Curling is harder than it looks on TV……
Some time ago a good friend who is the High Priest Group Leader in the Heritage Ward, Bob Bergland, asked me what I would like yet to do before leaving Canada. I told him that I have a Canadian “bucket-list” of sorts and one of the things on the list is to try my hand at the sport of curling. If you turn on the TV in the evenings and on weekends in Canada the major sports you are likely to see are hockey and curling. I have played hockey but had never tried curling.
Bob is a retired teacher and former professional football referee but is also really into curling. He belongs to a curling club so, knowing it was on my bucket list, he invited me to join him for an introduction to the sport.
Bob has been active in curling since his youth, and has taught curling for years. On the drive to the club he asked how far I wanted to get into curling and I told him I wanted the full experience. He laughed and said, “I think you will find it a bit more challenging than you think. In an hour of ice time I will show you as much as I can.”
Curling looks easy on TV; you just push off, glide a bit, aim and release the rock and watch it smack someone else’s rock out of the way while trying to stay inside the bulls eye, right? Prior to coming to Canada, my exposure to curling was pretty much limited to occasionally watching it during the Olympics and, since it seemed to lack any “real” action, I found it to be pretty boring.
As I mentioned, curling is on TV here in Canada a lot. I mean a lot! Yes, there is a season, winter time mostly, which makes sense since it involves, - wait for it…..ice. Almost all restaurants have curling or hockey going on multiple TV screens; different games on different screens like in the States with football or basketball. I began to watch with greater interest and realized, hey, this is a serious sport. The finesse involved is really pretty intense. The release of the rock has to be just so, - just the right amount of speed, the right amount of gentle spin, and the role of the sweepers ahead of the rock to help control the spin and provide a subtle change of direction. The action is directed from the other end of the ice course by someone called the “skip”. He/she determines the strategy and directs play for the team. He/she is the 4th member of the team of four. Each team member over the course of the match delivers eight stones, two stones in each round, and the match comes to an “end” at which time the score has been decided. The final stone in each round is the most important one for the score for the round and needs to clear the opponent’s stone and end up closest to the eye.
The goal, of course is, to deliver the closest rock to the center of the bulls eye, which is called “the house”. If you can deliver a blow to an opponent’s rock, called a “take out”, and knock it from the house and keep your rock in the house, you stand a better chance of having “the shot rock’ which is the rock that is closest to the center of the eye. The shot rock scores one point. Positioning your rock so that it blocks the opponent’s from a clear shot at the house is good strategy. You may also bump one of your team’s rocks so as to place it closer to the center of the eye, called the “button”. If you can clear all of your opponent’s rocks from the house, each of your team’s rocks within the hours scores a point, but only if all of your opponent’s rocks are outside of the house. Unlike darts, the rings of the house are not scored differently; it is only the closest rock(s) that score points.
Okay, now for the lesson. First you don a “slider” which is a slipper than goes over your shoe but just one shoe. This is the lead foot when you push off and glide; the other foot slides on the ice behind you. The lead foot is the left foot if you are right-handed and vice versa. This is where the lesson began poorly for me. The shoe on which you place the slider becomes treacherous as soon as you step on the ice; there is no traction with that foot. Next I will mention the “broom,” which is used when you “sweep” ahead of your teammate’s rocks. Well, as my lesson began, my broom was needed just for me to stand up and not fall! Bob demonstrated how you place the other foot, my right foot in my case (it helps to wear a shoe with good traction on that foot!) in one of two devices in the ice which are called “hacks”. The hacks are used to push off to commence the sliding motion needed to deliver the rock kind of like a runner’s “blocks”. As one pushes off, the other foot, the one wearing “the slider,” is extended out in front to provide balance. Oh yes, balance; it would seem easy in one’s mind to simply push off with one foot and glide with other foot, but this requires some coordination and timing, and, yes, some balance. I proved to be a true klutz at all of these.
First of all, my knees don’t bend as comfortably as they used to, so getting down into the crouch position is uncomfortable. Then the proper position is to crouch in such a way so as to have both knees inside of your arms (sort of like being a fetal position). Just for fun, try that if you are in your 70s. One arm holds the broom and the other is resting on the handle of the rock. The motion is begun by rocking back to some degree (with your knees in pain if you are old), and then pushing off with the right foot with sufficient force to carry you and your broom forward while pushing the 36 lb rock forward smoothly. As mentioned, this require some semblance of timing, balance, and coordination. None of that comes easy; I had no balance, no coordination, and no timing. My first few attempts were a disaster and I found myself falling to one side or the other. None of my attempts during the entire hour succeeded in coming close to the line, called the “hog line”, at which point you need to release the rock without going over the line. I should add, there was no chance of me going over the line as the distance from the back of the ice to the hog line is 10 meters (around 30 feet). Even the best of my glides succeeded in reaching maybe 5 meters or about half way. With a bit more practice I stopped falling but found that my glide did not seem to want to follow the centerline. All of this looked so easy when I looked about at the others on the ice.
Anyway, I did not get a good feel for the basics of the glide in trying for 40 minutes or so; but I wanted to get down to what I was truly there for, and that was to curl. Surely I would be better at that. The term “curling”, by the way, is the attempt to give the rock some direction. It is accomplished by a very gentle clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation of the rock, best done with a slight touch of the index finger as the rock is released. The direction of the rotation determines whether the rock moves to the left or the right, or if a straight-on approach is desired, there is no attempt at rotating the rock. Remember the “skip” is the person on the other end that uses the end of his broom/brush to indicate where the rock should be aimed and uses signals to indicate the speed (AKA the “weight”) or force applied to the stone and the direction of the curl to be attempted. The sweepers are the two teammates not involved in delivering the stone and not acting as the skip. They are polishing the ice ahead of the stone to influence the distance it travels, and they can influence the curl to some degree as well. This is all done without touching the stone. They follow the directions called out by the skip. They can also sweep ahead of the opponent’s stone if struck by a teammate’s stone (called a “take out”) to encourage it to glide outside of the house and thus out of scoring consideration.
So that is a short course on how to curl. I wasn’t very good at it, and I suspect it would take hours and hours of practice, maybe even years to begin to curl well enough to not embarrass myself. Truly it is not as easy as it looks on TV, but then neither is golf, bowling, or any other sport that appears to require “less” effort for that matter. Some skill, some knowledge, and lots of practice is required. Now when I see curling on TV as I am waiting for my order I can say, “Hey, I tried it; I respect it. I can now enjoy watching it.”
The week has been a blur. I coordinated repairs and detailing, took lots of calls from interested buyers (word is out that we have some cars to sell), showed cars, and sold cars; all while trying to keep up with calls from the missionaries with car problems, arranging oil changes, and looking ahead to where and how to place the new cars that have come into the inventory. Yes my job is cars. I am lucky I don’t have car nightmares. And speaking of cars, I was fascinated today as we prepared to leave our church parking lot to see a throw-back version of the Jeep I grew up driving on our ranch. I will include the picture. Yes, it is a brand new Jeep.
Have a great week!