle slalom scene — just the Union Square freestylers (www.nycskaters.com) who mocked me at their Wednesday night get-together (7 p.m. at Union Square).
This year, more people are experimenting. Jeff Chung is practicing almost daily at Battery Park City. (He and Jeff Freund are learning from online videos.) And Chris Doorman from Queens is practicing with similar dedication.
I met Jeremy La Civita at Union Square while I was in NYC. He lives in Philly and hosted the local workshop. He and Denni are two more independent freestyle slalomers who learn from internet videos. They run www.theslalom.com.
On to my final U.S. destination: Detroit with Katherine Gresens. It was another sellout workshop. Local street and speed skaters (including instuctor Vivian Dawson) made up most of the dance and slalom workshops. Others skaters (including Mitch and Carl) traveled quite a way to attend.
We were also blessed with the very speedy Erica O’Connor, who attended both the dance and slalom workshops. Erica stormed in and won the UK Goodwood Marathon in England this year. Two weeks ago, she won the Athens to Atlanta Road Skate. I trained with Erica twice whilst I was in town, which was certainly very rewarding! *gasp for air & water*.
What I found in the U.S. was many small pockets of freestyle activity, ranging from lone skaters to small groups. All were very dedicated. It reminded me of the birth of the major freestyle scenes around the world, including the UK. (Except that in the U.S., there are many small pockets, not just one.)
I still remember taking my laptop down to the park so that I could watch one of Sebastien Laffargue's moves over and over until I mastered it. Back then I was one of the few freestylers in London.
Now the UK freestyle scene is booming. Our second freestyle competition of the year was last weekend, and we now boast half a dozen freestylers sponsored by skate manufacturers.
It appears that the U.S. has many more freestyle slalomers than we do. Now if only there was a way to get them all in one place at one time for a big weekend ...
Naomi Grigg is one of the world's top freestyle skaters. She won the 2005 UK Freestyle Slalom Championship and is renowned for the flowing brilliance of her skating. Based in London, she travels widely, competing in international competitions and giving freestyle seminars. She is sponsored by Rollerblade USA.