There’s few things I actually consider myself good at: writing, planning things, making playlists, chugging beer, making omelets, and reading books in record amounts of time, are some of the items on this short list. I also happen to be a very skilled foosball player (that’s literally never helped me with anything), and am historically pretty good at shuffleboard, which is why I thought that curling might join the list of things I excel at. As per usual, I was wrong.
A couple of weeks ago I was doing some personal research online (another thing I’m usually successful at), when I stumbled across an ad for a curling clinic, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Curling Club, at $15.00 for a half hour session. The issue was that it was held on a Sunday, and was in Pittsburgh, so I reached out to my brother to get his opinion. It turns out that Schenley Park, where the curling sessions are held, is super close to where he lives in Shadyside, so we signed up for a noon session and I started throwing a makeshift Pittsburgh trip together.
Curling, for those of you living under a rock, or should I say, stone (a little curling humor for you), is the Olympic sport you’ve probably scratched your head at, where players shoot a granite stone (that for all intents and purposes resembles a shuffleboard quoit) down an ice rink to a target, while other players frantically sweep the ice, creating friction that helps move the stone forward.
We arrived at the Schenley Park ice rink approximately fifteen minutes prior to our session, which the email we’d received the night before suggested. In hindsight I wish I’d been a bit more sober when I received said email (thanks Foggy Goggle), and read the part where they in no uncertain terms expressed what a bad idea wearing jeans would be.
Have I ever mentioned my irrational hatred for disc golf? No? Well, I try not to being it’s irrational and all, but think it warrants a mention that we parked in the midst of a disc golf tournament, which I thought might be some sort of bad omen. Fortunately my fears were unfounded.
I’ll say this: the event was very well run and organized. As soon as we walked in we were promptly checked in, given instructions, and told to wait until our session was announced. There were tables full of Pittsburgh Curling Club merchandise to peruse (I’m pissed I didn’t get a t-shirt, but neither of us were carrying cash) and a balcony to go out and watch the sessions that were in progress.
The Pittsburgh Curling Club was founded in 2002 with 12 founding members. It’s since grown in popularity and currently hosts over 120 members, and aside from playing and enjoying curling, its members also try to spread awareness for this semi-obscures sport.
Once our session started, the first thing we did was gather just outside the rink to learn a little bit about curling and get some basic safety rules (ice is slippery: don’t run on it). This is the one part of the session I was a little disappointed in. Aside from what I’ve seen on television, I know next to nothing about curling-I would have liked to get a quick overview of how to play, as well as the history of the sport. But, minor complaint, as there’s always Wikipedia.
Curling was invented in medieval Scotland, which for some reason, makes me like it more. In fact, the granite stones that players “throw” down the ice are constructed of granite only mined in Aisla Craig, an island off the Scottish coast, or a very particular quarry in Wales-this information I learned from our instructor, whose name I wish I remember because he was incredibly patient and informative. The game is similar to shuffleboard, and is sometimes referred to as “chess on ice” because of all the strategy involved. I prefer the shuffleboard analogy thought, chess is on the long list of things I’m terrible at. Curling is a relatively new Olympic sport, having been added in 1998, and is typically dominated not by the Scotts, but by our Canadian neighbors to the north.
The playing surface for curling is called a sheet. It’s 146-150 feet in length (which is long) and 14.5 to 16 feet across. The point is to get the stones closest to the center “button”, in the “house” of three concentric rings. Much how one might sand a shuffleboard table, players “pebble” the ice, by dropping small droplets of water which freeze on the surface. Depending on their location and how worn down they are, the pebbles help to “curl” or rotate the stone, which is how the name curling is derived.
Curling is supposed to be played in very cold conditions, and the day we went was uncharacteristically warm, causing the ice to puddle, and making for a wet, and not very ideal condition (especially if one was wearing jeans). We were split into groups of 4-6 and made our way out to our instructors, who explained the best techniques for throwing and sweeping. We were given a chance to do both several times, and there’s much more technique involved then I anticipated. There’s also quite a bit of balance involved, which is probably why I found myself on my back on the ice, more than once.
By the time each of our foursome threw four or five times, the session started coming to a close and we were able to ask some questions. One thing I always wonder about obscure sports such as this, is how people get involved in them-our instructor joined just because he saw it on television and thought it looked fun. He’d been a member of the Pittsburgh Curling Club for just about two years at that point and was already good enough that he was being sent to tournaments (or “bonspiels” in curling talk) out of town. My favorite thing he told us, is that because of the nature of the sport, it is possible to pick up curling, join a league, get good, and then if everything goes well, tryout for the Olympic team: it’s literally one of the only Olympic Sports you don’t have to start as a child. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up and try to chase some Olympic dreams.
He also gave us the rundown of how these curling clubs operate. The Pittsburg Curling Club is one of four in Pennsylvania. Most of these clubs share rinks with local hockey teams, and because of their somewhat lowman on the totem pole status, these clubs usually meet late, after 10:30 or 11:00 for their games which normally last an hour or two. Truth be told, I liked curling, and could see myself possibly getting involved in a league, if it met at normal hours.
As previously mentioned, there are four curling leagues in PA. Most offer some sort of classes, open houses, or clinics if this is something you’d like to explore, and the Philadelphia Curling Club does do group parties.
Anthracite Curling Club- NEPA’s curling club located in Wilkes Barre.
Bucks County Curling Club– In Buck’s County, obviously.
Philadelphia Curling Club– As is the case with so many “Philadelphians,” this is located “just outside Philly” in Paoli.
Pittsburgh Curling Club- If you want an explanation, you haven’t been paying attention.
Curl SJ– South Jersey Club just outside Philly as well