So You Are New?

So You’re New Huh? – Things to Know Before You Play

September 2010 Revised Feb. 2013

So, you’re new to the sport of curling are you?  Well then, let me be the first to welcome you both to the sport and to the club.  May I say you’ve made an excellent decision to look into the great sport of curling.  Your choice has led you to a sport that I believe is likely unique in that it so completely combines social and competitive experiences together.  Curling can be whatever you want it to be, from a friendly night out with (or without) your spouse or friends, to an ultra competitive physical work out, to a mind bending psychological challenge.  The choice of how you approach it is completely up to you and no matter what level you choose to pursue, you’ll find willing participants all along the way.  This article is aimed specifically at the very new curling crew who may be entering a curling club for the very first (or second, or maybe even third) time.  For the more experienced curlers, hopefully it will serve as a bit of a checklist you can use to help those friends of yours who might be going out for their first trial run.

Before you hit the ice for the first time there are a few key things you need to know.

  1.  (and #2 and #3…)  Safety comes first.  The biggest safety hazard in curling is tripping.  Think about it, you’re going out on to a huge sheet of ice in your shoes.  There is a higher potential risk of you falling than say in the bar, unless it’s after a few pints… What you likely don’t know is that the ice is more slippery than other ice that you might be used to.  Why is that?  Well, curling ice is covered with tiny bumps called “pebble”.  The icemaker puts this pebble on the ice specifically to reduce the friction between the ice and, well, anything that might slide along it. (e.g. your shoes or the stones)  You might think that ice is slippery enough without this but in reality if this pebble was not applied you wouldn’t be able to slide the stone from one end of the sheet to the other because you simply would not have the strength.  Curling ice is slippery, more slippery than it appears.  Be cautious particularly the first time you step on the ice.  Make sure you feel comfortable moving about and if you need to, use your brush to help you balance (see below…).

Besides the fact that the ice is slippery, there are all kinds of things to trip over if you’re not being careful.  First and foremost is the stones themselves.  When you first step on to the ice you’ll notice the stones lined up along the backboards.  Don’t step over them.  There is a handy little space between the lined up stones that is perfect for you to walk out through.  It’s inviting trouble to try to step over the stones.

At just over 40lbs, each stone is perfectly designed to hit you right about ankle height and drop you on your head in one smooth motion.  The combination of your weight, the stones momentum and your high center of gravity make moving curling stones the perfect weapon to take down unassuming curlers.  Be aware of where the stones are when you get on the ice and particularly once you start playing.  Sometimes it can be a bit like being in a pinball machine, except with 40lb granite stones coming at you.

Another great thing to trip over are the footholds at each end of the curling sheet.  We call these things the “hacks” and they are there precisely to give us some grip when we move to deliver the stone.  They come up out of the ice a few inches and even though they are a black island in a huge white sea, they still manage to hide underfoot from time to time.

Never run while you’re on the ice.  Once you learn to brush stones it will be very tempting to try to rush to catch up with some of them.  Don’t bother, it’s not worth your life (seriously).

Each of you is going to have a brush to play with.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but these are not for golf, hockey, baseball, javelin throwing, cross checking or any other such things.  They can be used to help you keep your balance and to brush your teams stones as they travel down the sheet and should really only be used for those purposes.

Never pick up a stone, ever.  There are a dozen reasons why you shouldn’t do this but let’s start with this; the things are HEAVY.  If you need to move them just slide them along the ice with your brush (not your foot remember we’re trying to AVOID tripping and trying to slide a stone with a foot while standing on ice…well, you get the idea).  Another reason for not picking them up is because, yes, what goes up must come down and it might come down on your foot.  Even if it doesn’t come down on your foot it’s going to drop on the ice likely damaging it severely.

Your curling experience will truly be dulled if you happen to get hurt.  Be aware and be careful.

