Through my college alumni club, Mike and I were able to spend an afternoon curling at the Potomac Curling Club in Maryland. We watched curling on the Olympics coverage recently so we had a basic understanding of the sport. Mike thoroughly read the Wikipedia page so he knew all the rules and curling lingo (and impressed our curling instructor with his knowledge).
When we entered the Curling Club, we were in a sparse room with some tables, chairs, small kitchen and pro shop. You could see the attached ice “rectangle” with 4 lanes, allowing 4 games to be played at once. There wasn’t much space around the ice, just a narrow walkway on 2 sides, so it was basically just ice. We heard a brief introduction to the sport, did some stretches for legs, back and shoulders. Then we had to grab grippers for our shoes. We were told to wear clean sneakers but also encouraged to put on a gripper. Unfortunately, my size was a popular one so I could only grab one to slip my sneaker in. Then it was onto the ice!
I have only been on traditional ice rinks so walked very gingerly at first on the ice, focusing on my gripper foot. But the curling ice is sprayed with water, creating a textured surface. It takes awhile to get the hang of walking comfortably. But the texture (and the gripper!) really helps prevent slipping and sliding. First we just walked down the ice and back to get a feel for the surface. We then broke into small groups of 8 (2 teams of 4).
Then we took turns pushing the stone. This is much more complicated that it looks and sounds. There’s about 100 things to think about all at once. You have to get into a stance, bend your legs a certain way, angle the stone handle a specific direction, raise your hips before push off, etc. So for a right handed person, I put the slider foot pad under my left foot and put my right foot in the angled holder to push off. Get the stone in position. Bend legs, raise hips, lean forward. Push off hard with right foot, keeping left knee bent 90 degrees, put right knees on ice and move forward in lunge position. Balance is very important. I can see why having a strong core would help you stabilize as you lunge and slide. I was pretty wobbly, even holding onto the stabilizer (white thing in photo). In addition, leg strength and flexibility is important since you’re in lunge position when pushing off and have to stay pretty low to the ice. A lot of coordination happens in a short amount of time when pushing the stone! However, it’s really fun and we did keep getting better the more we did it.
We then practiced some sweeping, which is also harder than it looks. You’ve got to move fast to keep in front of the moving stone. You’ve got to be careful not to fall, not to hit the stone (and kill it), to not trip on other stones. Sweeping seemed to be a pretty great arm and back workout; my arms were tired! It was pretty fun to help get the stone moving into the “box”. Sweeping helps melt the ice a bit, helping the stone move faster. Our instructor then told us the rules of the game; pretty straightforward (similar to bocce ball).
Then we got to play a couple of games! The entire experience was about 2.5 hours. I was concerned it would be really cold (my hands and feet get cold very easily). My feet were actually okay – thank you SmartWool socks! I tried to get on the narrow walkway and off the ice, whenever possible, as well. I did whip out my hand warmers for the last half hour. You’ve got to dress pretty warm for this sport. However, I imagine if you are really playing and there’s less downtime, you’d stay warm. Curling can be a pretty good workout!
The next day I woke up with two huge bruises on my knee from kneeling on the ice when I pushed the stone. Crazy! Mike and our friends who also curled had bruises the next day, as well. I felt pretty intense. But overall, curling was a lot of fun and a great experience to have the chance to learn and play! I had no idea how difficult it would be, and how much strength, balance and flexibility you need.