The Icemen Cometh

Curling makes its Santa Fe debut

On Friday, for the first time at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center (3221 W Rodeo Road, 955-4000), participants pushed their feet off hacks and guided 42-pound stones toward a large target called a house, while sweepers frantically brushed in front of the stone to ensure the integrity of its path.

Curling is a bizarre sight for even the most avid American sports fan, and it's an especially strange sight in the American Southwest. But on Friday, the Denver Curling Club visited the Chavez Center to teach Santa Feans about the northern European pastime.

GCCC ice arena manager Tom Miller, who arranged for the Denver club to visit Santa Fe, calls curling a "curiosity" that he hopes will catch on locally.

"At this point, it's just a novelty," he says. "[We'll] see what the interest is, and we'll go from there."

Miller says the Chavez Center will decide by summer 2014 whether there's enough interest for a curling club.
Curling, despite its novelty, is said to be one of the oldest team sports around. Paintings by Pieter Bruegel, a 16th-century Flemish artist, "portrayed an activity similar to curling being played on the frozen ponds," according to the World Curling Federation, which says the Scottish were the first to form curling clubs. They then exported it to cold-climate places like Canada, Sweden, Norway and the US. But not until relatively recently in the sport's history has it been played indoors.

While curling is played on ice, it's not played with skates. First, two teams, each consisting of four players, face off. Each player has two stones, and the purpose of the game is to earn more points than the other team by placing your team's stones closer to the button, or center, of the three-ringed target (called the house), after each round of shooting (called an end). Olympic contests consist of 10 ends. Games typically last up to two hours.

In delivering a stone toward the house, the thrower starts off in a crouched position, with one foot positioned on a "hack," from which they push off. Two sweepers follow the stone as it makes its way toward the house, sweeping the ice surface in front of the stone's path for better speed and less turn. (The sweepers may not touch the stone with their brooms.) The thrower determines the curve of the stone by turning his or her wrist inward or outward—"curling" the stone. Still with me? The three players get direction on strategy from the team captain, the skip, who stands at the opposite end of the ice, in the house. The skip may direct sweepers to brush more vigorously, making for a faster and straighter shot, or less vigorously, for a slower shot more likely to curve in the direction it's curled. The skip may also help the team determine whether to shoot a guard shot—placing the stone in front of the house to make it more difficult for the opposing team. A draw shot is meant to reach the house. A takeout shot is meant to knock the opposing team's stones out of the house. Only stones inside the house count toward a team's points.

"So it's sort of like shuffleboard on ice, with a component of chess," says Tom Whitman, member of the Denver Curling Club.

Whitman, 62, started curling when he was 55 and got hooked on the sport. He says that it's physically exerting, but that he's seen people as young as 5 to as old as 86 play. Curling requires dexterity, balance and hand-eye coordination, he says.

Whitman notes that he thinks "a lot of people see it on TV" and "they wonder what the heck's going on."

But curlers, if nothing else, are known for their sportsmanship.

"Even if you lose a game," he says, "the winner always has to buy the losing team a round of beer. So that's always fun."

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