I just love watching figure skaters on TV. I can’t believe how they leap and spin across the ice on a mere five thin mm of steel.
What do you reckon — inspiring… terrifying… FUN? Yes, all that grace and beauty begins with a kid having fun.
But that kid also has to be brave enough to get up when she falls, with the grit to try again — and again!
In Athol, there’s a whole family of them — Adriana, Chonelle and Gabby Evans. Three girls who love the competition, challenges, and friendships of their hectic ice skating life.
The Ice Skating Journey Begins
It all began when Adriana graduated from Rippa rugby to Tackle. She wasn’t worried about tackle rugby’s rough and tumble. Mum wasn’t so keen.
So Gillian quietly found an alternative.
“You could carry on with rugby,” she told the girls, “but ice skating might be fun too. What do you think?”
It was a no-brainer. Rugby didn’t stand a chance.
“I was six and Chonelle was only four. Straight up we said ice skating.”
So Chonelle and Adriana started Kiwi Skate lessons in Queenstown, 75 km away. The afternoon travelling didn’t faze anyone. Rural families are well-used to the long drive to town.
However, once the girls graduated from Kiwi Skate their lesson time changed. Now they trained before school and that’s when mornings got tough.
Far too often, Mark and Gabby held the fort at home while Gillian, Adriana and Chonelle found themselves up at five — ice skating by seven — then dashing to get to Garston School at nine.
“We really didn’t like mornings,” says Chonelle. And who could blame them?
“We liked the hot chocolate though,” she adds. “At our favourite cafe the hot chocolate tasted like melted chocolate. It was delicious.”
Yummy hot chocolate aside, the skating was great but the travel was getting everyone down.
Ice Sports Southland, based in Gore, became the perfect solution. Yes, they still had to travel a long way, but Gillian’s parents lived nearby. What a treat, to have a family base near the rink.
So, in 2013, the Evans family made the switch to ice skating in Gore.
It was a good decision because training and travel were about to get more intense.
“We drive to Gore, three times a week at the moment,” says Chonelle. “But when competition season starts we’ll have to go there for longer and more often.”
Small wonder that Adriana’s pleased to be boarding at the St Peter’s College Hostel this year. “It’s great,” she says, “because I don’t have to travel and I can concentrate on the ice skating.”
Learning The Moves
What makes figure skating so spectacular is all those leaps, jumps and fancy footwork. Adriana and Chonelle tell me about learning axels, camels and double sals but what do they mean?
“Axel” (take off while moving forwards, spin one-and-a-half times in the air, land backwards on the other foot.)
“Double Sal” (which I always thought was “Sou” – but is actually a Salchow jump, named for its inventor, Ulrich Salchow.)
“Flying Camel” where you leap from your left foot, land on the right and spin with your leg and body horizontal to the ice.
I’m sure I’d be too scared to leap wearing ice skates but here’s a little training secret that sounds more fun.
Adriana: “When we’re learning our jumps we get to put on a harness and then our coach says ‘1, 2, 3,’ and pulls it up. Then we go up in the air and feel what the movement’s like.”
Chonelle: “When we get used to it she’ll take us off the harness and we’ll start doing it without. It’s easier because we already know what it should feel like. It’s harder because the harness lifts you so it’s not really you jumping. But without the harness, you’re doing everything yourself.”
Gabby: “It feels like you’re flying.”
Clothes and Competitions
Do you make all their clothes? I asked Gillian. They’ve certainly got a fabulous collection of gorgeous outfits.
“No,” Gilly screws up her nose. “But I add a lot of bling to them.”
What Gillian does really love is doing the hair and make-up before a show or competition.
And do the girls love all the dressing up and bling too?
“Adriana – not so much, but Chonelle’s all over it.” Chonelle grins and Adriana pulls a face. It seems like Mum’s got that right.
Of course, there’s far more to competitions than clothes.
