So after watching the Winter Olympics, you think you want to try curling.
The sport of curling got a lot of heightened interest this year during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, both in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and around the world. I’ve seen an astounding number of tweets in what I assume are both Japanese and Chinese scripts using the #curling hashtag. (Thankfully I have automatic translation built into my favorite twitter client and I can read what they say.)
I’ve been chatting with one of the most amazingly fascinating group of people I can imagine on twitter - most of them have self-grouped into the “space enthusiast” category called the Space Tweep Society. It includes astronomers and shuttle techs and just interested (and talented) citizens and amateurs and one great big dorkasaurus named me.
A few months ago I mentioned I was rushing out to my curling game and suddenly I found out just how many of my fellow Space Tweeps were interested in the sport of curling. I’ve been a fan of curling for years, and it was really interesting to see so much interest in something I find so much fun. Many of my friends had never watched curling before, very few have actually played. I remain very impressed with how well my friends have grasped the basics as I’ve explained the game and I have gotten a list of very good and insightful questions posed to me using the #curl101 hashtag.
So in this post, I would like to address my friends who have found an interest in curling, who have learned about the rules and the etiquette, and would like to go out and try it themselves.
The very first thing I express is that anyone can curl. It is a very inclusive sport where men, women, men and women, kids, and seniors can play - whether you’re in a wheelchair or not. You need not be an elite athlete to start - indeed pudgy 40-something guys are out there having the time of their life. You have to have certain skills in order to curl. You should be willing to try new things, you should be willing to understand and adhere to the etiquette of the game, and you should be willing to stand on a sheet of ice - perhaps wear a light, loose fitting jacket and good, clean running shoes.
Just because anyone can curl, understand that you will not be able to curl up to the standard of the athletes we observed playing in the Olympics. They train physically, mentally and emotionally for years to hone their skills and you cannot expect to step on the ice and be able to curl at that level. It is only when you try curling yourself for the first time that you begin to understand it is a sport unlike any other and requires it’s own particular athleticism. Your body is stretched in atypical ways and you will use muscles you never knew you had.
So, you’ve watched the curling, you’ve talked about it with your friends and you’ve heard me talk about the basics online and now you think you’re ready to go give it a try. I sincerely encourage you to give it a shot right now. Most curling clubs are very aware of the heightened interest after the Olympics and have set up open houses (pun fully intended) and are doing their best to welcome and accommodate beginning curlers right now. If there’s a time to strike, this is it!
If you want to find a curling club near you, Wikipedia has a pretty good starting list right here. If you’re in the USA, you may want to start here instead. In Canada, there are thousands of clubs available. The little town of 300 people I grew up in has a curling club and is not listed. Canada is richly blessed with curling popularity.
Contact the nearest club and ask about an open house or a beginner’s class. You may also wish to ask if they have a bonspiel if you want to watch a game live. Curlers are generally friendly and welcoming people - it’s part of the etiquette of the game. You should expect to feel at home when you walk through the doors of the club.
One of my best friends was one of the 500 people to the open house held at the Schenectady Curling Club. He was taken by how sociable the game of curling can be. Curlers shake hands and introduce themselves, wishing the other team a good game before each match. Most curling arenas have a lounge where the curlers enjoy drinks together after the game. Often it is traditional for the winning team to buy the losers the first round, and then the losing team to buy the winners the second round. It’s a game where you play your best competitive curling, but the game itself gives you time to laugh and joke with the other team, congratulate them on a particularly great shot, and generally enjoy your time on the ice together as you plan your next shot. Curling at it’s best is a very social game that encourages participation and sportsmanship.
Ask the club what you will have to bring to the open house. Things that you will certainly need include: Loose fitting clothing that is not binding or restrictive, you will need to bring good, clean running shoes which hopefully will have good grip on ice. Hopefully the club will be able to provide brooms and sliders for you. Curling is very inexpensive if you just want to try it out a few times. I recommend purchasing your own broom and special curling shoes for yourself should you decide you want to play the game - but borrow your gear for your first time out there. If you need to purchase gear, a basic broom should cost $40-$50 and a slider should cost about $25. That will give you the ability to curl in a league for years. Facility fees vary widely depending on the club: My league costs roughly $250 a year.
The people are warm, the rinks are cool. Most people will want to wear a light jacket on the ice. Breathable fabric is best, if you are brushing rocks it takes a great deal of energy and effort and you will break a sweat if you’re doing it right. Fleece jackets are good to wick the sweat away so you don’t get cold between rocks. I personally curl in a t-shirt and sweats (proper curling pants are still on my Christmas list).
Most open houses will have an introduction to the game that happens off-ice. They will explain the basic rules of curling, the game’s etiquette, and sometimes specific rules applicable to that facility - so be sure to pay close attention even if you think I’ve explained all there is to know about curling. There is a great deal I haven’t explained.
Two things always come up when someone curls for the first time: It’s a lot harder than it looks and your legs get really sore afterwards. When you “throw” a rock, the idea is to not actually throw it with your arms but to propel yourself and the rock down the ice using the powerful muscles in your legs and release the rock gently. You need to have good balance on the ice and a soft touch. It takes time to develop this skill. The primary point I want to make is that you should prepare yourself ahead of time.
Because you’ll be using unusual muscles in your legs, stretching both before and after you attend an open house is very important. If you can do gentle deep knee bends, it will help stretch some of those muscles. One of the ways I combat stiffness is to simply walk. Thirty minutes of walking both before and after the open house helps move blood through your legs. Flexibility is a key attribute for curlers, the more flexibility you have the easier it will be on your body.
Curling with special needs is still possible and encouraged. My friend Sawyer reminded me of how popular wheelchair curling is. It’s a great sport that can be played competitively for people who don’t have as many options for sports. Really good competitive wheelchair curlers can actually play and beat league curlers. I hope some day soon we actually play a game together with the rest of the Space Tweep Internationally Curling Team.
Curling can be hard on legs and knees. If you have knee problems, you may not be able to deliver your rocks like regular curlers, but instead you may with to use a special broom that lets you throw more upright or a delivery stick that lets you throw while standing. I’m not endorsing either, I’m only throwing up examples of tools you can use.
Anyone can get out there and play in a fun league. Get out there, find a club near you, and get into an open house or beginner’s lesson and give it a try to see if curling is for you. It’s a lot of fun, it’s a great way to stay active in the winter months, and it’s a fun, social sport that’s a good way to meet nice people. Now’s the perfect time.