December 16, 1988
“I’m getting Don Jockson skates! I would have gotten them now, but there were 2 left feet in the box.”
You can sense my grade seven excitement by the misspell of “Jackson” and my incomprehensible penmanship.
On December 12, 2018 I bought a new pair of Don Jackson skates. However, they’re not called “Don Jackson” skates anymore.
The back story to the front story.
I was enrolled in my second-year of private lessons under the Canadian Figure Skating Association, or the CFSA. Known since 2000 as Skate Canada.
In the fall of 1988, I jumped into a pair of $40 skates. New, since my feet had grown over the summer. As I circled the rink, my ankles felt wobbly, flipping left and right. I heard blades behind me. Joanne, our new professional coach, relocated from Ottawa to Arborg. Her credentials were high, plus she skated with Elizabeth Manley – my first skating idol.
“Tammy, what kind of skates are those?” asked Joanne, and I told her.
By week’s end, all the CFSA skaters, their moms, and Joanne sat in a changing room. On the agenda: the CFSA skaters entering competitions (yes!), gauging interest for competitive precision [synchro] teams (double yes!), and – to paraphrase – “Why the heck are some of your precious children wearing crappy skates?” (um, what?)
I never heard of professional skates. I also didn’t know other Arborg CFSA girls had professional skates. They glazed over this in Skate!
Then, Joanne instilled the fear: we could be disqualified from competition if we didn’t have professional skates. Without said skates, one could disqualify an entire precision team.
Joanne showed us her skates with concrete ankle support, which she used to land triples in. Sticker price: $1000
Today, that’s close to $2300. She mentioned a high-level skate could run between $700 to $800. I believe my mom’s face went white. Again, this was 1988, and my parents had two daughters in skating. Compared to my $40 skates – that was quite a chunk of change.
Add in the price of ice time for singles and our new precision team, higher coaching costs, looming fees for competitions and test days, travel, etc., etc., my parents needed to plant another canola field to support our extracurricular activity.
Canola was the cash crop of the 1990s.
At first, my parents resisted the notion that better skates could make us faster, better, and higher. However, Joanne said at our level, we didn’t need a premium/self-cleaning/tuck into bed at night figure skate.
In mid-December after our Friday night session, my mom took us to the local sports shop. The owner, Brian, passed mom two large boxes with “Don Jackson” written on the side.
I nearly lost my mind. My parents had ordered the skates without us knowing. Nothing could ruin this moment! Nothing! Everything is perfect! Just … ah, poo.
When Brian flipped open the boxes, mine had two left feet. I saw zero humour.
A rush order was placed for another pair of Don Jacksons, while my sister slipped into hers seamlessly.
The next morning, I had no choice but to wear my crap-tacular cheap skates. According to my diary entry, I “fell on a loop.” While I had perpetual issues with my single flip, I was convinced those issues would be eradicated when my Don Jacksons arrived.
Within two weeks, my Jacksons were waiting for me like an eager puppy at a shelter. When my mom and I picked them up, Brian said they attached a higher freeskate blade to my boots: Mark II. Woo. With cool double bottom picks. My sister’s were Mark I. Now who’s laughing about two left feet?
But in 1988, figure skates weren’t heat moldable. I couldn’t say, “Now, heat these in the oven for 15 minutes” for a near perfect fit. Nope, I had to break in those babies old school – and fast. I had a competition at the end of January. Plus, a dance test day in 10 days.
My coach recommended wearing hot, damp knee highs and walking off-ice to soften the padding. I’m not sure this method would fly today since skates have antibacterial properties and such.
After two weeks of making a groove in our carpeted living room, the process was successful. Those boots were test day ready. Take that, Canasta Tango!
But the process was also painful. I have the scars on my heels as proof.
I learned judges loathed unkempt boots. So, everyone wore boot covers to protect their expensive skates from random toe pick stabbings, scuffs, dirt, grime, grease, etc. Now, it’s proven that boot covers are dangerous. But much like slap bracelets, we didn’t know.
However, skaters generally didn’t wear boot covers during competitions. So, we needed polish. Lots of polish!
The night prior to a competition, I would cover the kitchen table with newspaper. After my skate laces were removed, I would examine the blade’s screws – or rivets. To avoid landing on a wobbly blade, wigglies were tightened.
Then I’d polish my blade to a judge-blinding shine.
I’d dab my skates with white polish. Tiny scuffs on the wooden sole and heel called for a touch of black. Yes, wooden. Like trees. Re-lace, and voilà! Competition ready skates.
However, my skates didn’t come with a “How to Baby Your Skates” manual.
After skating, they’d lay on a towel in front of an electric heater in our kitchen. Set to high. Kids, never dry figure skates with the assistance of an electric heater, furnace grate, fireplace – no heat source of any kind. It dries out the skate – and that’s why my skates have cracks. But much like cracking the Milli Vanilli code, we didn’t know.
My pre-competition routine was retying my skates – super tight. Explaining the visible dents. I didn’t learn until a few years ago the correct way to tie my skates. By then, my skates were too far gone.
But after 30 years, it’s time to say goodbye to my skates. The wooden sole is cracked. The leather is held together with polish and hope. Those Mark II blades I was excited about in 1988? I’m leery about landing a waltz jump with them. And the skates are so old, they were made in a country that no longer exists. Remember Czechoslovakia?
On December 12, 2018, I bought a new pair of Jackson Ultima skates – still Don Jacksons, only under a different name. They have those cool rhinestones embedded into the ankle. The sales associate, Kyle, “tossed them into the oven.” The skates were warm and squishy. Like bread dough. And they almost fit like a glove.
While my skates still need ice time, at least my skates are partly broken in.
Because I have a competition in the middle of February.
And I don’t have carpet in my living room.
***Skates were returned to Source for Sports in February because of a sizing issue and blade/sharpening issue.