December 1, 2005 Revised Feb. 2013
Our game is a little bit like soccer in at least one respect. That is, if you really want to go out and play, you really don’t need much equipment. We’re not quite as versatile as soccer (not many curling games spontaneously break out in the middle of a field…) but one thing new curlers don’t need to worry about is buying a lot of expensive equipment to play the game. So, what do you need? Let’s start with clothing. Yes, you need clothing but specifically you need warm clothing. I know you sometimes see people in short sleeved shirts but I’ll guarantee you they didn’t step on to the ice that way. Ideally you should dress in layers so that as you warm up you can reduce the layers and as you cool off you can add clothes back on. This way you can keep your temperature at a comfortable level. Keeping warm is very important and it’s a very easy thing to deal with.
Hats, while perhaps not stylish, go a long way to keeping you warm. Almost 40% of your total heat loss is from your head! If you find you simply can’t wear enough clothes to keep warm, wear a hat, or put your hood up. So, you have your nice woolly sweater and you’re ready to play. Hang on! Clothes should be both comfortable and functional. When it comes to curling great care is taken to preserve the surface of the ice from imperfections and junk (right sweepers?!). Fuzzy clothes tend to shed fibers and these fibers can actually make the ice quite dirty. Many of you have probably had a rock “pick” and then not been able to find the debris that caused the problem. The likely culprit is either fibers from someone’s sweater or junk from your shoes (more on that later…). You’re best to wear warm, non-fuzzy clothes. That’s your top, how about your legs?
I always tell new curlers to wear loose fitting pants. Typically this means no jeans. I’ve never personally been able to slide properly in any pair of jeans I’ve owned. Many curling supply companies sell curling pants that are made from polyester or spandex. These parts stretch with you as you move and allow you to get into the position you need to be in to throw the rock properly. It’s hard enough getting your body in the right position, the last thing you need is tight fitting clothes that make this even harder! Curling pants look good but there are a large variety of options that work just as well. Track pants are good (less stylish perhaps) or really, any loose fitting (non-fuzzy remember…) cotton or polyester pants will work fine. Remember, the important thing is to make sure they allow you to get into your slide position.
How about your hands? Do you need special curling mitts or gloves? Many of you have probably seen white leather curling gloves worn by players or black leather mitts. These days, gloves and mitts are used mostly for keeping your hands warm. With brushes the wear and tear on your hands is really low. In the good old days of corn brooms, it was essential to wear a tight fitting, well padded glove to preserve your hands. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for a good sweeper to wear a hole in a new pair of gloves in ONE WEEKEND! I myself suffered from this (not that I was necessarily a good sweeper, I just worked hard at it…) and would usually have permanent blisters on my hands from October to well into April. The push brooms don’t really require this sort of rubbing on your hands so the need for gloves for that purpose is mostly gone. Still, if you find your hands are wearing after sweeping then you should look at what you have on them. If you wear mitts, think about a tight fitting pair of gloves made from a soft durable material such as leather. If you are getting blisters, loose fitting gloves or mitts will actually make the problem worse because then the gloves will rub against your skin. Gloves don’t have to be the specialized curling type. Some hardware stores now have an extensive selection of durable hand wear that would work very well for curlers.
Shoes. Aside from brooms, shoes have the biggest impact on how you play the game. What I mean by that is decent shoes (specifically a slider) can almost automatically improve your game after you have reached a certain level. New curlers usually start out in a clean pair of comfortable shoes that have a piece of stretchy tape on the bottom of one. Usually you get this tape at the club on the day of your game and rip it off when you’re done. Tape is good for a few reasons. First, it’s cheap! It allows you to bring your own (already purchased) shoes to the curling club and play a game. One very important note about this; if you’re a curler who uses your shoes from home, make sure they are clean! One of the worst things that can happen to curling ice is for dirt and debris to get on it. Dirty ice is hard to clean and makes playing very difficult. This means, don’t expect to wear the same pair of shoes on the ice that you wore to the curling rink. You shouldn’t step on to the ice in anything that has recently stepped in the parking lot… Rocks are very sensitive to anything that might get caught under them and dirt from the street is in the top 2 “Bad Things for Curling Ice” list (I would say broken glass would rank slightly higher…).
