So, this is an interesting topic, but one I enjoy talking about.
Years ago, when AOL Instant Messenger was a thing, a friend of mine and I were watching the Winter Olympics on TV and chatting about it through IMs. We were watching curling, and had no idea what was going on, how it was scored, or anything. So we did some sleuthing…. and, while we were sleuthing, my friend stumbled across some interesting information…
Friend : “Hey, did you know there’s a curling place like… 20 minutes from both of us?”
Me : “No shit?”
Friend : “Yeah, it’s $50 for three two-hour lessons, and if you join their club.. like.. their Curling Elk’s Lodge… they take that $50 off the yearly membership”
Me : “$50? I’ve spent more than that on far dumber stuff…. ”
And a plan was born.
We arrived at the building in Central NJ (Yes, Central New Jersey exists. No, I will not argue this point. No, you are wrong if you suggest otherwise) and are immediately greeted by an interesting cast of characters. Short, tall, skinny, not…skinny, business cut look and ‘lived in the woods and lived off roadkill’ look… one thing was for sure, there’s no such thing as a ‘standard look’ for a curler.
They were amazingly friendly, and when we told them we had found them online and wanted to take the lessons, they said absolutely, but, we have one question “Why curling?”
Friend : “Well, we were watching it on the Olympics and were curious about the rules, scoring, play style and such and saw that you had lessons… so we figured.. .why not?”
Me : “There’s two ways I’m getting to the Olympics. Curling, or buying a ticket”
Luckily for us, both of those answers were acceptable.
They ran us through the rules for scoring and the rules for playing.
They impressed upon us 2 VERY important rules to start.
Rule 1 – Never step onto the ice with your “slider” foot first (as opposed to your “gripper” foot which has the traction)
Rule 2 – Always take your keys and phone out of your pockets before playing.. because you will forget Rule 1.
For scoring, the large ‘targets’ on each end of the ice (called “The Sheet”) is called “The House”, the center of which is “The Button”. Each team throws (slides) a total of 8 rocks. The team with the rock(s) closest to The Button gets 1 point for each rock that is closer to The Button than the opponent’s closest rock…. cool, so like, shuffleboard mixed with bocci. Got it. The thrower pushes off from The Hack and slides forward, releasing the rock before the Hog Line (think, Blue Line in hockey). The sweepers can control the speed of the rock, as it reduces the friction in front of it. What we didn’t know, was the bottom of the rocks aren’t smooth… they’re concave. Only a very thin lip actually contacts the ice. The ice isn’t smooth either. Before each match, they lightly spray deionized water on the ice to give it a dimpled texture. This texture, along with the bottom rim of the rock, and the slow rotation given to the rock upon release, is what ‘curls’ the rock… the speed of that curl and the distance it travels down the sheet, is aided by the sweepers, and those sweepers are guided by the thrower.
Now, each team has 4 members… 3 players and The Skip (team captain or “skipper”). It’s The Skip that will stand at the far end of the ice and let the thrower know where he wants to shoot for. Skip determines placement, one thrower throws, the other two sweep. When it’s the Skip’s turn to throw, the 3rd thrower will take the Skip’s place at the far end of the sheet for aiming help, but the Skip still tells him where to stand.
Each match is 8 to 10 “Ends” (think innings in baseball) and each End is over when each team has thrown all 8 rocks. The team that throws first is the team in the lead. The last rock (from the team behind) is called “The Hammer”…and advantageous rock to have as you can completely change the scoring for that End, but.. you only get that advantage by being behind so… it comes at a cost.
A tournament is called a Bonspiel, and, as is customary in curling, there is an overt amount of good sportsmanship. Good shots can be quietly hi-fived, bad shots are never mocked, and… at least in the rink we were at.. at the end of every match, the winners by the losers a round, and the losers reciprocate by buying the winners a round.
It was AMAZINGLY fun to play, and MUCH more of a workout than we had imagined. Our first lesson was all about balance. Second lesson the following week was form, and third lesson the week after was a mini-match of 4 ends. We had a blast. We forgot Rule 1 a handful of times and paid for it. We were sore for days, but man… it was fun.
We didn’t become members as the ‘local Bonspiel’ was in Canada, and we just couldn’t commit to taking the time to go there when needed to play, but, would I do the lessons again? In a heartbeat.