Is Curling the new Pickleball?Dec 22, 2022 03:12PM ● By Cloie Sandlin
Curling is a moderately intense sport that continues to gain popularity. Though the U.S. is hardly new to curling, the men’s gold medal win at the 2018 Winter Olympics caught the attention of Americans young and old. It’s fame carried into the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and has exploded into clubs of curling enthusiasts in countries and cities across the world.
Deb Menger first saw the game demonstrated in the 1988 Olympics, even though it didn’t become an official Olympic sport until a decade later.
“I was a big fan. I watched and studied the game, but I didn’t learn how to play it until I took my first Learn to Curl class in Telluride when I was 60,” said Deb, 68.
Now the retired school librarian streams Canadian curling every weekend and plays in the leagues she spearheads at River City Sportplex in Grand Junction. She also teaches the rink’s Learn to Curl classes, hoping to entice as many people as possible to start playing.
Play the game
Traditional curling is played with two four-player teams taking turns sliding heavy granite stones towards a circular target at each end of the play area. Points are scored based on where the stones land in proximity to the target, called the “house.” After eight rounds (called “ends”), the team with the most points wins.
Unlike skating or hockey, curling isn’t played on smooth ice—or skates. The surface has little bumps made from frozen water droplets (a technique called “pebbling”), which reduces friction and creates a microlayer of water when the stone runs across it.
To keep from slipping on the ice, players wear rubber slippers over their regular footwear, or may invest in curling shoes. Other than wearing adequately warm, loose-fitting clothing, no special attire is required!
Once the stone is delivered out of the hack—a foothold players use to push off from—two sweepers follow the stone down the ice, using a “broom” to warm up the ice to help the stone travel farther and straighter toward the house.
“The strategy behind this game is amazing,” said Deb. “There is some physical activity but it’s not hard on the body and you’re not running, which makes it great for everybody, especially seniors.”
Curling was introduced locally when the new owners took over the former Glacier Ice Arena and opened River City in October 2021. Deb was the driving force behind bringing the sport to Grand Junction, volunteering her time to get the leagues up and running and teaching the rules of the game to interested curlers and staff.
“The timing was perfect because of the Olympics. There was a lot more focus on curling because the U.S. team was pretty good,” said Dave Ash, who joined the first curling league in January 2022 with his wife Connie.
They’ve played in every league since. Between curling and hockey, Dave is at the rink two or three times a week.
“It’s part of my wellness plan,” the 61-year-old Michigan native said.
Lynn and Dan Ashton are also veterans of the local league. Neither of them had curled prior to taking Deb’s class, but they’ve come a long way since. Just a few weeks ago, their team beat Deb’s in the bonspiel—the fall league’s championship game.
“Every time you get out there, you improve your skill just a little,” said Lynn, 65. “We’re all learning at the same time and it’s fun to watch everyone’s technique.”
Chess on ice
Some people say that curling is like shuffleboard, only bigger and on ice. Others say it’s like chess because of the mental precision and concentration involved.
Teams must work together and constantly re-evaluate their strategy depending on the playability of the ice, as it can change from week to week. Plus, the local rink isn’t a dedicated curling lane since it’s used for hockey, too.
Since the goal is to get the stone as close to the house as possible, teams can push their competitors’ stones out of the way or set up a screen of stones to protect one of their own that’s already in the house.
Throwing the stone is another important aspect of game strategy. When Olympic curlers prepare to launch a stone, they get low to the ground and push off the hack.
“It’s challenging for me to improve my performance coming out of the hack,” said Lynn. “Sometimes you have to kind of make up for it by putting more weight behind the stone, which means you lose some of your control.”
Deb learned to throw a stone the traditional way, but she switched to using a stick when the arthritis in her ankle started acting up. While stick curling isn’t approved for the Olympics, it’s an alternative delivery method for players who have trouble squatting down or standing back up. A stick can even be used by players in wheelchairs.
Curling is easy to learn. Lynn said that after a couple of Learn to Curl classes, players will be ready to sign up for the league.
“You will not embarrass yourself no matter your skill level and nobody’s going to give you a hard time. We help each other,” she said.
The sport is contactless, said Tim Menger, 71, so generally, you don’t have to worry about other players throwing you off balance.
“It’s easier for an older person to do than say, pickleball,” said Deb. “To me, pickleball is hard on the knees and ankles.”
The new pickleball?
While curling can be just as fun, Dave doesn’t think it will take off like pickleball.
For one, play time is limited as the rink is shared with several other sports, classes and leagues, not to mention the time it takes to prepare the ice before each game.
Although the rink supplies the equipment, curling gear is also fairly expensive. But if you’re looking for personal gear like curling shoes, you can find used pairs online pretty cheaply.
In the local league’s short history, Deb realized that the winter league is usually the most in demand because as the weather turns colder, more people are looking for ways to stay active indoors.
For many players, the sport is a family affair. Deb and Tim’s son and daughter-in-law play in the league, and 71-year-old Jim Hennings serves as an alternate when his daughter or someone in her family of four can’t play. Lynn and Dan hope that their daughter and family will sign up for the winter league which starts January 22.
“There’s no barrier between ages or generations when you all have a common interest,” said Dave. “How many other sports are like that?”
Learn to Curl classes
For just $15, see how fun curling can be in this interactive class at River City Sportplex, 2515 Riverside Pkwy. in Grand Junction. Learn the rules, put them into practice and even play a few ends, then sign up for the league!
• January 8 from 5-7 p.m.
• January 15 from 5-7 p.m.
Winter league begins January 22
The winter league plays Sundays from 5-7 p.m. with the bonspiel (championship) on March 12. Cost is $125.
To learn more or to sign up for the league, call Menger at 970-931-2242 or email Lisa Larson at [email protected]