I’ve talked a very big game all week when it comes to curling. Inspired by the perfect combination of Norwegian pants, live broadcasts online and the sheer novelty of the sport, I have tried to throw all of my perceived curling expertise around whenever I got a chance. I’ve made my puns about throwing rocks at houses and bacon curling in pans (including overusing the #CurlingRocks hashtag). I have cheered loudly and emphatically for the US teams in Vancouver, and have conversely made criticisms of John Shuster that would make Byung-Hyun Kim say, “alright, easy there.”
It’s been a wonderful hobby for the week; part of the appeal of the sport is not only how often it is on during the Olympics, but the accessibility of it. “That totally seems like something I could do.” I gave it in my first run on a modified, synthetic sheet on Friday afternoon at the Hilton Garden Inn’s weekend long expo. After a well-documented victory over DCist’s Aaron Morrissey, my confidence was at an all time high. I still believed I had a handle on the sport.
And then I took my first steps on the sheet out at Potomac Curling Club in Laurel, Md., and I finally had to admit that this whole thing is just a tinge harder than it looks. Confidence swept away, all my hopes and dreams for a birth on the Sochi 2014 team were on thin ice.
PCC knows how popularity of the sport rises every four years, so the mid-winter Open House held at the facility on Saturday, while a little extra work for the volunteer-based organization, helps to attract a number of new members. At least one of the active volunteers teaching us how to curl told us how just four years ago, he wandered into the same event, then joined one or two pick-up style drop-in games, and was hooked faster than a heater knocking out a high guard. Ann Drummie, Potomac Curling Club’s president, noted that nearly 900 people registered in advance for Saturday’s event, and that even more will be coming out on Sunday to try their hand at hurrying hard.
For the full experience, we knew we had to give it a shot. We grabbed our brooms, ventured out onto the sheets and learned quite quickly that it isn’t as easy as it looks. Our training from EL was a brief 10-minute overview of sweeping, curling technique and the method – and then it was time to climb into the hack and give it a shot.
When the pros do it, it looks like one fluid motion; however, there are at least three things to consider when throwing. The first is where the skip (the team’s strategic lead) wants the stone to go and the direction of the curl for which they are looking. Next, it’s getting settled in the starting position, which partly means that your sliding foot is resting on a piece of very slick Teflon to get the right amount of glide, so balance is key. Finally, time to push off the hack and release in the right rotation (giving the stone the namesake curl), and the sweepers will take it from there. Thanks to Tom Bridge, there’s even video of my first ever attempt on throwing a full sheet stone:
If there was a step four, it’s stopping, but I’ve never been one for being graceful, so “falling to the side” is an acceptable maneuver for rookies.
Potomac Curling Club keeps its gates open for rookies (kids too!) throughout the rest of the season. Drop-in Saturday games are preceded by brief instruction and breakfast, and there is an opportunity for those who got really excited after trying it out to join an “Olympic” league to put their intrigue from Vancouver to the test. The normal season runs October to April, with two half-seasons enjoyed by the 150-200 club members over those months.
As for my own, pseudo-quest for Sochi? Well, I am embarrassingly a little sore this morning from a few hours on the sheet last night, so I’ll have to bide my time as We Love DC’s Senior Curling Correspondent for now. Practice has to start sometime, so if you find yourself at a breakfast drop-in out at PCC, don’t be surprised if you see me there.