Curling Rocks

NH Embraces an Ancient Sport



Curling is a combination of balance, finesse and teamwork.

Photo courtesy of USA Curling

With roots in 16th-century Scotland, curling gets a boost every four years when it's televised during the Olympics. The sport seems relatively simple but it is layered with strategy and nuance. Two teams of four take turns sliding approximately 40-pound polished granite stones or rocks affixed with handles down an ice sheet about 150 feet long towards a colorful three-ringed target called the house.

A curler launches the stone from an area called the hack at the direction of the skip stationed at the other end of the sheet. A pair of sweepers using brooms or brushes influence the rock's path along the ice.

The brooms are made of carbon fiber or fiberglass. Though novice curlers can get started with loose-fitted clothing and sneakers, curling shoes have one slider shoe that is designed to slide on the ice while the other grips the ice. When not throwing they can put a slip-on gripper over the sole. There are slipper-like sliders too that go over sneakers.

"Curling is far more physically demanding than it appears on TV," says Mark Kanakis, a curler with 15 years' experience. "The sweeping is a great cardio workout and players can end up walking several miles during an eight end game. It is a fantastic way to get out of the house and get some exercise during the winter months while meeting new people."

Curling tournaments are called bonspiels, and modern-day curlers take to the ice inside instead of out. Curling is done at the Nashua Country Club and Conway's Ham Arena. Clubs - Merrimack Valley Curling Club and Mount Washington Valley Curling Club - are excellent ways to be introduced to the game.

As they say, "good curling."

Fact

New Hampshire's curling tradition traces back to the Nashua Country Club where robust souls played outside on a pond in 1928.

Gear Box

Curling clubs usually provide the stones, brooms and slider.

Sweep from end to end with Olson's light and sturdy Vector Fiberlite Broom ($99.95) manufactured by a Canadian company supplying curling gear for more than 70 years.

The tournament full sole slider is ideal for beginners and slips right over your athletic shoes ($16).

The Competitor Ultra Lite with its velcro lace cover is known as an all-around curling shoe ($119.95).

In case you're curious, a stone goes for about $450.

Expert Advice with Mark Kanakis

What intrigues you about curling? Mostly that it's a team sport. Once you get past your 30s there are not a lot of opportunities to play a team sport. Next it would be the physical skill and strategy involved in the game.

There's more to this game than it first appears. A lot of it is strategy, yes? Yes, there is a tremendous amount of strategy involved - it's often called "chess on ice." I think it is more like the strategy that goes on in planning for, making adjustments and calling plays during a football game. Strategies will change based on how your opponent is playing the game, the conditions of the ice, the score, the skill set of your team, whether the game is in its early stages or late in the game, etc.

The sweeping aspect is very physical. Is it tiring? Sweeping is exhausting, both while you are sweeping and after you finish. Sweeping several games in a day definitely takes its toll.

Is launching the stone more finesse or strength? Really, it is neither, although finesse is more helpful. The most important aspect is balance. I generally find that people that pick up the sport the quickest have been gymnasts, skateboarders, figure skaters and snowboarders.

How important is teamwork? Teamwork is crucial to curling. It is really the ultimate team sport. The skip has to communicate the shot and strategy he wants to the person delivering the stone and the sweepers. The sweepers need to tell the skip how fast the stone has been delivered (where it will end up when it stops), the person delivering the stone needs to let everyone know if the delivery was "clean" and everyone needs to digest this information and communicate it to everyone in about three second intervals during the 25 or so seconds it takes the rock to stop. If any of the four players are not in sync the shot is likely not made.

I suspect many novice curlers find themselves on their butts in the beginning. Is that true? Not as often as you'd think! Mostly it's just sliding their bodies along the ice as they deliver. Of course, improvement will continue for years. But to answer the question, you rarely have people actually falling over on the ice and injuring themselves when they are learning because they are being careful not to fall.

Curling is social as well. How does that play into the experience? The social aspect is enormous; it's a great way to meet people both at your own club and from far away. Curlers talk to each other and their opponents during the game. They also celebrate after the game with all eight players sitting together (the winners buy the drinks) and watching the next set of games. Curlers that go to tournaments at other clubs often make friends for life.

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