So, you think you want to learn to curl?
Inspired by the 2022 Olympics, Dispatch staffers got a curling lesson at the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club.
BRAINERD — The pros make it look easy and effortless as they elegantly slide on the ice, perfectly balanced on their feet with one leg stretched out behind the other.
And if the sweepers get tired from running alongside the rock, putting all their energy in making sure it gets where it needs to go, they don’t let on.
Described by some players as chess on ice, curling is about strategy and anticipating your opponent’s next move. But as we’ve learned from experience, we can also tell you it’s much more physically demanding than it looks on TV.
It seems like a simple enough concept at first glance — almost like bowling or shuffleboard, throwing an object down a lane, trying to get it in just the right spot.
The catch? You’re on ice, you’ve got a slider on one of your shoes making things even more slippery, you’re trying to balance in a somewhat unnatural position while controlling a 42-pound rock that needs to be thrown just right in order to curl around the other rocks in play and get to the desired destination.
Like many others, I got sucked in by curling while watching the U.S. men’s team take home the gold medal at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018. I can’t explain the appeal, but I found myself mesmerized. It’s the sport I was most looking forward to watching in the 2022 Olympics, and it’s such a unique game that naturally I jumped at the opportunity to learn it for myself.
I’ve never been described as a graceful person, and I have no hopes of ever being referred to as such. Hand-eye coordination and balance have never been my forte, and the only sport I’ve ever excelled at is running.
Because I know myself and my physical abilities fairly well — and that the number of times I fall on the ice each winter is likely much higher than most other people’s — I didn’t expect to be a master curler on my first try, but I also didn’t expect to be nearly face planting on the ice with every attempt.
Even after I got a feel for the steps I needed to go through before throwing each rock by making sure my feet were in the right position, staying upright while I was sliding and trying to turn the rock the way I needed took much more concentration than my brain could muster in those moments.
After at least half a dozen tries, I didn’t quite get a stone to make it all the way down to the house at the other end of the ice sheet, and I lost my balance on just about every throw. While I was admittedly pretty sore the next day, I still had a lot of fun trying out curling and I think I would actually enjoy trying to improve at the sport.
Unlike many others, or just like them, I grew up close enough to Canada to have easy access to Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on television — no need to adjust the rabbit ears. That being said, at a young age I remember being fascinated the first time I discovered curling, watching someone yelling at two people sweeping ice to make a stone land in a bull’s-eye.
At the time I had no idea what curling was, how it was played or what was actually happening. There was no Google to look up curling. You either had to go to the library or hope your parents had not canceled their encyclopedia subscription before they got to C.
Fast forward a few years and walking into the clubhouse Wednesday, Feb. 9, I had a general understanding of curling. John Raboin, certified instructor and club member, oversaw the lesson with help from his son J.J. Raboin, who demonstrated the proper form and provided tips.
We started with the basic rules of the game, and within 15 minutes we were standing in front of the ice — the fun part.
To help with the delivery — the throw — you are given a “slider” to put under your lead foot, especially useful when throwing.
Like a hot knife through butter is the best way I can describe how slick they make you on ice. And as we all can attest to, ice is not soft, but the instructors started slowly to give you time to learn how to move with the slider on.
Next comes the actual throwing. This is where you begin to understand the skill it takes to put everything together without falling on your face and pushing a 42-pound granite rock down the ice.
After a few throws, you then learn how to sweep the ice and how it helps with a shot’s speed and placement.
Though sore the next day, all in all, curling was fun to learn and to play. Despite falling a few times, by the end of the lesson I felt as though I was understanding what to do and when to do it. I look forward to going again with family and friends to share in some fun and some laughs.
What is curling?
Men’s and women’s team curling consists of two teams of four members who play 10 periods, which are called ends. Each team member throws two rocks in every end, with the teams alternating.
Teams score points by sliding 42-pound granite stones down the ice to the “house” at the other end.
The house looks like a giant target, and the players’ goal is to get more of their own rocks closer to the house’s center, which is called the button, than the other team.
Only one team can score in each end, scoring one point for every rock that is closer to the button than the other team’s closest rock. The team with the most points at the end of 10 ends wins.
By rotating the rock before throwing it, players can “curl” it, making it curve around other rocks.
With each throw, two members of the team act as sweepers, using special brooms to sweep the ice. This action reduces the friction on the ice, helps the stone travel farther and allows players to control the amount of curl.
Curling in Brainerd
Brainerd’s curling club dates back to 2006, when members would get together and play at Essentia Health Sports Center, not an official curling arena but having ice nonetheless.
The physical Brainerd Lakes Curling Club was built in 2012 at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds. The club has gained popularity since then and is now home to various leagues and host to tournaments — or bonspiels — throughout the year.
While Walker and Alexandria have arena clubs using hockey rinks, Brainerd boasts the only facility dedicated solely to curling in central Minnesota, with the next closest two in Grand Rapids and Bemidji.
The central location attracts teams from all over the state for bonspiels.
“We’re still a young club, but we’ve still been growing every year,” Club President Alex Tiffany said. “... It’s a growing sport for sure. There’s new facilities being built all over the country, even in southern states and out west — the nontraditional curling areas.”
Curling has garnered more interest since the 2018 Olympics, and Tiffany said he has heard from people recently, too, who want to try out the sport since this year’s Olympic Games started.
A learn to curl event is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club for those 12 and older. The cost is $10, and those interested can register online at bit.ly/Learn2Curl . All curling club guests must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination upon entering.
Tiffany said he hopes to host another learn to curl event in March, and the club typically facilitates a longer four-week session in the fall.
For more information on the club, visit brainerdcurling.org/ .
When and where to watch
U.S. men’s curling
Saturday, Feb. 12, at 7:05 p.m. against Canada: CNBC, Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.
Sunday, Feb. 13, at 12:05 a.m. against China: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 2 p.m. on USA.
Monday, Feb. 14, at 7:05 p.m. against Switzerland: CNBC, Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.
Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 6:05 a.m. against Italy: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 4 p.m. on CNBC.
Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7:05 p.m. against Denmark: CNBC, Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.
Semifinals: Thursday, Feb. 17, at 6:05 a.m., teams TBD: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 1 p.m. on USA, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on CNBC.
Bronze medal match: Friday, Feb. 18, at 12:05 a.m., teams TBD: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. 12:30 a.m. on USA, replay at 10:30 a.m. on USA.
Gold medal match: Saturday, Feb. 19, at 12:05 a.m., teams TBD: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 12:30 p.m. on USA.
U.S. women’s curling
Sunday, Feb. 13, at 12:05 a.m. against Sweden: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.
Sunday, Feb. 13, at 7:05 p.m. against South Korea: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 2 a.m. Monday on USA.
Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 12:05 a.m. against Switzerland: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 1:30 p.m. on USA.
Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 7:05 p.m. against Canada: CNBC, Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.
Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 6:05 a.m. against Japan: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 4 p.m. on CNBC.
Semifinals: Friday, Feb. 18, at 6:05 a.m., teams TBD: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 1 p.m. on USA, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on CNBC.
Bronze medal match: Saturday, Feb. 19, at 6:05 a.m., teams TBD: Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app. Replay at 4 p.m. on USA.
Gold medal match: Saturday, Feb. 19, at 7:05 p.m., teams TBD: CNBC, Peacock, nbcolympics.com, NBC Sports app.