I ‘ve touched the rock and slid it across the ice into the house, almost right on the button, my Olympic moment. You can, too. But beware, the sport of curling is far more challenging in person for a beginner than it looks on television. Chess on ice they call curling, but it truly is athletic, and played on a slick surface.
A place in Platte County is curling central for the metro area, thanks to the ice rink at the Line Creek Community Center. The Kansas City Curling Club competes at the center operated by Kansas City Parks and Recreation. They were welcoming newcomers, and on Saturday, I couldn’t resist a lesson.
In case you’re not an Olympics and curling junkie:
Curling is “a game played on ice, especially in Scotland and Canada, in which large, round, flat stones are slid across the surface toward a mark. Members of a team use brooms to sweep the surface of the ice in the path of the stone to control its speed and direction.”
The words “on ice” are more significant in person. Especially if your time on ice in athletic contests occurred mostly when you were young and a big freeze turned a farm pond into a place to slide on the soles of your shoes and play hockey with sticks found on the ground and a chunk of wood for a puck.
Curling caught my attention during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. The players’ skills and emotions captivated me. A slight difference in speed and spin in how a player slides the rock, plus sweeping, can make a huge difference in winning and losing. Yet, unlike stone-face speed skaters, or skiers that look like bumblebees in helmets and goggles racing swiftly downhill, a curler’s contemplative face before the throw and emotional reactions after are visible thanks to television and a slow-motion sport.
Plus, Olympic curlers look like regular folks. Except regular folks who have mastered sliding gracefully across ice on one foot as they slide the stone toward the circles that look like a giant archery target under the ice, or as they run alongside the stone and sweep the ice. It looks like doable fun, and now I know it is, but first.
“Let’s talk safety,” the instructor said. “Don’t worry, everybody falls on the ice. If you do, remember to tuck your head to your chest to avoid banging it on the ice.”
The tension in the room rose. About 30 of us were taking advantage of the curling club’s offering of a lesson for $25. I noticed most of us fit non-Olympic physique. Yet we all shared optimistic curling curiosity.
But then, I began to think back to December and taking a major fall on my icy driveway. Maybe this isn’t so easy? Bigger intimidation arrived, however, when we grabbed brooms (more like a hard foam scrubber) and filed out onto the ice, gingerly stepping in our running shoes.
Seen on television, the curling playing surface or sheet with the house (target) on each end looks about as big as half court of a grade school gym. However, at 150-feet long, in person if feels like you’re shooting from one end zone to the other on a football field.
Most of us had serious doubts we’d be able to slide the polished granite stone all the way down. Those doubts increased as we took our first turns throwing the stone.
Olympians and veteran club curlers get in a crouch and brace one foot against a hack, like a sprinter’s starting block, and place the left foot is on a slider with a Teflon bottom. They push off, still kneeling, bracing themselves with a broom in one arm, with the other arm they push the stone forward and turn the handle to influence direction. Several of us fell flat on the ice when we pushed off from the block. But by lesson’s end we managed better.
My reluctant tendons and bones reminded me it had been a long time since I assumed a three-point stance as a lineman in high school football.
Curling, however, is a gentleman’s and gentlewoman’s sport. One known for sportsmanship, kindness and honorable competition. It’s self-officiated by the players. And, they have a stick outfitted so a player that has bad knees and a few extra pounds can stand up while walking forward to launch the stone toward the house like a shuffleboard player. If I was playing for a medal that would be my approach, and it’s the way I put a stone in the house and on the button, the center point.
Three things I didn’t know until the lesson. They sprinkle water on the ice before the match to create “pebble,” or texture, for the stone to push against and create curl. There’s a ridge on the bottom of the stone, a four-inch circle, where the stone meets the ice. The entire 45-pound stone with the handle on the top does not touch the ice, only that ridge. And, there’s some serious skill involved in sweeping, using the broom to create friction that melts ice and changes speed and direction on the stone.
By lessons end, though, curling did seem doable and fun. Remember its Scottish roots? A few club players giving lessons wore kilts. I wished I’d worn heavier socks as my feet were getting cool on the ice.
But I’d curl again. If you are interested, check out the website at http://kccurling.com. They offer lessons and league play. They also play in summer at the year-round ice rink. The club has about 100 members and play sessions usually attract 20 to 25 people. You can also sign up as a substitute for league play and curl on a now-and-then basis. Socializing occurs after the match.
Watching Olympic curling on TV is easy. But actually stepping on the ice with the stones is for the bold and adventurous. Be bold.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.