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February 11, 2009 > Of ice and broomsticks

Of ice and broomsticks

Sport of curling more popular than ever

By Vidya Pradhan

If you think curling is something the females in your family do with their hair, think again. This sport of sliding a rock on ice toward a target, guided by the furious sweeping action of brooms, is one of the hottest winter sports in the world today.

Curling originated in the lochs of Scotland, some say as early as the 12th century. Once played on frozen lakes and rivers, this sport has two teams of four players. Teams take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones down the ice towards the target (called the house). Two sweepers with brooms accompany each rock and use timing, equipment and their best judgment - along with direction from their teammates - to help direct the stones to their resting place. Tournaments are called bonspiel tournaments, using a Scottish word that loosely means league match.

Curling came to America in the 1800s and to the Bay Area in 1958. Today the sport is played throughout the year on indoor ice rinks including Sharks Ice in Fremont.

Although headquarters for the World Curling Association continues to be in Scotland, the sport is best established in Canada today. A former native of Canada, Brent Halpenny is president of the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club. He directs enthusiastic Californians to train and try out for Olympic teams.

"If you think people get excited about hockey or soccer, you haven't seen the curling crowd," said Halpenny. "It takes just 20 minutes to learn how to play."

Despite the long history of the game, the fundamentals of curling have not changed. Corn brooms have been replaced by horsehair and synthetic bristles, but the stone is still made of ... stone.

"Different kinds of rock have been tried over the years," Halpenny said, "but the best stones are from the Alissa Quarry in Scotland and the Terfor Quarry in Wales."

Over the years, attempts have been made to use synthetic materials, but it is still granite that stands up to wear and tear of the sport and slides properly on the ice. In contrast, rubber hockey pucks are replaced several times in a single game. The stones are so durable that even today ancient ones show up in dry river beds in Scotland with dates inscribed on them.

Curling lessons are offered at Sharks Ice in Fremont and San Jose. An 11-week session is in progress, and the next one is expected to start toward the end of the year. An open house at the start of each session introduces novices to the art of curling. Open houses typically have 40-100 participants and 10-12 instructors. By the end of an open house, people can play games.

Sharks Ice also offers corporate events where members of a company get a brief training session and the opportunity to play games. The rink works with the Bay Area Curling Club to offer training and league matches.

Curling is a team game in which each team has a "skip" that acts as team captain and strategist. Strategy is a major factor in curling and is as important as shooting skill. Some people call curling "chess on ice." Each player shoots or delivers two stones at each end, or inning, alternating with their counterpart on the opposing team. Curling is designed to allow play in both directions. All four team members shoot two stones at each end and sweep for their teammates' shots. While one player shoots, two sweep as needed. Sweeping polishes the ice so the stone travels farther; vigorous sweeping requires fitness.

The object of shooting is to get the stone, or rock, to come to rest at a predetermined place (a draw or guard) or to move another rock (a takeout or raise). The score is determined after each end of 16 stones. A 12-foot circle, the house, is the scoring area. Stones in the house must be closer to the tee (center) than any opposing stone to score. The maximum score in one end is eight points. Typically, one to three points are scored. Games are 8 or 10 ends, lasting 2-2.5 hours.

Curling equipment includes a specially made broom or brush (clubs often furnish brooms for new curlers). Special curling shoes are available but not mandatory. Shoes should be flat soled, clean, and should grip the ice well for walking. For the delivery, a "slider" should be worn on the sliding foot to allow a long, smooth-sliding follow through.

Curling is a sport that reasonably athletic people can learn at any age. The local club has 70- and 80-year-olds who are still going strong. Members who started learning in their 30s are now training to be Olympians. Intrigued? Check out one of the classes for beginners. You may find that this sport is the perfect one for you.

Sharks Ice
44388 Old Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont
(510) 623-7200
http://sharksiceatfremont.com

San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club
www.bayareacurling.com

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