Last night I attended a Learn to Curl event sponsored by the North End Curling Club at Steriti Memorial Rink in Boston. I’ve long been curious about trying curling but until this year I was only aware of curling clubs in the distant Boston suburbs that seemed to much a hassle to get to, so I was pleased to find an opportunity accessible by the MBTA.
Curling is a sport that originated five centuries ago in Scotland but is most popular as a pastime and a competitive sport in Canada. Americans like myself are most familiar with curling from the Winter Olympics, especially after the USA Men’s team took the gold medal in 2018.
The North End Curling Club volunteers were friendly and split us into groups of 4 to learn the basics. The most important rules we learned off the bat are 1) do not run on the ice (even if you’re sweeping, because if you need to run the stone is going fast enough), and 2) do not walk backward. Being very protective of my noggin, I took these rules to heart.
The joke about curling is that it is not a very athletic pursuit, but it is more strenuous than it looks, or so my leg muscles are telling me today. Basically, the process of throwing a stone is not unlike doing a bunch of lunges. On ice. While pushing a ~40 pound weight.
I found throwing challenging because each part of the body is doing something different all at the same time and I struggled to make sure I could remember all of them!
- the dominant foot (in my case, the right foot)is seated in the hack which is used to give something solid to push of from. Once you push off you drag that leg behind while trying to avoid letting your knee hit the ice which causes you to slow down and (ouch!) hurts
- the other leg (my left) is bent at a 90 degree angle with the foot placed on top of a slider. You have to be careful not to step on the slider while fully upright lest you slip and crack your skull. Competitive curlers actually have the slider built into the sole of their shoe.
- the dominant hand holds the handle of the stone and the skip will instruct you whether to turn it toward 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position depending on which direction they want the stone to curl. Right before your release the stone you turn the handle to 12 o’clock to initiate the curl.
- the other hand holds a stabilizer. Competitive curlers hold their broom sticks but at our lesson we had a device made of pvc pipes.
- your body is positioned to align itself directly toward the skip at the other end of the sheet.
- your head is up and looking toward the skip and where you are aiming the stone even if you want to look at all your other body parts because you want to make sure they’re in the right place.
Throwing the stone was the most challenging part for me as I never got to a point where I threw with very good weight, or velocity. To be in play, the stone must cross the hog line at the far end of the sheet which seems a long way away! I did get better over time although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my group who fell over while doing it.
Luckily, everyone on the team rotates through responsibilities so I only had to throw two stones each end (an end is when each team takes turns throwing all 8 of their stones akin to an inning in baseball). If you’re not throwing, you are likely to be sweeping and sweeping is as simple and obvious as it looks. The purpose of sweeping is to heat the ice in front of the stone to reduce friction and allow it to travel further. The skip calls out instructions such as “sweep!,” “hard!” (to make you sweep more vigorously), and “off” (to stop sweeping).
The part I enjoyed most was taking a turn as the skip. The skip stands by the house, the bullseye target the thrower is aiming towards, and gives instruction to their teammates. As skip I set a target for the thrower, marking it with my broom, and raise my right or left hand to indicate which direction to curl the stone. I also tell them whether the thrower should try to set up a guard stone that will block the opponent on their next turn, or a take-out stone to knock away the opponents stone already in the house. The skip gives instructions to the sweepers and can join in sweeping once the stone crosses the hog line closest to the house. I could also sweep to try to make the opponent’s stone go past the house once it passed the center line of the house which was deviously fun. The skip also has the responsibility of throwing the last two stones which are generally expected to be knock-out throws, which as I’ve noted was a challenge for me since I had trouble getting my stones to even cross the entire sheet, but I think my best two throws of the night were when I was the skip.
After learning the basics, we played 4 ends. The other team won the first two ends narrowly by scores of 1-0 and 2-0. We finally won on the 3rd end rather dramatically when one of my teammates threw the last stone (known as the hammer) and knocked several of the opponent’s stones out of the house leaving only one of our own. We also won the final end 1-0, and thus the final score for the entire game was 3-2 to our opponents.
Curling is a lot of fun and I would like to do it again. The big challenge is that membership in the North End Curling Club is cost prohibitive. It makes sense since it’s expensive to rent ice time and rent the curling stones. I think I will have to try to save up and see if I can do it next year.