Glossary of Skating Falls

March 25, 2008


Most humans learn how to walk by instinct sometime around the age of one. During this toddling stage they fall down regularly, slapping forward onto their little paws with their hindquarters in the air, or adorably plopping backwards onto their diapers. Of course, they don’t have far to fall and their competency with this new walking trick improves at an astonishing rate (especially in the case of my genius nephew). Aside from an occasionally slippery sidewalk, an ill-placed banana peel, or a few too many vodka tonics, once people get the hang of walking, they don’t fall down much.

Unless, of course they take up ice skating…in which case, falling becomes an occurrence almost as regular as blinking. 

As skaters, we’ve fallen in just about every way imaginable. Backwards, forwards, sideways, and (sometimes, unfortunately) upside down. We fall so often that we get used to it. It’s often said that we “learn” how to fall, in other words how to fall in ways that are less jolting and therefore less damaging and, to an extent, this is true. That said, there are still the falls that take us utterly by surprise and are so strange they could never possibly be replicated. There are falls that make us wince, take our breath away, produce tears. And let us not forget the falls that make us laugh hysterically.

Everything else in our sport has a name, so in hopes of contributing to this clarity, I’ve decided to categorize some of the more common varieties of falls.

The Splat: In this fall, usually best performed from forward skating, you hit the ice like pancake batter hits the griddle. In the more sophisticated version, there is an involuntary flip at the end. Afterwards, it’s difficult to identify a body part that did not make contact with the ice.

The Sidesaddle: This fall is the one most highly recommended for adults and simply involves sliding off to one side or the other with grace and dignity. The affected hip and wrist will never be the same, but at least you’ll still have your teeth.

The Bellyflop: This is one of the more exciting falls, often associated with the entrance to a Camel Spin. If the skater has temporarily forgotten that she is at the rink and not the swimming pool, this will surely remind her. Likewise, it helps to demonstrate the important scientific concept that frozen water is far more solid than warmer versions. This fall is rendered even more breathtaking because it literally takes your breath, outsources it to a foreign place that may or may not need it more, in the meantime causing you to wonder if your lungs (and economy) have collapsed.

The Timber: This fall usually occurs from a backward entrance. The body falls to the ice stiff and perfectly straight, like a tree that has been chopped down. Afterwards, you’ll scan the rink for lumberjacks to blame it on, but all you’ll see are little girls dropping like leaves around you.

The Geyser: This fall is unique in the way it first shoots you up in the air, causing you to momentarily defy gravity before you plummet back down. In order to get your money’s worth, stick around for the exciting grand finale, which is usually a full-bodied whiplash.  

The Jackhammer: In this vertical fall, your tailbone makes first contact with the ice with a velocity and force that shakes the entire building and causes the other skaters to cover their ears as they pass. Your spinal chord will continue to vibrate for days and the rink manager will wonder how such a large crater blemished his beloved sheet of ice. After examining the ceiling, he’ll rule out a meteor; but your absence for several weeks will make him suspicious.

The Pretzel: Many physicists have tried, but it is impossible to explain how skaters accomplish this complicated fall and likewise detangle from it. This human knot is twice as common and complex for pair and dance teams.

The Headbanger: This is a multimedia experience in that it’s accompanied by a very distinct sound effect. It’s a particular thud that can only be produced when a noggin knocks into the ice. The aftermath is also multifaceted: a welt of impressive dimensions immediately sprouts and birdies chirp while flying in dizzying patterns around your head.

The Slide: This is the fall that reminds you just how slippery the ice is. The biggest challenge here is steering yourself away from other skaters. In other words, you want to avoid impersonating a bowling ball hitting a strike’s worth of pins.  If the rink is particularly wet that day, you may create an equally dangerous tsunami and experience an uncomfortably moist sensation in the seat of your tights (or pants) for the rest of the session. While this fall happens quite often on the ice, it happens even more often in nightmares. Usually (if you’re me), you eventually slam into the barriers and wake up with a jolt, certain you’re having a heart attack.   

The Chin Splitter: This is arguably the most colorful fall and occurs most often as the result of bunny hopping or spiraling right over the toe picks. The good news is that there is something called butterfly bandages and their wings are very skilled at holding skin together. The even better news is that this is a skating rite of passage: as soon as you are initiated it doesn’t matter what your competitive successes or failures are, you are now part of the “in” skating crowd. Go ahead, look, everyone else has this scar of honor.   

The Surprise: This fall is not your fault. There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it and no way to see it coming. The ice quietly sneaks up on you, swiftly grabs you from below, and pulls you down. All of this transpires in a blurry nanosecond, so witnesses who were looking exactly in your direction will claim, quite honestly, that they didn’t see anything.  

The Slo-Mo: This is the exact opposite of the previous fall. This one seems to take forever and you’ll see it coming from miles away. You’ll try to flap your arms in an attempt to fly out of the situation, but this will only put you more off balance. In the meantime, your life will flash before your eyes. You’ll have time to wish you’d done all those good things like taken better care of your childhood goldfish… tape-recorded your grandmother’s voice… spent more time laughing and less time working. Mostly, you’ll wish that you’d invested in a set of those hideous-looking butt pads.


What did I miss?

