Curling is Harder Than It Looks

Curling Is Harder Than It Looks

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2009

Several weeks ago, I had the chance to fill a years-long dream I've had: I got to go curling. I joined the Circle City Curling Club on their last practice of the season.

Regular readers may know my fascination with this winter sport, the game that involves sliding very heavy — 42 pounds — rocks down a narrow strip of ice, trying to make your rock land inside a big circle while knocking other rocks out of it.

Jeff Heck and Daniel Louks of the CCCC were kind enough to show me how the game is played, and loaned me a broom so I could try it out.

In curling, you slide your rocks down the Sheet, which is 145 feet long, so they come to rest in the House, the large target at either end. Each player slides two stones per End (round), while two others sweep the ice in front of the sliding stone, to make sure it doesn't pick up any dirt.

It's like marbles for giants.

Curling on TV looks easy. The athletes slide gracefully on one knee, delivering stones from the Hack. Sweepers scrub the ice in front of the stone, bring it to rest, with microscopic accuracy, on the very spot the Skip (captain) pointed out.

Turns out I really suck at it.

Before we started, Daniel had me try a couple practice shots. I learned the whole balancing on the ice on one foot while dragging the other is much harder than it looks. At one point I was doing five different things just for the delivery, none of which included sliding the stone.

My first stone rocketed out of my hands and came to rest 15 feet away from the House. The one I had started from.

"Push it a little harder this time," Daniel urged politely. Curling is the most polite game I have ever seen. Chess matches are violent bloodbaths compared to this sport.

For example, at the beginning of each game, everyone shakes hands and wishes each other "good curling." A member of the opposing team will retrieve their opponent's stone for them, and place it near the hack. And they congratulate each other on good deliveries. Very polite indeed.

I heaved back, did four of the five things I needed to maintain my balance, fell anyway, and delivered the stone more than two-thirds of the way down this time.

"Excellent, let's start," said Daniel.

Since we didn't have enough players for a full match, and this was just for fun, another woman and I were full-time sweepers for both teams. I slid my stones, and then took over sweeping duties. Because this was a game of politeness and fair play, we tried equally hard for both teams.

For those of you who think this is an easy game, it's not. You really get a workout doing it. Imagine being hunched over, running sideways, and furiously scrubbing a six inch strip in your garage down and back five times with a small broom. That's how far one delivery is, about 90 feet.

Now, do that four or six times. That's your workload in one End. As a full-time sweeper, I did that 14 times per End, and we played three Ends. By the time I was finished, my shoulders and back were on fire, and I hurt for two days afterward.

My sweeping was actually pretty good, but my deliveries were, well, awful. I was finally getting the distance, but my throws ended up sliding off the Sheet completely. If the goal was to deliver a stone to the House, mine were ending up in the neighbor's front yard.

On my last shot of the night, I tried something new. Since my shots were always hooking to the left, I aimed at a spot well off to the right: the House on the Sheet next to us.

The sweepers scrubbed furiously, Daniel the Skip shouting like mad — "SWEEP! SWEEEEEEEP!!" — and bam! It barely made it inside the farthest ring of the House. But it was there.

"You got it!" hollered Daniel, standing next to my 42 pounds of granite victory. I grabbed my digital camera and literally ran down the ice to take a photo of what will probably be the last stone I ever throw.

I've now achieved my latest dream. I have curled. I have thrown the Scottish stone and brought it home.

My new dream is to ride in a two-seater Indy Car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With $1,000 in my pocket.

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