Winging It! Buffalo Style, Buffalo.com clash in curling - VIDEO
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 22, 2013 @ 12:10pm
Before you dismiss Niagara Falls Curling Club as an obscure sports complex just over the Canadian border, keep in mind that the curling center has produced a U.S. Curling National Champion as recently as 2011. Patti Lank, a member of the NFCC, combined with MacKenzie Lank, Caitlin Moraldo (Rochester) and Jessica Schultz won the national tournament in North Dakota before representing the U.S. in Denmark.
When Buffalo.com and Winging It! Buffalo Style converged on the Niagara Falls Curling Club, however, our sights weren’t set on international glory. In fact, we simply wanted to understand the rules, learn the terminology and try our hand at the respected Canadian sport that’s finding a foothold stateside.
Club manager Duane Smith (wearing red in photos) was gracious enough to lead us slowly and thoroughly through the concept of curling, which, as we quickly learned, is much more difficult than it looks. It’s a sport that involves teamwork, precision, finesse, balance and focus—it’s not merely shoving a rock into the middle of a bulls-eye.
As you can see from the video above, both teams were definitely amateurs—you’ll appreciate a few of the spills (mostly by Winging It!, cough)—but there were bright moments.
Team Buffalo.com took an early lead by placing the rock only a few feet from the center of the target, but—with the “hammer” or final throw—CW Star Matt and sweeper Allie Hartwick were clutch in knocking our rock out of the middle: impressive defense.
Like most sports, the easiest way to learn curling is not by browsing Wikipedia—be adventurous by learning something new and correcting mistakes.
As a far too vague explanation, the curler enters the ice with a rubber bottom to their strong foot—let’s assume you’re right footed—known as the “gripper.” On the weaker foot is the slider, which is quite slippery and allows you to glide smoothly along the ice.
To throw the stone, the curler crouches in a position not unlike a sprinter at the starting line, gripping the handle of the stone with the right hand and holding the sweeping broom as balance on the left.
The curler then accelerates from the starting block, releasing the stone straight down the lane (or at a specified target) at the peak of momentum. There’s very little “pushing” of the rock—more of a gentle release.
Two sweepers stand opposite of one another, vigorously scraping the ice in front of the moving rock after it’s released by the curler. The skip—a fourth teammate—stands at the opposite end by the house (the bulls-eye target), yelling directions to teammates and serving as a captain.
Each curler on the four person team throws two rocks, while the non-throwers either broom or skip alternately.
Thanks to Smith, we picked up some helpful tips that will propel you from “total novice” to “prepared beginner”:
1) The initial acceleration out of the starting stance is crucial—you want to accelerate powerfully without losing your balance. Smith compared it to riding a bike—the quicker you push off, the easier it is to maintain your balance.
2) Be wary of the slider on your left foot. The anti-gripper is very slippery, and it’s the chief reason many curlers lose their balance. The slightest move of the slider could throw off your equilibrium and result in your flopping onto your side instead of calming releasing the stone toward the house.
3) Make sure you release the stone at the peak of your momentum—the minute you push the stone, even if it’s with relatively little force, there’s a strong chance it’ll sail past the house and cascade into the far wall. Remember: release, don’t push.
4) Sweeping footwork isn’t easy. It’s pretty unnatural side-stepping for the sweepers, who must stay in front of the spinning rock and scrub the ice vigorously to enhance speed. Since the stone is 40+ pounds, the sweepers are only determining the straight-line speed of the rock—not necessarily having a major impact on its direction (mostly controlled by the curler’s handle spin upon release.).
The split in the NFCC’s membership is still heavily weighted towards Canadians, as roughly 85% hails from north of the border. In terms of rentals, however, Smith noted that 3/4s come from the Buffalo and Amherst area—citing that Americans are intrigued by the popularity of the sport (and get tired of bowling, too).
The club makes fine use of social media in posting open rental times to its Facebook page, and a full rental calendar can be found here. In addition, a slew of co-ed leagues on weekday evenings add even more of a competitive edge. Costs are $17.50 per person for two hours of curling, and more pricing details, including membership, can be found here.
Larger tournaments, called “bonspiels,” are held regularly, and in between games, there’s a bar upstairs. Just don’t over-indulge until afterward, because balance and focus are crucial.