Curling: The Friendliest Winter Sport? - Winter Week


By Alexandra Bellink

A curler “delivering” the rock
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There are ski-resorts for skiiers, and ice rinks for figure skating. From there, most Americans can find every opportunity to try any Olympic sport of their choosing. Yet for lesser known sports like curling, where does one go to try one of the most obscure competitions in winter athletics?

While curling is more commonplace in Canada, it is played in many different countries in addition to being an Olympic sport. Because many people aren’t as familiar with curling, there is a stigma that it’s only for the elderly or that it’s not as proactive as other winter sports.

Yet after being initiated into the sport some weekends ago by the Ardsley Curling Club in Irvington, NY, I’ve come to understand curling is enjoyed by people of all ages and is an especially competitive sport, at least for folks as unpretentious or as welcoming as these. It look may look easy at first, but once on the ice, I can assure you — it’s quite intense.

The first documentation of curling began in Scotland in the 16th century with people sliding stones across frozen lakes. In the 19th century, the game expanded to other countries and teams began to be played indoors. In 1838, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in Edinburgh, Scotland established the first official rules of the game. The 1924 Chamonix Olympic games marked the first time the sport was featured in the Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee did not formally accept the sport until 2006.

Curling teams consist of four members each: the lead, the second, vice skip (or third), and skip. The lead, second and vice skip take turns throwing a 42 pound granite down a 145-foot long sheet of ice to the opposite side where there is a large bullseye on the ice. The skip calls where they think the stone should go in order to get it closest to the middle of the circle. As the stone sldes across the ice, two members sweep the ice in front of it. The purpose of sweeping is to melt the ice a degree or two in front of the stone and give it a smoother travel. Each team delivers eight stones per round and at the end of each round the team with the stone closest to the center gains points for that round.

Tom Doherty, president of the Ardsley Curling Club, gave me the full tour and history of the club, allowed me to watch a game before giving me a brief curling lesson.

“Curling can be as competitive as you want it to be,” Tom explains. “You can play in your club leagues and have a very relaxed and social time with your fellow curlers.” In addition to local competitive club leagues there are regional and national levels.

Two members of the club, Bill Stopera and Martin Sather have gone on to join Team USA and compete in international bonspiels. Sather grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska where curling is a large part of the community and began playing at a young age.

In 2010, Sather’s team made their first trip to the U.S. Nationals and qualified for the competition again the next year, placing in fourth both times. At the Nationals game this past year, his team won first place and went on to represent the U.S. in the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.

During my visit to Ardsley, I overheard a woman in her fifties or sixties telling a friend that she joined the club mainly because of the friendly, social atmosphere. As competitive as these athletes can be, one of the big attractions for everyday people to curling leagues like this one is the comfortable social atmosphere, devoid of big-shot egos even if there’s a chance you could be playing with or against future Olympians.

“There really is no professional curling,” says Martin, and that while their team creates a demanding schedule, they all have day jobs and other careers. He describes it as a “very unique sport that doesn’t demand a lot to enjoy casually.” As Doherty tells BTR, the people that play in traveling teams have the same attitude as those who play locally. Even at competitions, the teams often share a drink and a meal after the game. Not the sort of tradition you’d expect from a rough and tumble sport like hockey.

Within the past few years curling has received a great amount of TV time and it has become a lot easier to advertise the sport. Many of the curlers at Ardsley see this as a sign their sport can engage a wider audience in this country.

“As hockey did a number of years back, curling is growing in the non-traditional warm weather states like California, Arizona, Texas,” Tom explains. “Along with more curling matches being broadcasted over the internet, I hope one day curling will be shown on broadcast TV like up in Canada where they have matches on TV almost on a weekly basis during the curling season.”

It was hard for my experience at Ardsley to be anything but positive, seeing as I was surrounded by such passionate players. The club offers trial classes at the beginning of the season, and if you decide to join in on the fun there’s a good chance you may see at least one BTR staff writer in your company.