Speeding on the ice once more

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club member Solomon Kim, right, leads the pack of skaters from left, Peter Smokler, 74, Kyle Song, 10, and Abigail Han, 11, as they practice at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signal

For some, it’s a love of speed, but for most members of the Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club, it’s been a passion for the sport that has kept them in the fast lane, as The Cube has reopened following a near-permanent closure.

The club has been around since it was formed in 2003, and it’s one of the only short-track speed skating groups left in Southern California, producing nearly 20 national champions in various age groups over the years.

Members range from age 5 to 75, making the club the perfect eclectic group of skaters, each bringing something different to inspire and teach one another.

The club welcomes all levels and ages of skaters, focusing practices primarily on speed work, using pads put up across the rink to protect them should they fall.

It’s the speed that attracted 18-year-old Solomon Kim, of Camarillo, to the club in the first place, who has now been speed skating for five years now.

“I just like taking more risks in life … and for me, I really like the thrill I get from speed skating,” Kim said, adding that it’s the unknowns he enjoys most about the sport. “Anything can happen in a race; you really don’t know what to expect.”

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club president Ron Halcrow, left, gets the skaters together as they begin practice at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signal

Kim travels almost an hour to the rink in Valencia, which he said he does simply because of his passion for the sport.

The club operates entirely on a volunteer coaching staff, which includes nationally-ranked members like Kim, who looks forward to passing on his knowledge — and passion — to the club’s younger members, like 10-year-old Kyle Song, who grew up at the rink.

“I started (coming) to the skating rink when I was 3 weeks old because of my sister, who was a figure skater,” Kyle said.

Kyle’s mother, Agatha, recalled a time when her son could not yet speak but would purchase cookies from the snack shop by pointing, calling the rink their second home.

Since then, Kyle’s sister switched to speedskating, and Kyle has gotten on the ice himself, saying he enjoys the camaraderie of speed skating and being able to hang out with his friends.

“Speed skating is more a teamwork,” Song said. “By following the better skaters, you become better, too.”

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club’s oldest member Peter Smokler, 74, left, and the youngest member, Kyle Song, 10, practice together at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signal

Similarly, 11-year-old Abigail Han started speed skating after her older brother inspired her to do so.

While Han recalls a time where she would be nervous not to be skating with her brother, it was the community she found at the club — along with her brother — that helped her keep going.

“I just had a great community with me and everyone was so nice and welcoming when I joined, and it was just a great experience,” Han said.

Han went on to win the state championship last year and said she’s dedicated to continuing to improve and trying to win races.

“It feels amazing. I’m really happy that The Cube is finally back, and we get to be home again,” Han added.

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club member Solomon Kim, 18, performs a “pivot” while practicing at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signa

Years ago, figure skater Emma Coppess, now 19, joined the club to get faster, planning to use it as a cross-training, but in it finding a passion for speed.

“I was really slow, and I thought speed skating would help my speed, and it did, and it was really fun,” Coppess said. “I love going fast.”

While Coppess has since left the club, as she now figure-skates at national competitions, she still looks back on her time with the club fondly, saying she enjoyed the atmosphere, and in the club and rink she, too, found a second home.

“Everybody was so welcoming and so nice,” Coppess added. “I’ve grown up with the majority of the people here at this rink, and I like coming back and just revisiting my ‘home.’”

“Our club members continue to follow her as her biggest cheerleaders, that is, next to her wonderful family,” Halcrow added.

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club member Emma Coppess practices her figure skating at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signal

The club’s oldest member, 74-year-old Peter Smokler, an Emmy-winning photographer, grew up in Detroit and has been skating since he was 5.

Smokler tried speed skating after playing hockey for some time, finding his way back to the sport nearly 50 years later.

“It was a really, really great group of people, and the rink is beautiful,” Smokler said of the club and its rink.

It was after he returned to the sport and begun winning races in his division that he found himself again hooked, with an eye on nationals — that is until he injured himself and had to take another hiatus.

Now, 15 years later, Smokler is back on the ice, and again is hoping to compete at nationals, noting other club members as his inspiration, using Kim as one example.

Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club member Peter Smokler, 74, practices his crossover at The Cube Santa Clarita in Valencia on Wednesday, 072121. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Solomon inspires me because he’s just so beautiful to watch, and maybe I could get some of that form by just working and working,” Smokler added.

Many of the club’s members agree that what makes the club work so well is just that: being able to inspire one another, regardless of age or skill level.

“(It’s) passion and building family groups like this, where people really get to enjoy the sport, (that are why) speed skating still does well,” club president Ron Halcrow said. “

New members are advised to go through the rink’s skate program first, learning the basics of being on the ice before being introduced to speedskating.

The club is always in search of sponsorships, which is what it relies on for funding.

The Santa Clarita Speed Skating Club trains 7-8:15 a.m. every Saturday at The Cube, located at 27745 Smyth Drive in Valencia. For more information, visit scssc.net. 

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