The Winter Olympics are coming, and you know what that means. It's curling season! You know brooms and ice and -- well, actually, that's about all I knew about curling. And while Stephen Colbert's curling attempts looked amusing, I figured that probably wasn't the best representation.
So I checked in with the Albany Curling Club for a closer look.
Yes. Albany has a curling club.
Albany Curling Club board member Kathy Sipzner says a major part of the appeal of curling is that anyone can do it. There are men's, women's and mixed leagues, and it's an all ages sport. ACC has several members in their early to mid-80s and others as young as 6 years old, as part of the club's youth team, the Albany Little Rockers.
Sipzner says she'd driven by the club for years before finally stopping in on an open house. She's been curling now for three years now and says she's totally in love with it. The social aspect is also a big factor -- after every game, the winners buy the losers a drink. Yes, you heard that right. So even if you lose, you kinda win. In fact, Colbert cracked that curling probably leads to hurling.
So here's how it works -- and no, despite my previously held belief, it doesn't involve skates. Curling is played on an ice rink made up of what are called "sheets." A sheet is 140 feet long by 16 feet wide with a large bulls' eye-like design on either end. The Albany Curling Club's rink features two separate sheets. Unlike hockey ice, the curling ice isn't totally smooth, but rather sort of pebbled.
Each team has four players -- one person serves as the "skip," that's the captain -- deciding the particular strategy for each game. Players each throw two stones (polished pieces of granite) with a colored metal handle weighing between 38 and 44 pounds. The stones, or rocks, used at ACC are 42 pounds.
Two other players serve as the sweepers, using brooms to try to help the stones slide straighter and further. The trick is to get your team's stones closer to the center of the target than the other team's.
Sounds simple, right?
Actually, it involves quite a bit of skill to get the stones to "curl" just right as they slide down the ice. There are actually special curling shoes, which feature a Teflon-like material on one sole and a sort of gripping material on the other, but beginners can just wear sneakers or other similar shoes.
The sport originated in Scotland in the 1500s, and was originally played on a frozen pond or lake. Apparently historians have found some of the earliest curling stones there. Oh, and the brooms used today aren't actually household brooms anymore. Instead, they're basically long poles with a slightly abrasive block on one end.
Another fun curling fact: a curling tournament is called a bonspiel, which is a really fun word to say.
The curling season runs from October to March, so it's also a way to enjoy the winter without getting trapped into that seasonal affective stuff so many of us Northeasterners wind up with. Why hibernate when you could curl instead?
This coming weekend, the ACC is hosting the women's curling club national playdowns, in which clubs from all over the northeast -- from Maine to D.C. -- will send their teams to compete for a spot in the Grand National Curling Club's national tournament. GNCC is an association of about 36 curling clubs throughout the northeastern U.S.; ACC also belongs to the USA Curling Association and the U.S. Women's Curling Association.
The ACC, which boasts about 150 members, has been around since 1955, but curling has been going on in the area in some form or another for about 100 years. Supposedly at one point there was even a curling club that played on the lake in Washington Park before disbanding in 1902.
Want to know more? ACC will hold Olympic-themed open house sessions on February 20th and 21st. They'll give tutorials and tips, as well as providing the full rundown on membership fees .
Albany Curling Club
117 W McKown Road
Albany, NY 12203
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