Editor's Note: The following is a verbatim transcription of a chapter from Spalding's Winter Sports by James A. Cruikshank, published in 1917 and part of the Ray Ruge Collection at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Many thanks to volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing this booklet.
The modern skate, briefly described, is of two kinds and several patterns. One is intended for speed skating and the other for figure skating. The best pattern for speed skating consists of a very thin, extremely hard, flat, steel blade, tapered from one-sixteenth of an inch at toe to one thirty-second of an inch at heel, fourteen and one-half and fifteen and one-half inches in length, set in a hollow steel tube, from which hollow steel supports or uprights run to the metal foot-plates, which are in turn riveted to a thin, close fitting shoe having no heel. Some of the fastest speed skaters still use the old fashioned wood top skate screwed to the heel of the shoe when the ice is reached and fastened over the toes with straps; but this pattern is rapidly going out of vogue. The hockey skate, used in that game and now of great popularity among skaters of all ages and classes and sexes, whether they play hockey or not, consists of a flat blade, with either three or four uprights or stanchions running to the metal foot-plate screwed or riveted to the shoe. The length of the blade depends upon the length of the skater’s foot. This skate is generally very slightly curved where the blade rests upon the ice, making quick turns and sharp curves possible. It is an excellent skate with which to learn the art of skating, but after the beginner has learned to feel fairly safe should be changed for the rocker skate or figure skate, if further progress in the sport of Figure Skating is an object. It is unfortunate that so many young people take up the flat-blade skate, either of the hockey or racing pattern, and then persistently stick to that pattern, since no general advancement in the achievement of curves and patterns is ever possible to the user of the flat-blade skate.
Undoubtedly the best pattern for the figure skate is that which was taken to Europe by Jackson Haines, the American skater, in 1865, and adopted by almost every European skater of fame from that day to this. With the revival of skating in the United States, and especially the Continental or “fancy” style, has come a demand for a skate best suited to the graceful figures that render this form of the art so attractive. This old, yet new, skate has but two uprights or stanchions from the blade to the foot or heel plates, the blade curves over in front so as almost to touch the shoe; there is considerably greater distance from the skater’s heel to the ice than in former patterns, and larger radius of the curve of the blade where it rests upon the ice. The blade is splayed, or wider in the middle than at the toe and heel, and there are deep knife edge corrugations at the toe for pirouettes and toe movements. This is the skate which is now being used by the best skaters of the world, and the only pattern on which the larger, freer, bird-like movements so characteristic of the best skaters of Europe, are possible. It is an interesting fact that this skate is now the recognized standard of the leading instructors and experts in Figure Skating in all the prominent rinks and in theatrical attractions in which ice spectacles are a feature.
Skating, whether the beginner has in mind speed or figure work, is best learned without human aid. An old, strong chair, to the legs of which have been fastened wooden runners, is the best of all devices for starting the young skater on the right balance and contributing to his self reliance and confidence. Very early in the attempts at the sport, the beginner will decide whether he is interested in Speed or Figure Skating, and he is then urged to select the correct outfit rather than adopt habits which it will be difficult later to break. There are scores of skaters now using the flat blade hockey or racing skate who will never achieve satisfactory speed, but who are peculiarly adapted to success in Figure Skating. Speed Skating is interesting for a time, and hockey is a splendid athletic game, but the figure skater has a pastime and an athletic pursuit which will interest him for a lifetime, and in which there are intricacies as fascinating as a geometrical puzzle. There are excellent books on the new forms of Figure Skating now available, the latest of which, Mr. Irving Brokaw’s “Art of Skating” and “Figure Skating for Women,” published in the Spalding Athletic Library, should be in the hands of every lover of the sport.
