Stones, brooms and brews: It’s easy to fall in love with curling

Start with elements of bowling, darts and shuffleboard. Toss in some baseball vernacular, like slider, skip and hammer. Retrieve brooms from your grandma’s closet. Conclude with one of golf’s great contributions, the boozy 19th hole. 

 “We like to say,” Karrie Gottschild of the Chicago Curling Club based in Northbrook, Ill., offered, “that we’re a drinking club with a curling problem.” 

 Curling enthusiasts call it “the roaring game” for the rumbling sound the 44-pound stone makes as it slides across the pebbled sheet of ice. And curling is roaring into these Olympics, billing itself as the world’s fastest-growing winter sport. Reports have China building 500 new ice rinks. 

 To capitalize, Olympic officials have added an event — Mixed Doubles. A brother-sister team (Becca and Mike Hamilton) from McFarland, Wis., qualified for the United States. 

 It’s not just a family sport. It’s an everyone sport. 

 Gottschild has curled with both tweens and octogenarians. 

 Young, old, short, tall, male, female … we all know how to sweep. 

 Curling has its own language. At a recent gathering of first-time curlers in Northbrook, Gottschild spoke of the sport’s uniqueness. 

 “What we’re doing,” she said, “is a little odd and ridiculous.” 

 The sport’s appeal is obvious, both to viewers and participants. 

 Chicago Curling Club member Tom Slepicka recalled flipping channels during an Olympics and becoming mesmerized by what saw. 

 “It’s 2 a.m. and then the next thing you know, it’s 4 a.m.,” he said. 

 But you know what’s even more fun than watching curling? Curling itself. 

 The only equipment a first-time curler needs is a pair of tennis shoes. Gloves are optional. 

 Not optional: humility. A game starts by shaking your opponent’s hand and wishing luck by saying: “Good curling.” 

 Borderline optional is a thirst for post-game entertainment. Winning team buys the first round. 

 “For a really long time,” said CBC Olympics correspondent Devin Heroux, “the appeal was that you could smoke a cigarette and drink beer while you played. And if you were not doing it during, you were certainly doing it after.” 

 The Scots invented the game in the 16th century, and the granite for the Olympic-caliber stones comes from Alisa Craig, a 220-acre island off the coast of Scotland. A full set of 16 “rocks” that’s needed for a four-player game can cost $4,000. 

 Canada dominates the sport, with both its men’s and women’s teams taking gold in 2014. 

 Heroux grew up in Saskatchewan, a province north of Montana that he calls the “heartland of curling. All across the small towns are rinks ranging from one curling sheet in an aluminum barn to 4-6 sheets. This has been my life for a very long time. Either you played hockey or you curled.” 

 Heroux’s version of good, clean Canadian fun is live-tweeting curling (@Devin_Heroux). He is determined to document (or at least witness) every throw during every curling event in Pyeongchang for all 17 days. 

 “It is one of the most strategic sports you will ever come across,” he said. “The analytics have come to a point where there is like a ‘Moneyball’ of curling.” 

 Advocates call it “chess on ice” for the multiple-shots ahead strategy at the highest levels that involve blocking opponents’ stones and curling shots around them by releasing them with a turning rotation. 

 For beginners, it’s more like putt-putt. 

 In a team of four, one player wearing a slider shoe pushes out from a hack, gliding along the ice. After that player releases the stone toward the “house” 150 feet away (don’t call it a bulls-eye), two teammates shuffle alongside with brooms, sweeping in a ‘W’ motion. 

 The sweeping warms the ice and reduces friction, adding perhaps 15 feet to a “light” throw. Meanwhile the skip, the team captain, barks out orders to the sweepers. 

 The teams rotate throws, and the last shot on each end is called the hammer. The player might try to score points with a “draw” or opt for a “takeout.” 

 Points are awarded to the team with the stone(s) closest to the center of the house. This goes on for multiple innings, which are called “ends.” 

 “The pros make it look silly easy,” Gottschild said. “They’re thinking about 1,000 things. For first-timers, it’s like your first golf round of the year.” 

 Low expectations. Clear mind. 

 “It’s bowling-ish,” said Barbie Reakes of McHenry Country. “But it’s harder.” 

 It’s also a great time, actually. And it’s not BYOB — both booze (at a cost) and brooms are provided by the club. 

 “It’s more fun than I thought it would be,” said Mika Talwar, a competitive skier from California who was on the crew team at DePaul. 

 Do you have the curling terminology down? 

 “Not at all,” she replied with a laugh.

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