Unconventional sports, Max Feng (11): Figure skating


Samantha Matays , Staff Writer

“The sensation of ice skating is unlike anything else,” Max Feng (11) said. 

Feng first ice skated at an after-school program at his elementary school in 2014, he said. A few years later, Feng realized he wanted to pursue figure skating after watching figure skaters compete in the 2018 Olympics, he said. He started taking lessons at the age of 10 at Chelsea Piers to improve his skills.

“[During] my initial experiences with skating, I was nervous, but I was also excited to see where I could go and what other goals I could achieve,” Feng said. He entered his figure skating journey with Olympic dreams, but realized they were unrealistic after he saw other kids who had begun ice skating at a much younger age achieve milestones that remained unattainable for him.

Despite that reckoning, Feng stuck with the sport because it had become an important part of his identity in which he invested a lot of time, and his ice skating journey did not feel complete yet. He also feared disappointing his coaches and his parents. “Even during tough days when I was very frustrated and wanted to quit, I always felt like it was something I could never leave.”

The first skill that Feng mastered was the single axel, a jump where a skater does one and a half revolutions. It was difficult to conquer his fear of being in the air, but it was crucial in order to ensure that his jump was very powerful, he said. Overcoming this challenge became the foundation to achieve his next skills, where he wouldn’t be as afraid to fall. In early 2019 after getting pushed by himself, and friends, to keep trying, Feng eventually mastered the skill and was filled with excitement. 

Feng practices at Chelsea Piers one to two hours a day for four weekdays, and three hours every Saturday morning during the school year. Sometimes he practices before school, from 6 a.m. to 7:20 a.m., while other times it happens after school. Feng makes time for skating outside through the Physical Education Department’s out-of-school contract, which exempts him from PE classes and gives him more time to do work at school. Over the summer, he typically spends his whole day at the rink.

Currently, Feng is mastering a triple jump landing, where he turns three revolutions while in the air. He is close to mastering the skill, but there is a mental block that prohibits him from landing. He is also working to develop his stamina under his coaches’ guidance so he is not as tired after he skates multiple program run-throughs, he said.

One of Feng’s favorite skating experiences came in the 2022 Middle Atlantic Championships. He skated to the song “Memoirs of a Geisha” and scored a clean program, where every aspect of his performance including jumps, spins, and step sequences, was error-free. When Feng found out he scored a clean program, he was ecstatic and celebrated with his coaches. The experience of competing against other male skaters was thrilling since there are not a lot of boys to compete against, both in the competitions he skates and the sport in general, Feng said.

As Feng advances through the skating world, he competes at least four times a year in increasingly competitive environments, he said. “Now, I am entering the national qualifying season and competing against other boys my age who might be more skilled than I am.” He hopes that by the end of the season, he will receive entrance into the Eastern Sectionals competition, and after that, entrance into the US Figure Skating Association National Development team. If Feng qualifies for the team, it will grant him more connections to the skating world and allow him to meet many talented skaters.

This past summer, Feng worked at Chelsea Piers Full-Day Ice Skating Camp, where he helped coaches teach kids how to skate. It was very enjoyable, so in the future, Feng aspires to build on his skating skills while applying his experiences by mentoring children and doing more coaching. 

For Feng, the skating process includes warming up and being prepared mentally, he said. “In the circumstance of a competition, it’s about giving it my all and being concentrated,” he said. Feng finds it helpful to separate himself from the competitive environment at events by listening to upbeat music.

Although skating is an independent practice, Feng still encounters the collaborative skills that players on team sports learn. “I’ve always argued to [my parents] that even if you are in an individual sport, you can still develop a sense of companionship and union with other people.” The experience of encouraging friends to achieve new goals and do well in competitions is especially very rewarding, Feng said.