Parents were at the ready with cameras for the first open competition at Ice in Paradise | Credit: Jenna Haut

More than 100 skaters, representing 10 different Southern California rinks, traveled, most alongside their guardians, to Goleta last week to compete in Ice in Paradise’s first-ever open figure-skating competition. By 10 a.m., the lobby of the rink had transformed into a dressing room — duffel bags were scattered the floor, and hairspray filled the air as parents put the finishing touches on their children before they took the ice.

Local 6-year-old Mackenzie Brakka was the youngest competitor. | Credit: Jenna Haut

Among the competitors was 6-year-old Mackenzie Brakka. Donning a glittery red dress, thick tights, and gleaming white skates with lavender laces, Ice in Paradise’s youngest competing skater took the rink by storm, with her biggest concern not being nerves but instead the fact that she had to wear a dress. Brakka has been skating for two years, indulging in hockey and figure skating — which she claims to love equally. 

Although Brakka was the only skater competing in her event, it did not make her gold medal any less exciting. She graciously accepted her medal from a volunteer before taking the podium to let it sink in.

“How brave are they?” said competition director Wendi Cool. “They just go out there — those tiny little girls and that big ol’ rink.” Cool reported, on average, most skaters rehearse their competition piece anywhere from nine months to one year to ensure it is up to performance standards.

Cool is no stranger to the rink herself. She has been skating as long as she can remember, and coaching for more than 25 years. Her immense dedication to the sport ultimately landed her in competition management. Sunday’s event was Cool’s seventh time serving as a competition director. 

Her experience in running competitions, coupled with her extensive list of personal contacts, made her the ideal candidate to spearhead the organization of Ice in Paradise’s first open competition. Once she signed on, Cool began researching every ice rink in California and inviting them to the competition.

A young skater takes the ice | Credit: Jenna Haut

“I was really pleased we had so many people willing to come up to check out our brand-new rink,” said Cool. The NHL-sized rink opened officially in 2015, but remained closed the entirety of the pandemic.

Beyond just organizing the event, Cool spent the majority of the eight-and-a-half-hour competition running around the rink, relaying results from the judges to competitors, and coordinating with volunteers. “The whole community comes together to make something like this run,” said Cool.

Although the morning was dominated by youth skaters, the competition saw some older, more advanced skaters as the day progressed. The Goleta Gals, Ice in Paradise’s adult ice-skating ensemble, took the ice around 4:30 p.m. In the evening, several adult duos took the rink to perform their partner pieces.

Although each skater was awarded a medal for their placement, the most anticipated results of the competition were how the competing rinks did against one another. After all the events concluded, individual skater scores were totaled to rank the competing rinks against one another.

L.A. Kings Ice at Pickwick Gardens took first place, followed by Iceland in Van Nuys. Goleta’s Ice in Paradise took third place.

Team skating competitors | Credit: Jenna Haut


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