2. Please respect the club.  Curling, though played on ice, is more like golf than hockey.  Hockey ice is a durable surface that is used harshly.  Curling ice is carefully manicured with similar attention to that of a golf green and it’s quite easily damaged.  Brooms slamming down on it damage it greatly, as do stones dropped on it.  Another thing that can damage curling ice is dirty shoes.  If you’re planning to step on the ice you must have clean “indoor” shoes.  It’s likely the manager will actually inspect the shoes you plan to wear on the ice and if they are not clean (really clean) then said manager will not allow you out.  Don’t plan to wear the same shoes you wore into the club onto the ice.  Dirt from your shoes acts like sandpaper and is very abrasive to the ice.  Also, it spreads very easily across sheets.  Even with your sparkling indoor shoes, make an effort to use the boot cleaning devices positioned at the entrances to the ice.

What you may not realize is that body heat is also very bad for curling ice.  Remember the pebble we had to apply to the sheet in order to make the game playable?  Well, that pebble is only a few millimeters high.  It’s very easy to make that small bump melt particularly when you’re laying on it.  Don’t rest your hands, knees or other body parts on the sheet.  If you fall (and you’re not hurt) get up as quickly as you can to minimize the effect of your body heat on the ice.  This goes for new players but also for experienced curlers.  Too many experienced players rest knees, hands and other protruding body parts on the sheet causing more damage than they realize.  Stay up and off the ice.

Remember the hacks?  Those are the footholds at the end of the sheets of ice.  These are placed in the ice with steel pegs but are not made to withstand huge forces such as a 40lb stone hurling into them.  Do your best to keep stones from contacting the hacks.  For that matter do your best to keep the stones from crashing into the back boards.  I know, it makes a really cool sound but people, in a wood vs. moving granite collision, it’s the wood that will eventually break.

Curling stones are made from a very special type of granite only found one place on Earth (Ailsa Craig in the British Isles.).  This material is used because it can withstand the repeated impacts with similar granite.  The type of impact I’m talking about is a moving stone contacting a stationary stone.  If you allow two moving stones to hit each other then the momentum is greatly increased and fractures are much more likely.  Never send two stones towards each other.  Trust me, because they’re made from this semi-exotic stone they are very expensive to replace.

Again, come into it thinking more like you would when you get on to a golf course.  You replace divots right?  (By the way, divots on the ice are VERY bad so…no ice divots okay?)  You don’t run with cleats on the golf greens right?  You don’t damage the playing surface or other facilities right?  Well, if you have the same respectful attitude at the curling club as you would on a golf course then you’ll make out just fine.

3.      Okay, we have all that but what equipment do I need to bring?  All you really need is clean shoes and warm clothing.  You absolutely MUST bring shoes that are NOT the shoes you wear into the club.  You won`t be allowed on the ice with street shoes as they will damage the surface.  That being said, any running shoes will do fine.  You should have something with relatively flat soles that are comfortable (and fairly warm) so no sandals or open toe shoes please.

As for clothes, try to wear a couple layers as opposed to one really hot sweater.  This will allow you to shed layers as you warm up or add them as you cool down.  A hat really helps to keep you warm as well.  A large portion of the heat your body loses is through your head.

All clothing should be comfortable and allow you a full range of motion comfortably.  Far too many people show up in tight jeans and wonder why they find it so hard to throw a curling stone.  During your curling experience you`re going to need to bend down (or at least try to…) and you`re going to need to brush a stone or two.  Tight clothing makes it very difficult to do these things and really takes away from your experience.

Other than that, you really don`t need to bring anything else.  Oh, sure bring a few bucks so you can buy yourself (and your group) a bubbly pop after the game but the club supplies brushes, ice and yes, even curling stones.  The days of bringing your own are long past.  (Yes, I`m serious, you used to have to bring your own set of curling stones…)

At this point you`re saying to yourself, “Fine, we have all that, can we just play now???”  Of course you can, that’s why you’re here!  Before you hit the ice however you need to understand the basics of the game.  You need to learn how to throw the stone and what the objectives of the game are.  For all of that information, I’ll leave you with this…look for my next article, “So You Are New Too”.

Sean Turriff

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