For a sport about which many people seem to be clueless regarding the rules and the objective, curling is sure surging in popularity in Central Oregon.
The Bend Park & Recreation District curling league is completely full this winter with 32 teams and seven on a waiting list. Still, novices who want to try curling can register for a beginners clinic, which will be staged the first Friday of each month at The Pavilion ice rink in Bend. Cost of the clinic is $30.
While curling — a Winter Olympic sport — might seem to some like simply shuffleboard on ice, to the initiated it is more like chess on ice.
“The nuances get pretty intense,” says Tom Pietrowski, co-founder of the Bend Curling Club. “There are strategies you employ based on the opposition, ice conditions and where you are in the game. It’s a mental game and a finesse game when dealing with the stone. Most people have to learn how to dial it back.”
For those getting ready to try curling for the first time, learning about the gear and the rules might be the best place to start.
In curling, teams of four attempt to slide and keep as many stones as possible within concentric circles about 150 feet away across the ice. The granite stones include plastic handles and weigh about 40 pounds.
Two teammates act as “sweepers,” scrubbing the ice with brushes to either make the stone go farther or straighter. A fourth team member, the “skip,” yells directions to the sweepers. The team that finishes with the most stones closest to the center of the circles wins.
Participants can wear rubber grippers on the soles of their shoes for traction that allows them to walk on the ice.
Most of the gear is provided at The Pavilion by the park district. Aside from the first-Friday clinics, curling is offered the other three Friday mornings each month for those with some experience. And the BCC hosts curling on Saturday nights from 9:30 to 11:30 at The Pavilion.
Beginner curlers can use delivery aids — including a plastic device to support themselves with their nonthrowing hand — that help them with balance as they get into a low crouch to deliver the stone. A delivery stick allows players with hip or back problems to slide the stone from a stand-up position.
“It’s a very adaptive sport in that all age groups can play it,” Pietrowski says. “Hip, back and ankle flexibility are necessary to get into a good delivery position, which is a low crouch. I would recommend people work on the flexibility of their joints through stretching. It’s not a strength-based sport. You don’t pick up the stone. It’s more flexibility and aerobic when you sweep.”
He adds that the 15-second bursts required for sweeping are actually much more of a workout than observers might assume.
“People are surprised how cardio sweeping is,” Pietrowski says. “But you’re breathing hard and huffing and puffing. I’ll start out in a winter jacket, and by the time I’m in the throes of curling, I’m in a base layer. It is more aerobic than you think.”
Current Bend Curling Club president Jason Burge agrees that stretching is important for curlers, who can be amazed how much walking they do as they go back and forth across the ice.
“If you’re getting a little old and rickety … a lot of times it’s pretty cold outside,” Burge says with a laugh. “It’s good to do some stretches. Some people feel invincible, but the next day they might be pretty sore.”
Aside from the physical requirements of the sport, curling is built around camaraderie, etiquette and — for adult players — beer. For those reasons, enthusiasts say it is an ideal fit for Bend.
“It gets competitive, but it’s a game steeped in etiquette and tradition,” Pietrowski says. “You would rather celebrate an opponent’s great shot than take them out in an incorrect way. The winning team always buys the losing team the first pint of beer.”
Curling was invented in Scotland in the 16th century and then brought to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to USA Curling.
Pietrowski got involved in curling in his native Wisconsin in 2003, before moving to Bend in 2005. He helped form the BCC last year and was its first president. Burge, the current president, got started in curling right here in Bend just a couple of years ago when the Bend park district first offered it at The Pavilion.
“I was always a big fan of watching it in the Olympics,” Burge says. “When I heard they were going to offer it in town, I went to the first meeting and went to every single practice. I learned because of the offerings from The Pavilion and the Bend Curling Club. Before that, I had never stepped on the ice.”
Burge, 40, says his experience is a prime example of how the lifelong sport of curling can be taken up at any age.
“It’s not too late to learn, and it is something you can pick up at a later age and become pretty good at it,” he adds.
The BCC has more than 50 members and is always open to more, according to Pietrowski, who notes that most members are willing to teach newcomers the nuances of the sport. Members range in age from 35 to 75, and most are between 40 and 55, he says.
Pietrowski estimates that the club has introduced 300 to 400 new players to curling in Central Oregon, and that interest this year will only increase with the 2018 Winter Olympics set for February in South Korea.
Long-term goals of the BCC include more dedicated ice time for curling and the creation of a youth program, according to Burge.
“Tom put in a lot of work to really make this thing a reality,” Burge says. “I’m just trying to really grow the club. I think there’s some real traction in town, in seeing curling boom. We’re trying to get people excited and to spread the word. Let’s just keep building that enthusiasm and excitement. Bend has the right recipe to see curling really catching on.” •