After the beginner has attained some measure of confidence, the skate sail will be found a most interesting diversion and addition to the sport. There are many patterns of skate sails. The simplest, as well as one of the best is the rectangular pattern, fashioned of two uprights at the fore and aft ends of the sail with a cross piece as spreader. The size of this sail will depend on the designer and the sport he seeks. The average size recommended for an expert skater would be 6 to 7 feet in height and 10 to 12 feet in width. The wooden spars at the bends should be of pine or spruce, squared, thicker in the middle than at the ends, and of one piece. The center spreader may be jointed or hinged. The best material for the sail is either unbleached muslin, which is very cheap, or the best sea island cotton, known as “balloon silk.” In the sail can be set an oval or circle of celluloid as a window through which the skate sailor may watch his course.
The skate sail described can be made by almost any amateur, will cost less than five dollars, and will return more sport for its cost than almost any other winter sport implement. There are many other patterns of skate sails, the next best being the triangular or pyramid shape with the base of the pyramid parallel with the skater and the long end of the sail stretching out behind. The right dimensions for such a sail for the average person will be about 9 feet for the upright spar and 10 to 12 feet for the boom. The spars can be made of heavy bamboo, and by means of a small pulley over the forward end of the boom the sail can be stretched taut. There is another foreign pattern sail which has a boom stretching across the two end spars and projecting beyond them a foot or so. Such a model requires a larger field of ice than those which have been described.
Uninformed advisers recommend the flat blade skate for Skate Sailing. They are wrong, because sharp turns and curves have to be made for successful Skate Sailing. The best skate for the sport is either the regulation figure skate or a hockey skate having a curved blade. The skate sail ought to be used only where there is ample freedom; it is not adapted to small skating ponds or rinks since high speed is frequently developed, even up to thirty miles an hour, and dangerous accidents may occur.
Anyone can learn the use of the skate sail with a few hours’ practice. Unlike the ice boat, which it so much resembles, tacking is done exactly the same as with a small boat, with the exception that when the sailor is ready to “come about” he simply throws the sail up over his head, makes his right angle turn into the new course and the sail comes down in correct position. It is also possible to shift the sail forward while under full speed until it is past the center, then slip it from one side of the body to the other, make the turn into the new course, and continue on the new tack. Magnificent competitive sport can be had with the skate sail by organizing “one design classes,” just as in small boat sailing, so that every sailor has similar equipment and there are no odds. Differences in weight of the contestants will be about equalized by the advantage of weight in one position of sailing as against its disadvantages in another.
Women pick up the sport readily and find it most interesting. Many a woman has learned from the skate sail, for the first time, that she really can handle a sail so that she is able to get back to the place from which she started by the otherwise incomprehensible route known in yachting as “tacking.” Warm gloves, tight fitting clothing, and some sort of face protection are advisable for this sport.
James A. Cruikshank was an expert on outdoors sports during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Scotland but spending most of his life in New York, he was the editor of The American Angler magazine, Field and Stream, and wrote numerous articles for a wide variety of other magazines and newspapers throughout his career, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He also published at least three books: Spalding’s Winter Sports (1913, 1917), Canoeing and Camping (1915), and Figure Skating for Women (1921, 1922). He also contributed a chapter on artificial lures to The Basses: Freshwater and Marine (1905). In addition to his writing, Cruikshank was involved in public speaking, doing talks on outdoor sports sometimes illustrated by motion pictures. An avid photographer, Cruikshank’s photos often featured in his illustrated lectures, his articles, and his books, as he encouraged readers to take their own cameras out-of-doors. He had a home in the Catskills as well as a home and offices in New York City, and in the 1930s he helped found the Hudson River Yachting Association. At one point, he managed the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, and another in Rye, NY. His wife Alice was also an avid camper and hiker, and they often traveled together. In 1909, Alice went “viral” in newspapers around the country by being the first person to blaze a trail between Mount Field and Mount Wiley in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (James brought up the rear). James and Alice eventually moved to Drexel, PA and were vacationing in Lake Placid in July of 1957 when James died unexpectedly at the age of 88.
What do you think of James A. Cruikshank's encouraging women to take up ice skating? Did you ice skate as a kid? Do you still?
Stay tuned next week for our next chapter.
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