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Ice skating on Okinawa provides a cool escape

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-28

Are you one of those people that actually stay indoors with the air conditioner on, to seek shelter from the blazing hot Okinawan summers? Do you miss the nice cold winters back home, or maybe you would like to be somewhere else when your friends drag you to the beach? If you answered "yes" to one of these questions, then you might be interested in one of Okinawa's newest attractions. The Haebaru "Sports World" complex, which opened last year, features batting cages, billiards, and bowling, as part of the many attractions it houses under one area. However, it is the ice skating rink that has made the complex famous and unique.

A beautiful 90 feet wide and 180 feet long rink awaits skate fanatics, and offers the unique experience of ice skating on a sub-tropical island. The brand new rink is comparable to any rink that most people have skated on back in the U.S., and it gives both beginners and experienced skaters a place to try out their skills, while enjoying a day of fun.

Ice skating, to most people's surprise, is not something totally new on the island. It actually has been around for quite a while. The very first skating rink was located in Naha, but went out of business about twenty years ago. Another rink then popped up in Okinawa City, and stayed in operation for about six years, during only the winter season. It also finally succumbed to financial difficulties, and ended its short history two years ago. During the days of the Naha skating rink, Okinawa was part of the National Skating Federation, and used to be eligible for tournament competition in figure skating. It eventually dropped out of the federation, because of the lack of interest and the problem with proper facilities.

The Haebaru skating rink has started to renew interest in traditional winter skating here on Okinawa. Currently, the Okinawa Ice Hockey Club practices every Saturday and Sunday morning, and has about 50 members on the squad. Masami Gima, General Manager of the Haebaru Sports World Ice Skating Rink, is one of the members of the Okinawa Ice Hockey Club. He relates to the very fast paced sport, and hopes that the new rink will help to regain the enthusiasm of the sport he enjoyed as a child. "I began skating when I was 12 years old, but then stopped when the Naha rink closed. I started roller skating for a while, and then started again with the opening of the Okinawa City rink. The speed on the ice and the physical contact is what makes ice hockey so unique compared to other sports," explained the 33-year-old Gima.

The newly formed team also has some other experienced players, who have gained much knowledge and playing time through skating clubs in the mainland. The Okinawa team even entered the Kyushu Ice Hockey Championship Tournament last year, where the top qualifying teams go on to compete in the national tournament.

Less serious skaters however, can also find a very fun filled day at the Sport World skating rink everyday throughout the year. The rink is usually open from 11 am until 12 midnight, with business hours on Sundays and holidays starting at 9 am. On Saturdays and Fridays the rink is open until 2 am. The cost for entree is 1,700 for adults, which includes skate rental. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 pay 1,500, and children under 13 years of age are allowed in for 1,300. Both prices include skate rental, and one ticket is good for the whole day. However, once you enter the rink, you can not leave the exit and come back with the same ticket. You can also find a snack bar inside, which sells soba, curry rice, soft drinks and other snacks. Groups of over 10 people get a discount, and non-skaters can observe from rink side for 200.

The temperature inside can get down below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so warm clothes are essential. You are also required to bring a pair of gloves for safety reasons, and you will not be allowed to skate without them.

The cold air provides a nice refreshing atmosphere for those missing the cold winters back home, and kids will love being able to skate with their friends. The Sports World complex also offers bowling, Karaoke, and has a Japanese style pub inside, giving you endless entertainment for the whole day. It is a great change from the usual beach scene, and an excellent place to spend a rainy day.

The easiest way to reach Sports World is to take the expressway south to the final exit in Naha. Turn left and proceed about 500 yards. When you see the "Jomo" gas station, make another left. Turn left again at the intersection, and Sports World will be on your right.

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