Learning to Curl with Canadians


In June, we’ll have lived in the Great White North for 1 year. When we moved here, we knew just what we wanted to do to assimilate. Take curling lessons.

We signed up at a curling club’s open house, and only got marginally odd looks when we said we had just moved here from Alaska and had never curled before. I guess Canadians curl a rock out of the womb first before they’re born? We, on the other hand, were not babes with stones, just full grown adults with no better idea than to look forward to sliding and drinking beer. They smirked a little and showed us the sign-up sheet.

So we paid the $30 and promised to show up 3 Sundays later to learn the National pastime. And besides drinking beer, we’d learn to curl.

We arrived in time for the session and were immediately hustled for additional fees to pay for the rule book, as written by the club. Agreeing to our obvious ignorance, we purchased 1 book to share and listened to the starting information before hitting the ice (literally).

First things first. Everyone got practice sliding on the ice (or the sheet). Curling requires special shoes, or a modification to one’s tennis shoes, if they do not own the particular equipment. One shoe got a plastic slider while the other side stayed grippy. To simulate the slide, we hung on to the carpeted platform surrounding the ice with our hands and squatted over and over while our sliding foot slid back. Just to get our feet under us. Or out from under us …

Then we added brooms for stability and were allowed to step into the hack (it looks like runners blocks, but only for 1 foot). I’m not sure it aided my stability, but added another form of complexity and certainly one more thing to remember.

The Throw

Starting in a squatting position with the broom in the non-dominant hand positioned outward along your back, broom head down, you have one foot in the hack and the slidey foot (non-dominant foot) on the sheet. The dominant hand grasps the handle of the rock or stone (you know, the large puck looking thing with a handle). From there, you stand up, and draw the rock towards you and then squat again and slide yourself and the rock forward by pushing on the hack with your foot. The curl comes with a slight turn of the wrist right before you let the rock go, in whichever way the skip (team leader) tells you to. It sounds and looks pretty easy, until you have to do it over and over and over and over … I felt more like I was learning to Russian Cossak dance than curl. My thighs were burning, by the end of the 4 hour training I could barely stand up from sitting. But now I knew how to throw a rock.

More Rules …

The sweeping part was easier by far, if you could stay upright. The plastic slider was forsaken for full shoe grip as you run (or waddle quickly in my case) after the rock down the sheet towards the ring. The idea is that your team mate’s rock lands in the ring, hopefully on the button (in the center red circle). The closer to the button your team’s rocks are at the end, the higher chance of winning. Each team gets to throw 8 rocks in a set and the teams alternate throwing rocks. To increase your team’s rock’s chance of getting to the button, we employ the use of sweepers, or the people on your team that aren’t throwing the rock. By sweeping vigorously enough to heat the ice and reduce the friction, the rock’s journey toward the ring is prolonged. This delays the “curl” or turn of the rock, which happens at the very end, right before the rock stops.

There are four people to a curling team including the skip or team lead, the lead who throws the first two rocks, the second who throws the third and fourth rocks, the third who throws the fifth and sixth rocks. The last two rocks are thrown by the skip. Unless you’re the skip, if you’re not throwing, you’re sweeping. If you’re the skip, if you’re not throwing, you’re standing at the other end of the sheet directing the throw and curl of the rock. The skip determines the strategy, when to knock the other team’s rocks out of the ring and when to try to get a rock on the button. They are the chess master, the strategist of the game.

The Best Part

Luckily at the end we go to learn the best part of curling – the 2 drink minimum. After the game, the winners buy the losers a beer and then the losers return the favor. A sweet reward for a killer quad workout.