And here is  a link to some very good pads of the more inconspicuous variety….

And, yikes, here is a link to some very nasty skating falls caught on tape. But don’t watch these if you are prone to nightmares…




20 Responses to “Glossary of Skating Falls”

  1. Jerry L Says:

    Better roll out the stretcher and get the full body cast ready.

  2. Henner Says:

    What about that time Midori Ito fell off the ice into a camera man? What would you call that? hmmm, I’ll leave it to you.

  3. platogrande Says:

    One of the first things taught to Judo students is “how to fall”. In fact, practicing how to fall was a huge part of my Judo education. The constant drills and repetition have left me with an intuition that has spared me more serious injury from falls a number of time.

    That brings me to my next topic: falling off of a bike. It’s not fun, especially at 20+mph. Soemthing that keeps me in long-distance riding instead of pure racing is the old maxim about crashes / falling in races, which I believe applies to skating as well: “It’s not a matter of if, but when and how badly.”

  4. Dodger Says:

    Digger. Def: Falling on rough, snowy public session ice. Full immediate stop due to relatively high friction coefficient of ice surface. Number of somersaults directly proportional to entry velocity. Significant abrasions likely.

  5. BA Says:

    Ah, the fall…ing of ice skating is like none other. I firmly believe skaters are ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to balance in general. We can fall more gracefully than most, whether it be tripping on the sidewalk or skiing down an icy slope. (Go Bro Bro with your genius walking advances!)

  6. Caryn Says:

    Yep, I had me the Headbanger last week. It was so bad, I had to go to the ER…nice little concussion. I am an adult skater returning to the sport after a 15 year absence, and never have I fallen on my head before. Pretty interesting experience!

    When I was 12, I was doing an outside edge pivot spin, and somehow managed to fall down on the back of my blade, and took out a little chunk of booty. I still have the scar! Oh what inventive falls us skaters come up with!

  7. I've Fallen and surprisingly got up!? Says:

    Although you have covered a wide variety of falls, you have indeed omitted a fall which makes use of varying combinations from your list. I am of course referring to the “whacksel”!!! It is considered in many circles the ultimate in solo falling ( and yes it is the only fall known to skaters that IS spelled with an exclamation point. I have performed many whacksels! Some combined a “jackhammer” with a “pretzel”, the “splat” with the “geyser”, and well, to many others to mention. I must say that at the moment of blast-off I always make use of the “surprise” or maybe that’s just the look on my face in mid-air, and I know that everyone has time to see that look on my face, because the entire gravity defying event is in “slo-mo”.

  8. dancer Says:

    According to this glossary, Mao Asada’s fall into her triple axel at Worlds would probably be both a splat and a slide and a surprise. What a recovery though eh? Tanith Belbin seemed to have a little bit of a pretzel and a small geyser and also definitely a surprise. I think this glossary is going to come in handy!

  9. J. Walker Says:

    I found this an interesting read and also an informative read. I had no idea how many different on-ice falls there could be. I ended up laughing. I also noticed a falling figure up top which gave a set up to what followed.

  10. bamboo-boo Says:

    What about when a skater is just standing there and somehow falls… How would we classify this? I guess it could be the Timber. And when this skater accidently kicks her coach in the shin on the way down?

  11. Aaron Harris Says:

    This post is great…and so very very true. The Slo-Mo…love it!

  12. tarangela Says:

    And the uh-oh… a version of the slo-mo. Several approaches but most common: land a jump facing forward, somehow having come down on both toepicks. You already feel the anticipated searing, crushing kneecap pain while teetering – stuck – on 3 sq mm of steel. Best solution after ensuring nothing’s broken is to bend and straighten the knees repeatedly, then force a few minutes of stroking, and only then add ice (to your knees and your drink!).

    Not to mention the What was that!!! Outdoors on a pond the likely culprit is a twig or pebble. In our rink it’s a tulip poplar seed pod that instantaneously halts all motion. Leads to any of the crash patterns Jocelyn describes.

  13. Aaron Harris Says:

    It’s official. I have found myself watching figure skating, seeing a fall, and then researching this post to classify the fall. This glossary must be permanently published and saved on this website in some fasion!

    I’ve also discovered another one…I call it the board banger. This when a skater successfully lands his/her jump but is too close to the boards and is unable to complete the landing before banging into the boards…often accompanied with a fall after the board bang!

  14. sitspin Says:

    The only one I can add would be “the breakdancer” where you spin around on your back after your fall.

    The sad thing about this glossary is that the guy up top does not have on a helmet!

  15. sarah Says:

    oh, the chin-splitter…

    butterfly bandages vs. 18 stitches from a plastic surgeon: same idea, different price range!

  16. Sonja Says:

    how about the bottom-lip-split right dead center?

  17. Ben Howard Says:

    Thanks for this taxonomy. What do you call falling on an icy sidewalk and landing on your knee?

    May I have your permission to use your image on my blog “One Time, One Meeting.” It would accompany a post entitled “Mishaps and Mistakes.”


  18. I skated through college. Did the least I could to pass. Thanks visit my blog.

  19. Falls sustained while doing twizzles should have their own classification.

  20. “The Water-ski” sliding thru a puddle at high speed while sending up a spray of water.

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