What is it?
Curling is a game in which players push stones along an 'ice alley'. The objective is to get the stones to settle within a specific target area. When necessary, team mates use brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone's path, to make the stone travel further.
Where did Support through Sport UK try curling?
Support through Sport UK's Helen and Colin went to Fenton's Curling Ice Rink, just outside of Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Rather randomly, the rink is situated in the middle of a farm!
How did we get on?
We turned up at the farm and swapped the midday heat for more icy climes. To begin, we watched a short video that explained the basic rules of the game. In addition, it presented us with some basic safety advice (e.g. if your stone is spinning out of control and heading in the direction of an unwitting player's foot, shout out 'ice' ... so not dissimilar to golf where you shout out 'fore' if you're concerned that you're about to present someone with an unwelcome headache).
After watching the video, we were given special shoes to put on. The shoes had special soles on them to enable us to grip the ice. When you become a more accomplished curler, you wear one 'gripper shoe' and one 'slider shoe'. However, as beginners, wearing a 'slider shoe' would have meant that there was far too much potential for us to engage in some sort of unintentional ice acrobatics. So we felt happy and safe in our 'grippers'.
Next we were given our brooms. At this stage, I was concerned that this all seemed far too much like housework, but apparently the brooms could be used for all sorts of useful things, such as helping you to balance when delivering a stone.
Shoes on and wielding our brooms, we were ready to learn. First off, we learnt how to deliver a stone. You deliver a stone from what's called the 'hack'. The hack is not dissimilar to sprinting starting blocks (although the blocks are parallel) and it gives you something to push off from when making your 'throw' (although the term 'throw' is misleading as your stone never gets airborn (it's a whopping 20kg!)). The idea is to place one foot against the hack, pull the stone back and then propel the stone forwards. When you get more accomplished at this, you can wear a slider shoe and actually slide with the stone (releasing it at a particular point).
Next we tried (tried being the operative word here) to 'curl' the stone. This is where you push the stone forwards, whilst turning it, in an attempt to give it a curved trajectory.
Pushing practice over, we then learnt how to sweep, which is similar to the house chore action - however you grip the broom's pole much further down. Another difference is that you're on ice of course. The sweeping enables you to change the state of the ice in front of the stone, thus making it go further.
The basics learnt, we went straight into a game. There're usually four players in each of the two teams (although we had five players per team) and at any one time you have your captain (your 'Skip') down by the target, your delivery person at the hack and the two other players halfway down the track with their brooms. You swap roles throughout. The idea is to get as many of your team's eight stones to rest on a target consisting of four cocentric circles. The winning team is the team that gets a stone closest to the centre of the target. This winning team then gets points for the number of stones that it has lying closer to the target centre than the other's teams closest stones. Each game is termed an 'end' and there are usually about eight ends.
We played a number of ends and even had a go at sliding (with varying degrees of success!). I could see how, once the main skills were really mastered, strategy would really come into play in curling.
Who can have a go at curling?
Anyone can have a go at curling. One woman at our session who was unable to throw the stone from the hack used something called a 'delivery stick'. With a delivery stick, you don't need to bend down. Therefore, curling can be done by those with limited mobility and those in a wheelchair.
Would we recommend the sport?
The sport is both physical and mental, so it gives both your body and your brain a good workout. The delivery part is good for building strength, and the sweeping part presents you with a not unsubstantial cardio session! And the strategic element of the game keeps those grey cells active.
The success of the GB Teams in recent Winter Olympics has really helped to put curling on the map, and we would really recommend that you go have a go!