By Denise Lodge
Many people associate curling with Canada and it is in fact the official sport of Saskatchewan. Curling has its origins in sixteenth-century Scotland, but today, it is enjoyed globally, and has been a medal sport at the Winter Olympics since 1998 and at the Winter Paralympics since 2006. If you have never played the game, perhaps you have wondered how hitting a stone around the ice could be fun. The game is easy to learn, fun to play, and improves fitness.
The Basics of Curling
Competitors take turns shooting and gently curving circular stones (“rocks”) down a narrow strip of ice towards a target (“button”). Teams are comprised of four members, which include a rock-thrower and a captain. The captain (“skip”) gives orders to a pair of sweepers, who clear the ice surface ahead of the stone using a broom. Friction from the broom momentarily heats the ice, causing the curling rock to slide straighter, faster, and farther. The players rotate positions through the game. The team that places the most rocks near the target wins.
While muscular endurance, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning can improve a player’s game, they are not the only traits required to become an admirable competitor. Curling involves hand-eye coordination, good balance, and strategic thinking. As more stones are put into play, the team must decide whether an offensive or defensive throw will be best. One offensive strategy is to spread out stones, aiming to score more than one point; however, the risk of this strategy is that it may provide a clear path to the button for the opposing team. Because of this risk-reward consideration, curling is often referred to as “chess on the ice.”
The game is growing in popularity: the Canadian Curling Association sanctions and conducts eight national curling championship events annually, which are entered by 15,000 competitive curlers from all provinces and territories.
In comparison with other sports, the difference in cost between top-of-the-line equipment and less expensive equipment is slight.
Clothing: Wear warm, comfortable clothing that supports ease of movement. Gloves provide warmth and protection during sweeping.
Footwear: Shoes play an important role in curling. An athletic shoe with good grip, such as that with a pebbled rubber, should be worn on one foot; on the other, wear a sliding shoe, which has a slick, low-friction material that covers the entire sole and heel. The sliding shoe is worn by the thrower, when he or she throws behind the “hack,” rubber-lined foot holes that give the thrower something to push against when throwing. The slider shoe is also worn by the captain or the sweepers, as they glide down the ice quickly. Slip-on grippers can be used to cover the slider shoe’s slippery surface when the wearer is off the ice.
Brushes: Prior to the 1980s, the common sweeping device used in Canada was the corn broom, or a synthetic broom similar to the original corn. During the 1980s, the brush gained popularity, and is now used almost exclusively.
Curling Stones: Stones are made most commonly of granite from the British Isles, because it is non-absorbent; moisture penetrating a stone may freeze and then cause the stone to chip. An acceptable curling stone must be able to resist abrasion, and be tough, resilient, and uniform in colour.
Preventing Curling Injuries
The weight of the stones can cause back, knee, or shoulder pain, and sweeping can also put pressure on the spine. However, there are ways to avoid injury. Focus on warming up, stretching and strengthening your back to remain injury-free. See the Impowerage Fitness Guide for more information on stretching and strength training exercises.
Getting Started Curling
If you are interested in trying curling, or want to start curling regularly, see the Canadian Curling Association’s club listing. Membership fees vary, but generally adults can play for between $250-$400 per season. The game promotes fitness, strategic thinking, and is an excellent way to spend time with friends, meet new people, and have fun.