The sport is divided into grades and there are plenty of tests to go through as you move up.
“It gets harder and harder,” says Adriana. “So you need more difficult elements — more jumps and stuff.”
There are only a few ice skating rinks in the South Island and they’re spread far and wide. So the girls have competed in Dunedin, Alexandra, Gore, Queenstown and as far away as Christchurch over the past few years.”
The NZ Ice Figure Skating National Championships aka “The Nationals” are the big comps on Adriana and Chonelle’s minds this year.
In 2019 they’ll be held in Gore so it would be extra special to compete on their home turf. If she qualifies, this will be Chonelle’s biggest competition to date, but Adriana had her first taste of the Nationals in Auckland last year.
“It was a good experience and gave me lots to work on,” she says. “It is challenging but that’s what it’s about.”
At the Nationals the competition may be tough, but the judges are even tougher. They scrutinize every move and they’ll deduct points for the tiniest error. And, because you submit your programme in advance, those judges will know if you pop in an easier jump on the day.
So, it takes courage and confidence to perform in front of judges, especially if you fall or make a massive mistake. The kids know to get up and carry on, regardless. It’s all about giving 100% in every part of your programme.
Now, skating may be hard — but if you’re a parent, watching is even tougher.
“You watch the kids practice and they do the jumps perfectly. Then they go in front of the judges and it’s not quite as good. That’s nerve-wracking!” says Mark.
Seems like there’s a fair amount of mental toughness needed all round.
Bangs And Bruises
They do indeed breed ‘em tough on the Evans farm. Adriana, Chonelle and Gabby often have painful bruises which can take weeks to heal.
Can’t you wear padding in strategic places to soften the blow? Well, you can at training time, but Chonelle’s not keen on the downside to that.
“Some people get reliant on them,” she says, “and when you compete you get scared of falling.” That’s why she’d rather take the bumps.
They may start off in thick jerseys and long pants for training, but the girls tell me it’s not long before you strip down to a t-shirt. And they all agree that warm earmuffs are a must. It’s not fun getting earache from the cold air at the ice rink.
Also, wearing shorts on the ice is definitely a bad idea, as Chonelle found out the hard way.
“I had to wear my shorts one day when I forgot my ice skating pants. I fell over and got a massive graze all down my leg. It was bleeding everywhere.”
Pair Skating Challenge
The main figure skating categories are singles, pairs, dance and synchronised. Adriana loves working alone as a single skater but Chonelle’s trying a new challenge this year.
She’s just started pair skating and is discovering a whole new set of skills. For one thing it’s quite different trying to skate exactly in time with a partner.
“It’s really fun because we’re learning lifts and he has to throw me in the air. He’s got to go to the gym because he has to be strong. He can already spin me around real fast and it’s scary but fun as well.”
In an extra special twist, at the time of writing Chonelle and her partner are actually the only pair skaters in the whole of New Zealand.
Putting On An Ice Skating Show
Figure skating isn’t all coaching and competition though. Each year Ice Sports Southland puts on a show or two. There’s a fair amount of rehearsal involved in that too, but the girls love it.
The shows are great, they say, because you can relax and just enjoy the skating.
“You’re part of a group too, doing it together instead of being all by yourself. And it’s fun because there are no judges, and the audience loves to watch what you can do.”
Love That Ice Skating Life
When all’s said and done, whether they’re performing, competing or training, these three sisters are happy to be ice skating.
They love the fun and the challenge. Despite the hard work and long hours of travel, Adriana sums it up best.
“It’s a really cool thing to do. We’re pretty lucky to be able to do it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Want to know more about ice skating in the south?
Zion Images Photographer Hannah McCrostie knows all about what it takes to be a top figure skater. The Alexandra local has spent many years practising and competing on the ice rink and even represented New Zealand in Figure Skating competitions abroad. Thanks to Hannah for her lovely photos of Chonelle and Adriana at the Otago-Southland competitions last year.