Last week I got an unexpected email. Did I think Our Oakland readers would be interested in learning curling? Was I interested? Did I want to give away a pair of tickets to an "introduction to curling" class? Curling? Uh, OK. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to give away tickets in the short amount of time, but I definitely wanted to check it out myself. While hockey has grown in popularity since the Sharks came to the Bay Area and a number of championship figure skaters call the Bay Area home, I figured there wasn't that much interest in the Bay Area in curling.
It turns out there is a lot of interest, and it's not new—the Bay Area Curling Club has been around for 50 years. They have meet-ups, lessons and a league, using ice rinks in San Jose, Fremont and here in Oakland. Normally the events sell out quickly, but this event was added last-minute so they still had room. There were about 50 people at Saturday's event, but most have well over 100. In addition, there were volunteers from the club to act as instructors and set up the equipment.
Curling dates back to the 1500s in Scotland, and the basics are fairly simple. A regulation rock or stone is about 42 pounds, and made of granite. A match is played on a sheet, a strip of flat, level ice about 150 feet long and 15 feet wide. Circular targets at each end are the "house" and scoring consists of getting one or more of your team's rocks in the house at the far end. Only one team scores per end, with a point for each rock that's closer to the center than any opponent's rocks. One player delivers a rock, the "skip" or captain indicates where to aim the rock and what kind of curl to give it, and the other two players can sweep the ice in front of the stone as it travels to make it go further. Deliveries alternate between the teams, and like in bocce or boules, later rocks can move earlier rocks into or out of scoring position.
The basics may be simple, but it definitely requires some practice to actually put it all together and deliver the rock. You put one foot on the hack (a rubber stopper to push off of) and the other on a slippery shoe (they also make special shoes for curling). One arm holds a broom for balance, and the other grips and rotates the rock as it's released. You move from a hunched position, push off the hack, into an almost kneeling position and slide down the ice. Before reaching the "hog line", you release the rock and give it the desired rotation to give it some curl. And there are strategies and tactics about aiming the rocks, when and how much to sweep, and reading the ice to learn, too.
Besides being surprised at how much interest there is in curling, I was also pleasantly surprised at just how much fun it is. It's one of those activities that's easy to learn but that you can spend a lifetime mastering. There are no age restrictions, and there are modifications to allow people in wheelchairs to curl, so it's open to a wide range of people. I definitely plan on learning more.
The Bay Area Curling Club has a variety of events coming up, with a student series (ages 12-22) beginning in April. They also host corporate events, have league play, and generally have fun. To learn more, check out the Bay Area Curling Club website. Special thanks to Colleen for arranging the tickets and to all the instructors for their time and patience. And shout outs to Michael, Shad, @mcplanner and all the other folks who showed up to learn about curling. I hope you all had as much fun as I did!
Bay Area Curling Club
CBC Coverage of curling