Ice, rocks, slippery shoes and a sweeper thing.

Little known fact: Curling is a sport.

An Olympic one.

Another little known fact: I have curled. Once.

Not so little known fact: I am not an Olympian.

And I have no idea what these people are doing.

But curling is a part of my life. Well, at least it is once a year.

Because husband and I have on our life schedule, you know, the one that we all keep with the holidays and birthdays and big events penciled in, a weekend titled “Curling Extravaganza.” And it is a weekend that hasn’t been missed for a good four to five years.

See, my sister in-law married a Canadian, a great man who grew up in the friendly, neighboring country to the north. And if you were ever wondering how people up in the north country keep themselves entertained during the winter months without mountains to ski down, I have two words that I believe to be quite accurate considering my experience and close proximity to Canadians and their fine country:

Ice Slabs.

And up here in North Dakota we are practically Canadians anyway (and proud to display the maple leaf flag) so the art of ice hockey and curling has trickled down a bit to the U.S.–well at least a few miles anyway.

And so with the merging of our fine families, curling entered my life.

But before I go any further, I suppose I better attempt to describe to you, if you aren’t already enlightened, what curling actually involves. And because there is nobody around to help coach me through it, you will have to hear it in my own words. Ok.

Curling is:

  • One ice slab, painted with red and blue lines and circles
  • Sixteen (8 to each team) red and blue 42 lb rocks or “stones” made out of solid, polished granite.

Two teams of four decked out in thermal type clothing and something I like to call a slippery shoe  holding a broom-sweeper looking thing. I suggested helmets, but apparently that isn’t part of the dress code.

The sweeper thing...

The slippery shoe. Typically worn on the right or left foot. Shown here on the shoulder. Although I didn't ask, I am assuming that is where they put it when not in use...or just to confuse people like me

The team...no helmets.

  • Some hollering

    Yes, it is a spectator sport...

  • Lots of  laughing and quite a bit of beer

Beer, mixed drinks...whatever. That's what cup holders are for.

Ok, got it?

So you take all of the above ingredients and combine them to get to the object of the game, which appears to me to be a bit like shuffleboard on ice, although I have no idea how to play shuffleboard either.

But the point is that each team takes turns sliding the rocks across the slab of ice to land them as close as they can to the “house,” which is somewhere in the blue and red target on either end of the slab.

They use the broom looking thing to sweep the space in front of the rock in order to melt the bumpy ice and keep the rock moving where they prefer the rock go.

And they want to rock to go to the center of the target. Because that’s how you accumulate points–the team with the rocks resting closest to the center of the target at the conclusion of the round, or “end,” gets points (how many points is something I have yet to figure out).

An “end” is completed when each team is finished throwing their rocks.

And the team with the most points at the conclusion of the game wins.

They tell me there are eight or ten ends in each game…but maybe there are more…

They tell me it’s easy.

I tell them I’ll be at the bar.

Yeah, there's a bar at the curling club...

Anyway, I am confused just trying to briefly explain the logistics to you, so I can’t imagine that you have continued reading….

But if you’re still with me and feel like you might really want to learn how to play, I’ll give you my father-in-law’s phone number and he will be more than happy to explain. Just make sure you have a good three to eight hours to spare. Or you can click here to learn more than I will ever know about the great sport.

But there is one thing I do know: A curling tournament is called a bonspiel. And that is where we were this weekend. At a bonspiel where spirited northerners gather to curl–Canadians, North Dakotans, young, old, men, women, experts, athletically challenged and everyone in between. Some of the teams that attend have been together for years and traveled to enough bonspiels together to justify purchasing matching shirts. Some teams only curl together once a year. Some teams consist of relatives and best friends. Some relatives are friendly rivals because there is no way they can exist on the same team. But all teams compete with one thing in mind–the love of the strategy and friendly competition and camaraderie.

And that’s my favorite part about the sport. Because even at its highest level, this attitude prevails.

So here is where I share with you one more little known fact: The USA Curling National Championships were held in my college town of Grand Forks, ND in 2004 and I was asked to sing the National Anthem. I did and I am pretty sure it aired on like ESPN 24 and that is as close to famous as I’ll ever come.

Anyway, that was also my first experience with the sport. As a public relations student at the time of the tournament we took the bonspiel on as part of a professional PR project. I remember asking the competitors at this insanely successful level, what was so special about curling, and every competitor, young and old,  replied: “it’s the people.”

An action shot of one of my favorite people...my sister-in-law...

And that is my favorite part about the sport–it just doesn’t matter who you are because at the end of the day all the competitors really want to do is get together, get out of the house and laugh over beer and friendly competition.

They don’t care if you just rolled in off of the ranch in your dorky boots and wool cap. They are so friendly and make it look so easy that you actually believe this is a sport you could be good at. And they convince you to put on the slippery shoe and grab a broom thing and give it a try.

A bin of sweeper things...

So you do. And you fling that 42 lb rock across the ice slab sending it off into the wild blue yonder or over into the other lane while you try to gain your balance on the ice that you didn’t believe to be so slippery just a moment ago. And so you do it again, with coaching from both teams, concentrating so hard on staying standing that you have no idea what the score is or how many “ends” you’ve played or why you chose to wear these ridiculous snow boots today or who is on your team and why is everyone walking towards the door and shaking hands leaving you standing on the far side of the slab yelling “Hey guys, is it over? Hheeeyyya gguuuyyyyaaasss!’

And when you finally make it to the other end of the rink (rink, is it called a rink?) they hand you beer to take the edge off while they tell you that you have just curled (for your first time ever) against the World Junior Champions and assisted your new-found team in losing so bad they decided to quit early.

Then you laugh and go upstairs and a have a few more beers in preparation to redeem yourself at a couple of sports you actually know something about.

Karaoke.

And dancing.

I never fail to kill them with the dancing.

That may or may not have happened to someone I know at some point in time.

Thanks for another successful curling extravaganza Williston Basin Curling Club.

Until next year, I’ll be on the frozen dam out back practicing with my broom and prairie rock, preparing to blow those Junior World American Canadian Champions of the Universe curlers out of the frozen water.

I guess I better get shoveling.