The Hartford Curling Club is holding a three-week summer introductory season with ‘Learn-to-Curl’ sessions in West Hartford beginning July 28.
By Ronni Newton
The weather may be hazy, hot, and humid, but the outdoor temperature has no impact on what’s happening inside Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford, where a diverse group of area residents have been arming themselves with brooms and taking to the ice for a few hours on Saturday mornings pushing around 42-pound stones around in a game that somewhat resembles a wintery version of bocce ball.
This year, from May 19-July 14, the Hartford Curling Club used Veterans Memorial Rink as its home base, as about 30 people – ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s – were introduced to the Scottish sport of curling. Many of them will return, and others will join, for a three-week summer season of “Learn-to-Curl” sessions that will begin on July 28.
“It’s so much fun. I didn’t even really know much about curling until the Olympics,” said West Hartford resident Krista Wells, who tried out the sport for the first time this spring.
After watching the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, Wells started doing some research, and got in touch with the Nutmeg Curling Club in Bridgeport to find out if they were aware of any facilities, or interest from people who wanted to learn more about the sport in the Hartford area.
Through that club, Wells found the Hartford Curling Club, which was originally incorporated in 1908 as part of Hartford Golf Club, dissolved in 1973, and re-incorporated in 2015. Since re-forming, Hartford Curling has run the occasional “Learn-to-Curl” session at Veterans Memorial as well as at rinks in Simsbury and Newington.
This year, with the Olympic coverage leading to a renewed interest in the sport, Hartford Curling had scheduled an introductory league right here in West Hartford.
Wells was one of 30 people – two-thirds of whom were men – who signed up for this spring’s league. It was so much fun, but also much harder than she thought it would be, much more technical.
“I couldn’t believe I didn’t know how to do it,” Wells said. “I thought it was all luck … but it’s extremely skill-based.”
Despite having four children who don’t yet drive and are involved in a variety of sports on the weekends, Wells has been setting aside her Saturday mornings for curling, although she did skip curling for a dance recital and final horse show of the year. She’s hooked on the sport.
Hartford Curling is run by some experienced curlers, including Craig Doucette of Farmington, who is vice president of the club, and his wife, Erin, who is president. Doucette said he has been curling for eight years.
During the most recent league, each two-hour session began with 30 minutes of instruction on a particular skill. Participants had received a video in advance, so they knew what they would be working on.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m., the participants are broken up into teams, and game play commences on two or three “sheets” (lanes) that have been set up on the rink. Four people play at once, and others sub in. The instructors walk around and offer tips during the games.
“There’s a strategy. You have to know what the other players are going to do,” Wells said.
The most experienced or skilled team member serves as the captain, or “skip,” and stands at the far end of the sheet, near the bulls-eye, instructing those who are delivering the stones where to aim for during that “end” – a unit of the game like a baseball inning. The skip delivers last, when the strategy is most important.
The object is to get the stone as close as possible to the red circle in the center of the bulls-eye – called the “button” – in the rings at the end of the sheet, but you can also use your turn to knock the other team’s stones out of the way.
The position of your hand when you deliver the stone determines the rotation – or curl. Sweeping is used to impact the direction of the stone, and its speed, as it travels across the ice. The stone isn’t really thrown, but rather gets its momentum from your push-off. The pebbled surface of the ice would slow the stone down, but the sweepers can create a smoother path and reduce the rate of deceleration.
It takes just a few tries for most to coordinate the motion of pushing off, or “delivery.” The dominant hand holds the stone, with the same-side foot resting on a slightly-angled and rubberized surface that somewhat resembles a sprinter’s starting block. The other foot rests on a “slider” which helps it slide quickly across the ice. The sliders are made of different materials, depending on how fast a person can go [without face-planting]. Beginners hold a “stabilizer” in their non-dominant hand as they push off (Doucette said that experienced curlers refer to it as a “crutch,” but “stabilizer” is the correct term), while experienced curlers hold a broom.
Butt up, slider foot back, and in a continuous and coordinated motion the dominant foot pushes off as the knee of the slider foot bends, the dominant legs shoots out straight back, and the curler and stone slide across the ice in a lunge. At the right time – which for a beginner is as far as you can slide before your forward momentum stops – the stone is released and the sweepers take over.
Curling is definitely a workout, using a different set of muscles than many other sports. Those who do pilates or yoga tend to have an easier time with the flexibility and stability needed for moving smoothly into a lunge to deliver the stone. Sweeping uses yet another set of muscles, and gets the heart-rate going.
A few other notes about curling:
When the curlers arrive at Veterans Rink the ice is Zamboni-smooth, but that’s not the surface the curlers need. Doucette said the ice is sprayed with a garden hose so it’s pebbled, which is a much better surface for curling.
The stones, which weigh 42 pounds each, are never picked up off the ice, Doucette said.
Doucette said that Veterans is a great place for the introducing people to curling. Although it’s not an official curling facility, he said that the ice is kept at a consistent temperature of between 22ºF and 25ºF, and the rink allows the league to keep the stones in freezers, so that they start off cold. Otherwise the instructors would have to arrive long in advance to chill the stones so that they would not melt paths along the ice.
Very little equipment is required for curling, especially for novices. Warm clothing is a must even in the summer (see above regarding the temperature of the ice), and sweatpants or leggings and a fleece jacket was the outfit of most while they were on the ice. Gloves are also a good idea. [Editor’s note: I did not follow this advice, and regretted it.]
There are special curling shoes, but beginners can wear smooth-bottomed sneakers which they then loop rubber bands around to add stability while walking on the ice.
“It’s the friendliest sport,” Wells said. Socializing is a key element of curling.
At the end of the game, as the equipment is put away for the week, Doucette announced it’s time for “broomstacking.” He doesn’t mean neatly putting the brooms in a closet.
Broomstacking is when the teams gather together at a local establishment (on July 14 it was New Park Brewing in West Hartford) and the winning team buys a round of beers for the losing team. Then the losers get the next round.
Wells, who is a career coach, is hooked on the sport. “I tell my clients that they need to mix things up and try something new. I felt like I was saying, ‘Do as I say not as I do,'” she said, until she decided to try curling.
Beginning July 28, there will be three weeks of “Learn-to-Curl” instruction at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford. The two-hour sessions, from 10 a.m.-noon on July 28, Aug. 4, and Aug. 11, will be an introduction to “all the elements of ‘the roaring game.” Included are 90 minutes of on-ice instruction in delivery, sweeping, and strategy, and then the chance to play several ends of curling.
The cost is $30 per person for each session, and those interested can email [email protected] to register.
Doucette is hopeful that those who participated in the introductory league will continue with the sport. It’s difficult to find ice time locally during the hockey season, which is why curling has been held during the spring and summer, and he said that many of those who are part of the Hartford Curling Club also travel to play with the Nutmeg Curling Club in Bridgeport, where they have a special facility for curling.
“To curl you can be ages 8 to 80,” Doucette said.
Follow the Hartford Curling Club on Facebook, Twitter (@HartfordCurling), and Instagram (@hartfordcurlingclub) to keep up with their activities, and watch for information about future lessons and leagues. More information, as well as the history of the club, is also available on their website.
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