When you think of winter sports, in particular, the ones commonly played in large events such as the X Games or the Winter Olympics, you probably think of things like skiing, bobsledding and snowboarding.
In fact, most people forget about the sport that includes pushing rocks around, and players furtively sweeping the ice with funny little brooms.
Or, most people don’t know what the sport is about at all.
What is Curling?
Curling, commonly known as chess on ice, is a strategy based game that includes a long strip of slick ice, a target, three players and a granite stone.
The game originated in Scotland in the 16th century, making it one of the oldest team sports out there. Scots decided to play the game on frozen ponds and lochs in the winter, because what else is there to do when it’s cold and snowy out, right?
You can read more about the history of curling here.
In the game, the players and the stone start on one end of the ice strip, with the target (or, as the curling players call it, the house) at the opposing far end. One player winds up and sends the stone sliding down the ice.
The goal of the game is for the stone to come to a stop on the innermost circle of the target. The amount of points earned goes up the closer the stone is to the center.
The player pushing the stone must strategize using curved paths (called curls, hence the name curling), power and direction in hopes of getting it to the center of the target.
So what’s with the other two players, who look like they’re crazily sweeping the ice as the stone glides along?
These players follow the stone along its path with special brooms and attempt to influence its direction by decreasing friction and adjusting curl. These players must strategize when they should correct the path of the stone without causing it to overshoot or miss the target.
Where Can You Play?
Per the United States Curling Association, curling clubs for men, women, co-ed teams and youth can be found throughout the United States. These clubs typically unify into regional associations to play against one another.
The first and oldest curling club is based, unsurprisingly, in Scotland: the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was founded over 150 years ago and its first members are responsible for the first official set of curling rules.
Most curling clubs play in ice arenas. These arenas are usually shared amongst many ice-related sports, including hockey and figure skating. Joining an arena-based curling club has its pros and cons.
For one, these clubs often have their own curling equipment for borrowed use by its players. The owners of the arena typically take care of all ice upkeep, so long as the club pays its rent dues.
On the other hand, an ice arena may be packed from open till close with events on its calendar. If you’re sharing one facility with hockey teams, figures skaters, ice shows and even just public patrons who enjoy ice skating, the times that the club can practice and play may be sporadic and minimal.
In areas where curling is particularly popular, clubs may have their own dedicated facility. In this case, the ice rink is owned or leased solely by the curling club. Understandably, this comes with significantly more responsibilities on the club leaders, namely ice maintenance.
Serious curlers can look into the Olympic competition, which has had curling programs for men and women since 1998.
What are the Rules?
The game starts with two teams of four, both using eight roughly 40-pound granite stones. The stretch of ice, called the pitch by players, is just under 150 feet long. Most official games allow 73 minutes for each team’s throwing to take place.
One round (or end) of the game consists of each player from each team throwing two stones. Stones that are closer to the center of the house earn more points. Those that don’t land on the target at all don’t count for or against the team’s score.
Additionally, the team with a stone closest to the very center of the target gets an extra point at the end of a round. If the team with the closest stone has even more stones that are still closer to the center than the opposition’s best throw, further points are added to their tally.
The team may have two sweepers influencing the stone up to a line called the tee line. At that point, one of the sweepers must stop. A sweeper from the opposing team, however, may jump in an attempt to counteract the efforts of the home team’s sweeper.
The game ends after ten rounds, and the team with the most points wins.
Official tournaments allow teams to concede if they feel that there is no chance of victory. One notable difference from curling over other more popular sports is the culture of self-refereeing, where players hold one another accountable for calling honest fouls.
Curling is an Understated Game of Strategy
While curling may not come to mind when most of us picture winter sports, it’s a perfectly balanced combination of physical stamina and mental stimulation. The players must exercise components such as honesty, sportsmanship and critical thinking.
It is a great option for people who can’t engage in high impact sports such as basketball or football, don’t want the risk of injury that comes with skiing or snowboarding, and aren’t quite interested in sitting in front of a chessboard for hours.
People who find themselves getting into the curling world often enter it skeptical of the sport.
However, they eventually find enjoyment in its unique traditions, from self-refereeing to even broomstacking, a longtime practice of dropping all equipment midgame to go out and enjoy a drink and a laugh together, not as opposing teams but just as people with a common love of a great sport.
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