With melting temperatures outside, cool down inside and learn to twirl at the rink with the skating crowd, says Kate Ginn
Outside the temperature in Muscat during late morning is nudging 40c, beating down mercilessly on those hardy enough to venture out. Where I am in the capital, however, the blast of cold is enough to make me wish I had put on a jumper or, at the very least, a scarf. Mind you, standing still around here is not supposed to be the general idea. Everyone else is out on the ice, keeping warm by constantly moving, sometimes at great speed.
I am in the spectator’s area of the skating rink at the Fun Zone entertainment centre (www.funzoneoman.com) where children, and adults for that matter, can escape the blazing sun and indulge in some serious enjoyment. Spread over 8,000 sq. metres, there are plenty of other distractions if ice skating isn’t really your cup of tea such as a bowling alley, kids zone and adult games area.
Opened just over a year ago in Qurum, the Fun Zone is already an established favourite with children and young people, especially during the long summer months stretching seemingly interminably.
When the new rink opened, the ice was melted and the doors closed at the smaller 23-year-old skating centre in Al Khuwair.
On a Saturday morning, the rink – the only one in Oman – is already busy with blurred shapes whizzing past on the ice in front of the watching area. There are small children, barely able to walk, tottering around the rink with the aid of a metal skate ‘helper’, their little feet clad in bright blue skating boots.
Gliding in between them are the older, more experienced skaters, showing off with flamboyant turns and spraying ice everywhere as they skid to a stop.
Being a bit of an embarrassment on the ice, I invited Sultan Suhail, 14, who is doing work experience at Y, and his nine-year-old sister, Lara, to don skates and try it out instead.
Sultan, as you might expect for a teenage boy, was being ‘Mr Cool’ and expressing little interest in the whole idea, opting to stay off the ice and behind the camera lens. Lara, however, was much more enthusiastic, clearly delighted at the prospect and rushing to put on her skates. “It’s only my fourth time here,” she explains.
At four rials for an hour-and-a-half skating, it’s good value for money and is guaranteed to keep most children happily occupied and sufficiently worn-out afterwards to put up little resistance when it comes to bedtime later on.
Lara was a little unsure of her footing at first, so opted to use one of the metal helpers to provide security until she got the measure of the ice. All around, children of all ages were out on the rink. If there was the odd fall or two, they simply got up, dusted the ice off their legs and carried on with a smile.
One toddler, too small to stand, was being carried around on the ice by his skating dad.
The squeals of excitement went up a few decibels the busier it became.
It’s not just all fun, though. You might be surprised to learn that despite being a desert land, Oman has its own national ice hockey team, which received official status in April last year and competes in GCC competitions.
While still a fledging sport in the Sultanate, there are moves afoot to get more schoolchildren involved.
“Ever since the new rink in Qurum was thrown open to us, things have become much better,” said coach Anad al Balushi.
“We now have a decent facility where our boys are getting to train regularly.”
The Oman Wadi Dogs team (www.wadidogs.com) also uses the ice rink. Founded 10 years ago, the club has expats from Canada, the USA and Europe, as well as a contingent of Omani players. The team finished its last game of the season with a win at the Qurum rink on June 15 and, over the summer, will be preparing for the next game on September 1. Keen to help grow ice hockey in Oman, players also work with getting kids involved.
Two years ago, Oman’s ice skaters won nine golds in a 15-medal haul at the UAE Open Figure Skating Championship in Dubai.
Back on the rink, Lara was refusing to leave the ice for a break to warm up her chilly hands. When the time was finally up, she reluctantly skated off. Her verdict? “It was a wonderful experience. I want to come back soon with my friends.”
With that, it was time to head back out and brave the baking sun again.