Curling: An Unrequited (?) Love Letter by Kate Thomas

May 21, 2018. This is the winter of our discontent. The last time I curled was April 21, 2018. Schenectady Curling Club. More or less a charity event for the Rutland Rocks people, who never ever get to curl on dedicated ice unless we pay $$dough to participate in a bonspiel. It seems like way more than a month ago—and with Upper Valley/Woodstock Curling Club not active again until July 7, I am not yet halfway through to the other side.

Sigh.

Curling. O how I love thee, and I know not why. This is an attempt to make sense of the obsession, to pick apart the logic, to begin to assess whether the weird game with the rocks and the ice and the yelling is good and true and what I need. Otherwise, what. The. Actual. F. I don’t even want to tell you how much money I spent on curling last year.

1.         Mind

Curling, I love how you take me out of my everyday set of stuff I need to think about and make me think about totally different stuff. In fact, you make me think about stuff I learned long ago: Geometry, physics, simple addition—it’s all there. Plus I have to pay attention to detail: Whether my crash hat is on straight, whether my broom is in the optimum position for sweeping, and whether I have transferred my stick to the opposite end of the sheet after delivering my two stones. The rhythm of each end, each game, each tournament is hypnotic and comforting, demanding and relaxing. Through it I reach a different plane—not necessarily higher, but parallel and emphatically not here. A true break.

At the same time, curling is very Zen. To do it well you need to be present, in the moment, just as it unfolds. You have to let go of expectations about what the next rock is going to be like, what the next end will bring, and how far you will get in the bracket. You have to focus on what is happening NOW, and deal with it as best, as gracefully, as appropriately as you can.

            And yet.

At the same time, you get to slow down time by breaking each task of the sport down into its constituent parts and doing your best to perform each task as close to perfectly as you can. Tasks include delivering the stone, sweeping the stone, and if you are vice or skip, reading the ice, reading the players, and figuring out the strategy. The constituent parts of each of those tasks takes seasons to learn, at least for me, as I am still learning.

Communication is key. We engage in an effort to call to others’ attention what is happening to ice, stone, sweeping, trajectory, speed, and balance in the moment. Within each task of each stones delivery exists rare opportunity for development in how to communicate to your teammate what you see, what you perceive is going to happen to that stone in the next nanosecond, and other ways of playing the next stone.

I love the times when my sweeping partner and I both start sweeping at the same time, unbidden, a simple, appropriate response to the trajectory and speed of the stone in the moment.

2.         Body

The labor of the sport is subtle and about as strenuous as I want to make it for myself. Sweeping the stone properly requires upper body strength like you wouldn’t believe. Cardio is definitely there, and then you have to transition from the sweep to being centered for delivery. It’s harder than it looks.

Comfort and freedom of movement is important. I’m still working on getting the layers right. Arena ice in the dead of winter, when it is cold as hell outside calls for base wicking Cuddle Duds layer, cold weather tight layer, possible third sweatpants layer, then sweater, vest, neck warmer, and crash hat. No glasses; you’ll fog them up when you dive into your neck warmer to breathe warmth around your own neck. Spring for the shoes. And compression socks won’t hurt.

Sweep! SWEEEEEEEP!!!! It’s as much a howl against the cold as it is a necessary exertion to get that damn stone down past the hog line. Cold conditions=slow stones=you need to SWEEP. Vigor, hurry hard, yell at it, call it names, get that thing down the sheet and over the hog line. You’ll be warm in no time.

Dedicated ice is different!!! Faster stones, usually not as much sweeping, and thank goodness—it’s warmer in a dedicated ice facility, really only need cold weather tights, kilt, sweater and vest. Crash hat on dedicated ice makes me so sweaty but worth it…so many pins on this vest I need to think about another way to keep them.

 

            Yoga pre-curling—I can’t believe how much better I feel the next day!

 

            One day bonspiel with 3 games guaranteed=22,000 steps!!!

 For once, I lost weight over the winter and I’m not dying biking up hills in spring. Thank the curling gods for this wonderful winter activity!

3.         Spirit

The people drawn to this sport are the quirkiest, coolest, funnest bunch there could be. Sure, some take it all very very seriously and this is not exactly what I’m into it for—but I get it. Curling is elusive, it’s this weird combination of physics, geometry, teamwork and individual performance that I have yet to get my head completely around.

The spirit of curling is contagious to the right people. You feel a little hook in, not painful, but there. You can’t get more than a few feet away from it from then on. Like a fish on a hook or a toddler on a leash, you’re tethered and you have to figure out how to operate in that reality.

There is more sitting around watching curling than there is actual curling at bonspiels. This is where you just need to talk to the person sitting next to you and see what happens. It’s not always pretty but it will definitely provide some insight into you, them, society, or something else. Do not take lightly the opportunity for real unadulterated human connection—whether through conversation, drinking, dancing, or karaoke. You have the rare pleasure of connecting with people who also engage in this funny sport no one has ever heard of, people who you may very well see again, at another bonspiel, but then again you may not actually ever see them again. You have the opportunity to be your best self outside of your comfort zone. You’re welcome.

Curling, you have me curled around your little finger. You rock my world. I can’t hack it without you.

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