I tried a sport for the first time last week. When I was done, I was sweating, a little sore and dragging a slightly bruised tailbone behind me.
How many attempts would I need to give you before you’d guess that I had just attempted curling for the first time?
It took about five minutes at the Blackhawk Curling Club, located at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds in Janesville, to realize that curling was going to be more difficult and require a little more athleticism than expected.
In essence, you’re trying to slide a stone down a sheet of ice and attempting to get it to stop within a circular target. (Note: I’ve been advised to avoid the word “circle” in this column, because in curling you’re aiming for “the house.”)
But that’s not much different than a bar game, right? Like throwing a dart or playing shuffleboard? And my friend Mike and I once had a streak of more than 100 straight shuffleboard victories at The Ranger bar in Laramie, Wyoming.
So I was going to be a natural at curling ...
Or maybe not.
You know things aren’t going to be so simple when the first instructions are how to step onto and off the ice. You see, when throwing a stone, one of the curler’s shoes is equipped to slide. And if you step onto the ice with that foot first, you’re liable to have it slide out from under you and end your day before it even begins.
There were several dozen of us newbie curlers at Blackhawk for an open house on this particular night, and I think we all avoided such a fate. The minor bumps and bruises were yet to come.
Other things I learned as Jacki gave us about a 40-minute tutorial on the basics:
- Never begin or end a game without telling your opponents, “Good curling!”
- To throw a stone, curlers push off from a “hack.” A hack is like a starting block in track and field, though you only push off with one leg.
- I knew four players per team each threw two rocks per end (an end is sort of like a baseball inning), but I did not know the terms for each player. In order, the first to throw is the “lead,” then the “second,” then the “vice” and finally the “skip.”
- This is not a sport where standing 6-foot-3 is beneficial.
One by one, all eight people in my group, a mix of men and women from their early 20s to their 50s, took a few practice turns without releasing a stone.
Some were better than others. My first time crouching down and putting my right foot into the hack, I launched out into the correct low, lunging posture but drifted about five feet to the left and cringed. Others slipped and fell.
We all seemed to feel just fine laughing with, and at, each other. That’s the mark of a quality activity, right?
I wouldn’t say we were all that comfortable with our new skills, but it was time to put them into action, anyway, after a few more practice tries.
All the newcomers were split into teams to play a couple ends, with some patient instructors ready to coach.
As one of my team’s “leads,” I didn’t have long to wait for my first ever real attempt at curling.
I crouched into the hack and held a broom in my left hand against my left side with one end of it on the ice, providing stability and balance when it was time to shove off. I rocked back and sprung forward, pretending like I knew what I was doing.
After a strong start, my left shoe, equipped with a slider, slipped from under me. Panicking, I released my stone with a slight clockwise turn.
Then I landed squarely on my left tailbone. I was all set to be humiliated but did not have enough time. I watched as my stone made its way down the sheet and stopped squarely in the front of the house.
A scoring stone on my first try! Bruised ego and tailbone? Psh... Whatever.
Alas, the vice of the opposing team eventually knocked my stone out of play, and we wound up losing that end 1-0.
We played one more, and this time my best attempt came up short of the house, though I kept myself from falling down.
But the best moment of the night came on our vice’s second attempt. The throw was a bit light, but hard enough if I and my fellow sweepers did our part. We shuffled alongside the stone as it crept slowly toward the house, all three of us (normally two, but we had an extra teammate) vigorously moving our brooms back and forth in the oncoming path of the stone, hoping to give it enough momentum and to not slip and fall in the process.
The stone came to rest just to the left of the button, or center of the house (kind of like a bullseye).
We all looked at each other, realizing the fantastic shot took all five of us working together to make it happen.
It sort of felt like turning a double play on the diamond, when you need all parties to field and throw correctly to make it happen. Or, in golf, we’d say that was the shot that keeps you coming back to play another round.
We wound up winning that end 1-0 to tie things up. And that was the brief, but fun, start to my curling career.
Though perhaps seeing a bigger crowd than anticipated, the Blackhawk Curling Club’s open house was a perfect place for folks like me to try curling and see if it was for them. And though harder than it looks, this is clearly a sport for all ages, which is a definite plus.
I may not wind up in a weekly league right now, but I’ll definitely find a way to curl again soon.
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. “Open Tryout” is a new Gazette sports column in which a staff member will try a new sport for the first time. If you have ideas, please send them to email@example.com.