They might be the Surrey’s most established club that you’ve never heard of.
In British Columbia, and Canada for that matter, hockey always dominates the ice sports. Figure skating also has a strong niche, but synchronized skating is still looking for its big break.
The Lower Mainland Synchronized Skating Club (LMSSC) has existed in Surrey since 1981, and the team is a perennial provincial champion in the sport.
Coach Danalee Harrison knows about the team’s success all too well.
“I’ve been skating since I was six, and I started coaching over 25 years ago,” she said.
The 42-year-old Harrison was with the LMSSC back when they were known as Surrey Precision Skating. The club kept that name from 1980 to 2001, before they changed it to the LMSSC.
“We’re the biggest club in the Lower Mainland,” Harrison said. “On the national stage, we’re definitely making our mark.”
“For us, all of the competition is back east,” she said. “It’s expensive, but we have to go there. we’re at the top end.”
In Eastern Canada, synchronized skating draws more attention than it does out west. Provincially, there are only a handful of synchronized skating programs, including ones in Aldergrove and Burnaby.
The strength of the LMSSC means that they go to nationals every year.
“It’s starting to get more popular in B.C.’s but it’s huge back east,” said Harrison. “The Canadian national team out of Toronto is one of the best in the world.”
One of the LMSSC alumni is actually skating with Nexxice, the top team in Canada.
“It’s a little bit tricky because we have a smaller pool to draw from than the teams back east,” said Harrison. “Everyone is on a rink over there.”
Lack of Local Ice
Since the popularity of the sport isn’t as notable in B.C., it affects the amount of ice time allocated to the LMSSC. The team meets once a week to hit the ice, and they also have a couple nights per week of off-ice training.
“It would be nice to have at least three days a week,” said Harrison.
In the past, that hasn’t affected their ability to stay competitive.
“We’ve beaten teams that skate five days a week,” she said. “The girls are used to it because that’s all they’ve known.”
Harrison said that the team maximizes their time off the ice by using techniques such as critiquing video over Facebook live. They also have a spend one weekend in August working strictly on choreography.
“It’s hard on their legs, but at least by that point, it’s out of the way for the season,” said Harrison.
Harrison is hoping that greater recognition of the sport will result in more ice time for the club.
Fighting for Olympics
Greater publicity for the sport of synchronized skating starts with a berth in the Olympics.
In 2015, the International Skating Union (ISU) applied to have synchronized skating at the Olympics. The application was rejected based on the fact that bottom of the pack teams needed to improve.
“At this point, it’s merely a numbers game,” said Harrison, noting that Olympic approval is now based on how many skaters will be on the ice at one time.
With the sport inching closer to the Olympics, it might not be long before the sport grows on both a regional and global stage.
“Recognition is the only reason why it’s not bigger,” said Harrison. “If we could get that next step and go to the Olympics, it would make a huge difference.”
Synchronized Skating versus Figure Skating
On the surface, the difference between synchronized skating and figure skating is fairly obvious. One involves a team, and the other involves no more than two people on the ice at once.
That team dynamic brings camaraderie to the sport that doesn’t exist in figure skating.
“In synchro, all the teams get along,” Harrison said. “All the B.C. teams cheer for each other during competition, and there are lots of friendships made.”
“Going to a competition is like going to a cheerleader competition. The crowds are bigger and you just have that team vibe when you get to travel with the team.”
In figure skating, that team mentality evaporates.
“It’s a different dynamic from figure skating when it’s just you and your coach,” Harrison.
“You don’t have your peers to push you to strive further,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of your shell with the choreography, whereas if everyone on the team is doing it, there’s more of a team mentality.”
Figure skating does tend to draw the best talent, which could in part leads to its increased popularity. Harrison mentions that part of that is on the coaches, who scout the best talent and often start coaching them individually.
However, many girls start competing in synchronized skating at a young age.
“If you aren’t landing triples at a young age, are you really going to make it to the Olympics?” Harrison said.
“If they’re really competitive at a young age, chances are they do singles first and then come to us at age 12 or 13.
For those who don’t have Olympic aspirations before graduating from elementary school, synchronized skating offers another pathway for skaters who want to stay in the sport.
“It’s something you can do forever,” said Harrison as she recounts her personal experience with the sport.
“The basics are the same. Everyone has to be a figure skater first, but I felt that I could go further with synchronized skating. I also got to travel more with a team, and I got to skate with friends.”
“A lot of my friends were doing figure skating together, then we all started doing synchronized skating together. We had more opportunities for competitions, and it was just fun.”
Despite the joys of the sport, there are challenges. The team needs to fundraise in order to attend nationals. There is also lots of preparation for a season that only lasts from December to February.
In the meantime, the team will continue to prepare for the provincial championships in early December, where they look to maintain their status as a provincial powerhouse.