When it comes to the holiday's most treasured traditions, ice skating with friends and family is high on the list. Nothing beats imagining oneself as a graceful Olympic-level skating expert, dancing effortlessly across the surface of the ice like a delicate windblown snowflake.
Alas, reality and imagination may not align, especially when it comes to the city's ice skating options, which range from the seasonal Embarcadero Center rink to the festive Union Square option to the year-round Yerba Buena rink. Which rink is right for the precious few holiday skating days you've got left? We sat down with someone who's knowledge of the rinks is both surface-level and deep. Yes, we're talking about the Zamboni.
SFist: Hi ...
SFist: Sorry, we're a little starstruck here.
Zamboni: It happens a lot.
SFist: You're just so
Zamboni: Take your time.
SFist: Ahem. Okay. So you and your buddies take care of the rinks around town. What exactly do you do, besides look cool morning, noon and night?
Zamboni: Well, hey, we're "ice resurfacers." Before Frank J. Zamboni was around--rest in peace, he was a great man-ice rinks were resurfaced by hand with scrapers, towels, water hoses and squeegees. Now, we do it. I won't get into the specifics, but there's a lot going on under the hood. We're not just here to look good.
SFist: What's your favorite rink in town?
Zamboni: That a tough one. I guess what I'm saying is, there are limited choices, so it all comes down to personality. It really depends on what you're looking for. And, crucially, your tolerance of small children and middle schoolers on dates.
SFist: Something about the combination of sharp blades and tiny humans makes me a bit nervous.
Zamboni: Ice skating is one of those activities where adults in various stages of inebriation rub shoulders with tiny children in a dangerous, possibly fatal activity. Strapping children into skates and sending them careening over the ice, now does that seem safe to you?
SFist: So which rinks have the thinnest population of children?
Zamboni: I can tell you which has the thickest: Union Square. It's a smaller rink, and it's positively crawling with little tykes and their adoring parents. Tweens locked together by their braces. Strings of a half-dozen hand-holding family members forming an impenetrable human chain. One evenings and weekends, you're gonna be stuck in traffic, and from an ice resurfacer's perspective, there's a lot of chop. Luckily there's a cafe within spitting distance of the entrance, and you can bring beer into the staging area if it's in a styrofoam cup.
SFist: What about Embarcadero?
Zamboni: The seasonal rink at Embarcadero has been around for over twenty-five years. It's bigger, it's better managed, and it has a higher percentage of young professionals on the ice trying to reenact romantic comedies from the 90s. There's usually a few lithe intermediate-level skaters swooping around in the center portion of the rink making everyone else look like stiff-legged amateurs. But there's a bit more room, something us Zambonis appreciate (despite our razor-sharp turning radius).
SFist: How does Yerba Buena fit into all this?
Zamboni: Yerba Buena is the workhorse of city rinks. There's hockey, there's year-round free skates. It's an environment where a Zamboni like me feels very at home. But it just doesn't have that festive, over-the-top Christmassy cheer of the other two spots. It's a little more authentic, but who needs that at the end of December?
SFist: I feel like we need to play FMK now.
Zamboni: F--- Embarcadero. Marry Yerba Buena. Kill Union Square. Obviously.
Many thanks to the Zamboni for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his many insights.
Union Square Holiday Ice Rink, Geary and Powell Streets, $11
Open 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. until Monday, January 20, 2014
Embarcadero Holiday Ice Rink, Justin Herman Plaza, $10
10:00 a.m. - 9:30 pm, Sunday-Thursday, 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 pm, Friday and Saturday until January 5, 2014
Yerba Buena Skating Rink, 750 Folsom Street, $10
Open year 'round, schedule here