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Longtime listeners of the show may remember that the noble sport of curling was once something of an ongoing joke with us. It got to the point that Carlson from Mad-Gear sent us each a copy of the DS Curling game just so we could further mock what we called “shuffleboard on ice”. Well my friends, I feel ashamed of our former behavior, for I have finally had a chance to experience this godly game. And it has changed my life.
A couple weeks ago, I entered the St. Paul Curling Club for an afternoon lesson and game of curling. The largest and longest-running curling club in the country, this place was amazing, giving off the vibe of a cross between luxury bowling alley and an exclusive country club. The lobby was filled with leather couches, flat-screen televisions and a giant fireplace, all facing the glass wall looking out to the play area. It was quite impressive. I was instructed to pick out a broom and head out to the ice.
Once I had my broom, I put on my clean pair of shoes (very important) and made my way to the ice. The room was a comfortable forty degrees with six playing areas in total. The moment I walked through the door and looked to my left, I knew I was in a happy place.
Now, before we made it out to the ice, we were given a basic overview of the game, its history, and the general rules. The long and short of it is that each team has four players, one of which is the captain. Each team gets eight rocks and each player throws two of them, alternating with the other team. The object is to get your rocks as close to the center of the “house” (the target-looking section) before the end (round) is over. Whichever has the closest stone to the center gets a point; or two points if they have two rocks closest to the center, and so on.
Our instructor (pictured above) showed us the basic technique of throwing the rock and sweeping the broom. Now, I always wondered what exactly it was that the broom did; did it slow the rock down or speed it up? The answer is that sweeping speeds up the rock and makes it curl (turn) less. A cool twist to the game is that once the rock passes the center of the house (again: target-looking thing), the opposing team can sweep the ice to make the rock go off the target, thus taking it out of scoring position.
A quick note about the rocks. First of all, these bastards are heavy. Picking one up off the ice takes some effort, though you should never really need to as dropping one could crack the ice. Secondly, apparently these things cost around $800 each! So apparently having your own set of curling rocks isn’t a common thing. As such, the folks who run the curling club are extremely protective of their rocks; and rightly so.
I was the captain of my team, and this was the view from the far end of the playing field. You see, the captain’s job is to stand at the other end and decide the strategy of the game and to direct the sweepers to brush faster, slower, or not at all. Since we were all beginners, I did very little “captaining”, as we were more concerned about our throwing and getting it in the vicinity of the house.
The captain also throws the last two rocks of the end, as s/he’s supposed to be the most skilled player on the team. Again, I was only made captain randomly, and judging by my first throw, I wasn’t going to earn my title. Luckily, someone was on hand to snap a shot of me nearly splitting my pants as my legs went out from under me.
Once I got past that first clumsy throw and played a few ends, I began to get the hang of it, eventually scoring two points for my team. Considering we wound up with three points total, I’d say that was pretty good.
By the end of the afternoon, I was completely sold on this sport. I learned that it involves strategy, precision, grace, and yes, a bit of athletic ability as sweeping that ice can really get your heart rate going. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve convinced my wife to join a league once our second child is born. Next stop: Sochi 2014!