When one thinks of typical sports for kids growing up in La Jolla, surfing, swimming, sailing or even more team-oriented sports like baseball and softball, lacrosse and soccer quickly come to mind.
But in a place where the average temperature hovers around 70 degrees all year long and a pond covered with ice would be as common a sight as a space alien, figure skating is hardly standard.
For Devon Bowman and Sophia Ung, the sport comes as naturally as any other.
Bowman and Ung, both longtime members of the La Jolla Figure Skating Club, recently secured a pair of second-place finishes at the club’s 2007 Open Championship, an event sanctioned by the United States Figure Skating Association and held at Ice Town La Jolla in the UTC shopping mall.
Bowman, who is entering the eighth grade at Muirlands Middle School, placed second in the Preliminary Girls Freeskate. Ung, who recently completed her freshman year at University City High School, was second in the Novice Ladies Short Program.
Both girls said they enjoy other athletic endeavors, but settled on figure skating for their own reasons. “Even though every sport is great in its own way, I picked skating because it was fun and you need to be gutsy to be able to do all those crazy jumps and spins,” Ung said. “You need a good amount of effort to put in every day into your skating. You have to be a person willing to commit your time to skating.” Added Bowman: “I chose ice skating over other sports because it looked like a really interesting sport, and I love the feeling when I glide over the smooth ice.”
You won’t find any frozen lakes or streams in La Jolla, and indoor ice rinks are just as scarce - there are just a handful in Southern California. Luckily for Bowman and Ung, Ice Town is close to home, and they both spend plenty of time there perfecting their craft.
Bowman said she has been skating for seven years and practices five days a week, in addition to taking ballet and jazz dance classes, which are important for her artistry and presentation on the ice. Ung has also been skating for seven years, and spends two-to-three hours a day, six days a week working on all her spins and jumps.
They put in just as much time practicing and competing as the average soccer player at any of La Jolla’s three high schools - the difference is that you might not see them on the field as you drive by in the afternoon or under the lights with hundreds of fans cheering for them on a Friday night.
Instead, Bowman and Ung compete in a world few outside of figure skating circles know. Still, that doesn’t change how they feel about the sport or their dedication to it.
At the La Jolla Figure Skating Club’s Open Championship, there were about 200 competitors from California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska. Just 27 of those came from the La Jolla Figure Skating Club. Each of the events was scored by five judges, with 6.0 being the highest score attainable. Both skaters were pleased with their results, having worked up to this event on their home ice for many months.
“I felt I put in a lot of effort, and it was a nice reward,” Bowman said. “In order to achieve these results I had to work really hard during practice and try to perfect my double jumps and spins. In particular, I worked really hard on my double loop jump.”
Ung was particularly satisfied with her performance on a specific technique. “I think I did well in my spins and spiral sequence,” she said. “I was the only girl in my event who did a clean double axel. I was very happy when I got my results - even though I wasn’t first, I was still very happy.”
Since figure skating isn’t a sport offered by any local high schools, Bowman and Ung will continue to skate at the club level, they said. Following their successes at the La Jolla Figure Skating Club Open Championship, they are preparing for the Golden West Championships and the Southwest Pacific Regional Championships, which will both be held in Culver City, in August and October, respectively.
And while they won’t be easy to spot on any local fields or courts, they’ll be working just as hard as athletes in “traditional” sports. “We are preparing by improving my program components and elements,” Ung said, sounding like a surgeon preparing for a serious procedure. “We’re also doing more competitions before Regionals and Golden West so I can get used to the competition atmosphere.”