Unless you live in Scotland, Canada, or the northern part of the United States, your first introduction to the sport of curling was probably through watching it being played during the Winter Olympics. Though some may consider curling to be a novelty, a game not worthy of Olympic status, curling is indeed a sport, one that you definitely should try.
Recently, my sister invited us to visit her in Minnesota. When she suggested taking curling lessons, I jumped at the chance.
Our curling lessons and subsequent game (or match) took place at the Dakota Curling Club outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota — about 250 miles south of Bemidji, Minnesota, the Curling Capital of the USA.
I’ve always thought curling was interesting. Players sliding a rock down a prepared ice surface looked like a simple enough part of the game, but what’s with all the sweeping? And why were they doing it? I was about to find out.
Curling Has A 450+ Year History
The sport got the name “curling” from the path a stone can take when “thrown” by a skilled player. The curved path is called a curl. Curling is also called The Roaring Game due to the sound the stone makes as it slides across the ice.
The history of curling can be traced all the way back to 16th-century Scotland. Back then, it was played outdoors on frozen ponds and lochs. The game eventually made its way across Northern Europe, over to Canada, to the United States, and even to New Zealand. Nowadays we have refrigeration and can play the game on indoor as well as outdoor rinks.
Though the game has been around for more than 400 years, curling did not become an officially recognized Olympic sport until the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
The Winter Olympics now feature mixed-gender teams, and the Paralympic Winter Games include wheelchair curling.
The Rules Are Easy To Learn
The rules of curling are many, but they are very easy to learn. At first glance, the game looks like a cross between shuffleboard and bowling. It is played on a rink called a sheet. Other curling terms you need to become familiar with include
- center line
- tee line
- back line
- hog line
- hack line
- stone (rock)
It may seem overwhelming at first, but you will pick them up quickly as you watch or play the game.
I am still learning the scoring rules, but simply put, at the end of each “end” (like an inning in baseball), the winning team scores a point for each stone that is closer to the “button” or “tee” (similar to a bullseye on a dart board) than the opponent’s closest stone.
During our game, because my son’s team scored first in the previous end, my team got to throw the final stone, called the “hammer,” in the next one. I admit, I took no small amount of pleasure in being the one to throw the hammer.
Curling Is Good Exercise
Lunging to deliver the stone builds flexibility. Getting into the lunge position helps improve your balance and stability. So does standing up from the lunge position (ideally without comical pratfalls). Sweeping requires the most effort. In some situations, you can actually work up a sweat, which our instructor did by sweeping furiously to help my shot become a winning one.
Though the professionals make it look easy, curling is more physically challenging than it appears. But do not let that stop you from trying it.
Chess On Ice
As you learn the basics and start playing the game, you’ll begin to see where the strategy part comes in. Good placement of the stones is crucial for your team to score — and to prevent the other team from scoring. This is why curling is also called chess on ice.
We learned the opposing team doesn’t have to stand by helplessly on the sidelines as the other team’s stone nears the button. Once a stone crosses the tee line, the line that runs the width of the sheet through the button, your team can start sweeping to make the opposing stone slide further away from the button.
Once you begin playing a game, you will start to see how important teamwork becomes. The skip (team leader) needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member to be able to win the chess match.
In the second end, we employed a bit of strategy by intentionally aiming one of our stones so as to knock our opponent’s stone out of the house (the concentric circles marking the scoring area). As skip, I directed my sister to aim at such a stone. And it worked; she delivered a great curling shot, bumping one of the opposing stones out of scoring contention.
Our two-end game resulted in a 1-1 tie.
Curling Is Gaining In Popularity
If after watching or trying curling you find yourself enjoying it, you’re in good company. Curling has been experiencing a boom in popularity following the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The growth in interest in the sport can be seen not only in the United States, where 185 clubs host 23,000 participants, but in Asia as well. There’s even been a resurgence in Scotland, where the game originated. It has truly become a worldwide sport.
Upon returning home, I looked at the USA Curling website and was pleasantly surprised to find out there is a curling club about 90 minutes from my home. In Canada, visit the Curling Canada website. You can also search the web to find a curling club or bonspiel (tournament) near you.
Curling Pro Tips
- Dress warmly but in layers. If you’ve ever been on an ice skating or hockey rink, you’ll know what to expect.
- You will be dropping down into a lunge position many times during each game. So you’ll need to wear stretchy or loose-fitting pants that will allow you to get into that lunge position. If you have mobility issues, check with the venue. They may have equipment that will allow you to join in the fun.
- You will also need a fair amount of arm strength to properly perform the sweeping duties and to deliver the stone. If you’re concerned that might keep you from playing, again, check with the venue. You may be able to use a specially made stick to help you throw the stone.
- Mind your hands and fingers around the stones, especially when one is in motion. They weigh around 40 pounds. Our instructor made sure we were aware of this during the safety briefing.
Want more on curling? Check out Why This Olympic Sport Is Popular With Folks Over Age 50.