Monday, January 16, 2012

Let's Go Curling Now!

     So now it’s winter; it’s cold out, the river keeps freezing over.  Not many opportunities for kayaking.  But, we thought, maybe there’s another sport we could try, one suggested by BaffinpaddlerBelfast Curling , Maine's only curling club,had scheduled a “Learn to Curl!” event for January 15.

     Mostly what I know about curling is that it is an Olympic sport that involves brooms.  Also, the Simpsons and Skinners got a gold medal in the sport. 

     In preparation for “Learn to Curl!” I checked out Wikipedia  and learned a few more bits of trivia. 
1.  Curling wasn’t invented in Canada, but Scotland.
2.  Very special non-water absorbing granite is used to make the stones.  Only two quarries produce stones for curling, an active quarry in Wales, and a closed quarry on Ailsa Craig, an island off Scotland. 
Fortunately, prior to closing the Scottish quarry (now part of a nature preserve) 1500 tons of stone was removed, estimated to meet the worlds curling needs through 2020.
3.  You don’t just hurl the stone across the ice and sweep, there are many, many rules.  One is the nifty four-stone-rule which states: in the first four throws, stones in the free guard zone may not be removed by an opponent’s stone.  The four-stone-rule was developed from the “Moncton Rule” first used in a tournament in 1991.  Moncton, New Brunswick, is home to the mysterious Magnetic Hill, and the only non-historic roadside attraction my parents ever stopped at.  We stopped, just the one time, to watch our yellow VW bus roll up the hill.  Wikipedia does not say if the powers of Magnetic Hill had any bearing on the rule development.
4.  Curling is one of many sports where players are supposed to declare their own fouls. 
5.  As a part of demonstrating good sportsmanship the winners traditionally buy the losers drinks.  

The fifth fact gave me the most hope.

     This is what Mark learned when he went to research curling:
There are at least two curling apps for the iPad, Pig Curling Lite(free) and Curling3D HD($2.99)   Curling3D opens on a rink showing two men in harlequin curling pants, a sight not to be missed, though you control players wearing more sedate black pants.   Pig Curling teaches you to throw pigs into the “house”.  Sometimes they need to bounce off things or smash through things.  Mark does not recommend it for learning the rules of curling.
Outside the club
     Stephen McLaughlin is the brave man in charge of “Learn to Curl!”  He sent us some guidance on the day; we’d see a demonstration, practice some components and even have a short game.  He suggested we dress in layers, warmer for when we weren’t moving, cooler for active times, and insisted we have grit free footwear.  Mark has gym sneakers.  I had to scrub a pair of sneakers and work pebbles out of the treads.

     Now, when I planned to attend “Learn to Curl!” I wasn’t expecting that my back would go out.  And I suspect, when my bosses gave me the first week in January off to recover, they weren’t doing it with the hope that my back would be strong enough for curling.  But my back was feeling better, and there was only one date for “Learn to Curl!”  I figured I’d be careful, and concede if I started to run into trouble.  According to Wikipedia, conceding is not shameful and is considered preferable to forcing your opponents to rout you thoroughly.  I would just have to hope my teammates would feel the same.

     Usually if we plan an indoor adventure, the day is warm and wonderful, so we sit around with our noses pressed against the glass, wishing we could get outside.  But January 15 dawned clear and cold, with a north wind blowing sea fog down to Winterport.  An ideal day for freezing ticks off moose, or learning to Curl.
Over the Bar
      The Belfast Curling Club building was warm and welcoming.  Much of the building is devoted to three playing surfaces, or curling sheets.  Then there is a comfortable viewing area, outfitted much like a lodge with refreshments to one side and drinks to the other.  Finally, there is a long hall used for training and other functions.  The Belfast Curling Club attended in full force and is as friendly as can be.   

      Learn to Curl!  began with a quick lecture, listing the origins, and some rules.  Then we got to watch club members play an end (16 throws.)   Steve McLaughlin swore it was not rigged, but the demo had a great last minute change over.
Newbies head to the ice
      After that it was out to the rink for practice throwing and sweeping.  Ice in a curling rink is pebbled rather than smooth, a texture created by having someone walk over the ice while pumping water droplets into the air.
       Each team of four was given one or two coaches, courtesy of the club.
Getting ready for a throw
        Throwing a stone is quite difficult.  The position is an awkward squat.  Though it’s called a throw, apparently it’s more of a leg push and arm aim and release, with a slight twist to curl the stone correctly. 

       Sweeping seems easier, but is fraught with peril.  Accidently touch the stone with your broom and your teammates well aimed stone is taken out of play.
       Once we’d tried the basics, we were played a quick game of two ends (rather than the usual ten.)   Our game ended in a tie.  The Belfast Curling Club does participate in the tradition of the winning team buying drinks for the losing team, and even has a bar on site.  But they have added a twist; the losing team is responsible for cleaning the ice.  And at “Learn to Curl!” neither tradition was put into play, instead we all went back to mingle, enjoy refreshments and meet another group of eager curling want-to-be’s arriving for a second session.
      Now if you’re wondering if this is good exercise; yes it is.  Sweeping is especially energetic, as you run along the ice brushing in front of the stone.
      Is it a good activity for someone with a sore back?  No, it is not.   It’s not particularly bad, you don’t have to lift the stones, but you do spend a lot time on your feet, and that gets wearing.  (Good news, a few aspirin and sitting for the drive home seemed to resolve much of the pain.)
     Am I a natural?  Not at all.  And not because Mike and Alanna did a bad job coaching.  They were at our sides all the way through the game providing us with advice.  Though they are both right handed, they actually demonstrated a left hand throw for me a couple of times.  Having grown up with gym instructions consisting of “left-handers, you do what I do, only backwards,” I can tell you that an actual demonstration is far more useful.  My teammates, Mike and Pam did quite well, and our opposing team were amazing shots.  But I did not have a useful throw.  Mike, who played the Skip, could point where he wanted, but my throws were a bit random (though they all stayed on our ice!)
     Will I be back?  Maybe.  They have two halves, one starting in November and a second in January.  Each is proceeded with a Learn to Curl! event.  One club member talked about how nice it was as the days got shorter to head to the rink to play under the lights.  Certainly seems a lot healthier than sitting home.


  1. Awesome!

    What great research you do!

    I'm so glad you are "getting into it". Be patient. If your back is sore and healing, they have a number of gadgets you can use to release the rock without bending over.

    I'm a beginner too. Lots to learn. Yoga is helpful for flexiblity. And as you noted, curling is a great "indoor" winter sport.

    Curling is not as easy as it looks on TV with the pros, eh?

    We did a clinic this weekend with 3 awesome Canadian coaches. I'm motivated to improve.

    I was planning to post something on curling this winter too.

    I'd love to curl with you one day! I hope you keep at it. Take care of that sore back first though!

    Cheers from CHILLY Canada!

  2. Been there a few times myself..good bunch of people..I'm glad you gave it a try

  3. Belfast Curling Club does have a fun membership. I think it would be awesome to attempt curling with the Baffinpaddler. I bet I would learn so much. You're right that it's so much harder to do than it appears in the demonstration.
    Your weekend event sounds amazing. I think the coaches prowess might be squandered on me. Good curling!!!