I just tried curling for the first time – here’s why you should too

I just tried curling for the first time – here’s why you should too

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 played during the Winter Olympics. Although some may consider curling to be a novelty, a game not worthy of Olympic status, curling is truly a sport, one you should definitely try.

Recently my sister invited us to visit her in Minnesota. When she suggested taking curling lessons, I jumped at the chance.

The ice at the Dakota Curling Club in Minnesota.

The ice at the Dakota Curling Club

Photo credit: Stan Thomas / Kanale Creations

Our curling lessons and subsequent match (or match) took place at the Dakota Curling Club outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota – about 400 miles south of Bemidji, Minnesota, the Curling Capital of the United States.

I always thought curling was interesting. Players sliding a rock down a prepared ice surface seemed like a simple enough part of the game, but what’s with all the sweeping? And why did they do it? I was figuring it out.

Curling has a 450+ year history

The sport got its name “curling” from the path a stone can take when it is “thrown” by a skilled player. The curved path is called a curl. Curling is also called The Roaring Game because of the sound the stone makes as it slides across the ice.

Curling’s history can be traced all the way back to Scotland from the 16th century. Back then it was played outdoors on frozen ponds and lakes. The game eventually made its way through northern Europe, across to Canada, to the United States and even to New Zealand. Today we have cooling and can play the game on indoor as well as outdoor courts.

Although the game has been around for more than 400 years, curling did not become an officially recognized Olympic sport until the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

The Winter Olympics now have mixed-gender teams, and the Paralympic Winter Games include wheelchair curling.

A curling scoreboard at the Dakota Curling Club in Minnesota.

A curling scoreboard a Dakota Curling Club

Photo credit: Stan Thomas / Kanale Creations

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 field called a sheet. Other curling terms you need to be familiar with include

  • center line
  • tee line
  • behind the line
  • pig line
  • hack line
  • hack
  • rock (stone)
  • skip over
  • sweep
  • end

It may seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll pick them up quickly as you watch or play the game.

I’m 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 rock closer to the “button” or “tee” (similar to a bullseye on a dart board) than the opponent’s nearest stone.

During our game, because my son’s team scored first in the previous end, my team got to throw the last rock, called the “hammer,” in the next. I admit, I took no small pleasure in being the one to throw the hammer.

Curling is good exercise

Lunging to deliver the stone builds flexibility. Getting into a lunge position helps improve balance and stability. So does standing up from a lunge position (ideally without comical speech falls). Sweeping requires the most effort. In some situations you can actually sweat, which our instructor did by sweeping furiously to help my shot become a winner.

Although the pros make it look easy, curling is more physically challenging than it seems. But don’t let that stop you from trying it.

Chess on ice

As you learn the basics and start playing the game, you’ll start to see where the strategy part comes in. Good placement of the stones is essential 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 that the opposing team does not need to stand helplessly on the sidelines while the other team’s stone approaches the button. When a stone crosses the tee line, the line that runs the width of the sheet through the button, your team can begin sweeping to make the opposite stone slide further away from the button.

Once you start playing a game, you will start to see how important teamwork becomes. The jump (team leader) must know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member in order to win the chess match.

At the other end, we used some strategy by aiming one of our stones on purpose to knock the opponent’s stone out of the house (the concentric circles that mark the scoring area). As a jump, I asked my sister to aim for such a rock. And it worked; she delivered a great curling shot, knocking one of the opposing stones out of scoring contention.

Our match with two ends resulted in a 1-1 draw.

The yellow team's winning stone at the end of ending #2,

The yellow team’s winning stone in end number 2

Photo credit: Stan Thomas / Kanale Creations

Curling is becoming increasingly popular

If after watching or trying curling you find you like it, you are in good company. Curling has experienced 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 USA, where 185 clubs have 23,000 participants, but also in Asia. There has even been a resurgence in Scotland, where the game originated. It has truly become a worldwide sport.

When I got home, I looked at the USA Curling website and was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a curling club about 90 minutes from my home. In Canada, visit the Curling Canada website. You can also search online to find a curling club or bonspiel (tournament) near you.

Curling Pro Tips

  • Dress warmly, but in layers. If you’ve ever been to a skating or hockey rink, you know what to expect.
  • You will fall into a lunge position many times during each game. So you need to wear stretchy or loose pants that allow you to get into that lunge position. If you have mobility issues, check with the venue. They may have equipment that allows you to join in on the fun.
  • You will also need a good amount of arm strength to be able to perform the sweeping tasks and deliver the stone. If you are concerned that it may prevent you from playing, check with the venue again. You may be able to use a specially made stick to help you throw the stone.
  • Take care of your hands and fingers around the stones, especially when you are moving. They weigh around 40 kilos. Our instructor made sure we were aware of this during the safety briefing.

Want more about curling? Check out why this Olympic sport is popular with people over 50.

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