Back to tape on your shoes. Tape is good because it’s cheap and it’s also good because it isn’t that slippery. Later, I’ll tell you this is a bad thing but stick with me, I’ll explain. New curlers must learn to get around on the ice before anything else. The ice is slippery enough as it is and putting sliding tape on the bottom of one shoe makes it even more slippery. It’s important for new curlers to get the feel of being on the ice with a slippery foot and slightly slippery tape is good for that. Tape is not good however, for sliding on. As a new curler, once you have gotten comfortable being on the ice and have a delivery sort of worked out, you should move away from the tape and to a proper slider. This still doesn’t necessarily mean a pair of “curling shoes” (though it might). You can still wear your (clean) street shoes but go out and get a slip on slider. These are more slippery than the tape and once you’re comfortable, that’s what you want. Delivering a rock requires you to very precisely push that big heavy granite thing down a very long sheet of ice. You need to push out with just the right amount of force to get the rock to stop in the rings at the far end. If most of your push is used up just getting your body out of the hack then it’s very difficult to judge how much more you need to get the rock down there. On the other hand if more of your push is used in just moving the rock then you’re going to be able to adjust that push to get the rock down the ice. Sliders are commonly made of Teflon, though I have seen plastic sliders (Teflon is faster). Stainless steel sliders are also available (steel is faster than Teflon). The white sliders most of you are familiar with are Teflon. Teflon sliders come in a variety of thicknesses. The thickest I have seen is ¼ “. The thicker the Teflon slider is, the faster it is. The faster your slider is, the more easily you can push yourself and your rock out of the hack. The easier it is to push, the more control you have over how much of that force is used on the rock. I should say that when I use the term “push” I mean leg drive. Leg drive out of the hack is the way to get the rock down the ice. I do not mean shoving a rock down the ice with arm (horrors!). If all we did was push the rock down the ice with our arms then we wouldn’t need to slide at all. I’ll discuss your delivery another time but you really want to use your legs to push out. The biggest muscles in your body are in your legs so it just makes sense to use them to provide the force you need to get the rock down the ice.
Many of you know that you can buy specialized curling shoes. These shoes are usually insulated (to keep your tootsies warm) and come with a slider already on the bottom of one shoe. The other shoe will have a built in gripper. Usually this is a “crepe” type rubber. If you haven’t seen this, it’s a crumbly sort of soft rubber that helps your grip as you move your way down the ice. This sort of rubber works well as a gripping material but it’s soft so it tends to break up fairly easily. Here is scourge of the curling ice, rubber debris! The last thing your curling stone needs is a gripper of its own and unfortunately sometimes your shoes provides that very thing. The answer to this is to keep your shoes clean and your gripper in good condition. As soon as it starts to wear, replace it. This goes for “real” curling shoes as much as street shoes. Scrub the grippers to remove any loose material, don’t just yank it off or you’ll damage the gripper and maybe make the problem worse! There are alternate materials used for grippers that don’t crumble apart but they aren’t as commonly available. Some curling supply places will even turn your “normal” shoes into “curling” shoes by adding a slider and gripper. This means that if you have a warm comfortable pair of running shoes, you can send them away and have a slider and gripper permanently applied to the bottom. It’s a nice option especially if you’re really attached to a good pair of shoes.
Pretty much every curling club I’ve ever been in has a rack of brushes for use. This means, you don’t even need to have your own broom to get into a curling game! Brushes come in a large variety of styles. Brush heads are typically made with a synthetic cloth over a foam pad. Hair brooms are still available and are either horse hair or hog hair. Some brooms have heads that swivel allowing the sweeper to get the best possible coverage with each stroke of the broom. Your sweeping technique has a lot to do with your how effective you are though, the swivel head may simply help you with that. If you’re thinking about getting your own broom there is quite a lot to consider. The synthetic heads don’t drop hairs on the ice and push away debris fairly well. They need to be maintained however, which means regular cleaning. They wear out like everything else and you have to watch for the development of “fuzzies” on the fiber surface. Debris does work into the fiber on these brushes. If you look at your brush head and see that it is shiny then it’s past due for cleaning! Hair brooms on the other hand get down between the pebble better than the synthetic brooms and are used more often when frost is a factor. Hog hair is softer than horse hair and isn’t as effective at getting at the frost. These brooms need careful maintenance as well. The hair is held in place with glue that eventually dries out. Once this happens the hairs start coming out and you need to trim your brush. Once in a while you need to comb out the junk that accumulates in the hairs of the brush and to gently remove loose hairs. Tugging out loose hairs causes trouble because you usually get a handful of hairs and further loosen the previously secure hairs (and glue!). Be nice to your broom and it will be nice to you. Brush handles have also developed over the years from a simple wooden pole to fiberglass poles to advanced carbon fiber materials. Some of you might wonder what difference it makes but a lighter broom is easier to brush with. If less force is being used to push the broom then more force is being exerted on the brush head at the ice surface. The difference may be small for some of us but it is there and it is an advantage. Sliding with a lighter broom can also be easier though this is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer a broom handle that feels sturdier. The carbon fiber shafts are extremely strong and unlikely to break but you have to be comfortable with the “feel” of your delivery and if this means a heavy broom then go with it. There are even broom shafts that are curved to help you position your hands. Again, whatever works for you is best. Finally, we come to curling stones. I mention this because I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked if you have to bring your own curling stones to play. It’s not a silly question because there was in fact a time when you did have to bring your own stones. Thankfully those days are gone and you can leave your curling stones at home. So, if we add it all up, we need: warm, loose, comfortable clothes, clean shoes and…well, that’s about it! Getting started is easy. As your game evolves you will likely get some equipment of your own. Remember, with any equipment that you buy there is no product that suits everyone. Some may be more popular than others but each player has to work out what is best for them. Keep this in mind when you get that first pair of new shoes. Good curling!