- By Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
On a patch of land that gets scorched brown during the grueling Texas summers, Anita and Dennis Dunn dreamed of ice.
More specifically, they dreamed of building an empire dedicated to the ice-laden sport of curling.
“Curling is great sport because men and women can compete equally, and there’s not a lot of equipment,” Dennis Dunn said. “You can do it all year ’round, it’s relatively safe, and it’s great for kids. If I had young kids, where would I want to be in August? Out on the football field or the soccer field where it’s 105, or in an ice skating rink where it’s 55?”
Permitting issues with the city of Sunset Valley, where the land is located, have stymied the Dunn’s seven-year quest to build a dedicated curling facility on their property, but late last year, they opened a curling-friendly bar there called the Barn where curling memorabilia adorns the walls and curling takes priority on the TV. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the sign out front that reads “Keep Curling Weird.”
“Everybody asks about the sign,” said Dennis Dunn, who also co-founded Austin’s Lone Star Curling Club in 2006. “It fits in with the whole Austin thing. It’s a little wacky but just the right amount of wacky.”
In recent years, curling — which is frequently described as “shuffleboard on ice” — has gained popularity thanks to its visibility during the Olympic Games (and, in part, thanks to the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team’s penchant for flashy pants). But while curling always gets a boost during the Olympics, the Dunns think Austin has potential to be a major launching pad for the sport.
“If we have a dedicated ice facility here, I could see someone on Olympic curling coming from the Austin area in the near future,” said Dennis Dunn, adding that his hope is to open a facility within the next two years. The Dunns will keep their bar in Sunset Valley but are preparing to approach the city of Austin with new plans for the curling facility.
In the meantime, members of the Lone Star Curling Club meet at 9 a.m. every Sunday at Chaparral Ice, squeezing in practice time between the hockey games and figure skating competitions that also fill the schedule there.
On a recent Sunday, more than two dozen people gathered, including two members of the newly formed UT Curling Club (Dennis Dunn, who is also a University of Texas professor, is a sponsor) and two high school students.
So how does curling work, exactly?
To curl, one person launches a 40-pound stone across the ice while sweepers with brooms that look like Swiffer mops vigorously work the ice in front of the stone to help create the ideal path toward the target. The four-person team that accumulates the highest score during a game wins.
“When you deliver the stone, it’s about having enough balance that you’re staying upright on the ice and getting the rock down the ice,” said Buck Krawczyk, president of the Lone Star Curling Club. Then there’s sweeping, “which can be very vigorous; it gets your heart rate up and it’s a good cardio workout. Those are the two main parts of the sport.”
During a recent practice, Krawczyk guided Vandegrift High School student Nihal Kyasa, 14, through his first time on the ice, offering support and guidance as he learned to carefully release the stone. Kyasa said he received some surprised reactions from friends at school when he first mentioned curling.
“We said we want to get four people so we can have our own team,” said Kyasa, “and everybody thought we were joking.”
From behind the window at Chaparral Ice, Kyasa’s parents, Santosh and Kalpana Kyasa, shot videos of their son’s performance.
Do they think they have a future Olympian on their hands?
“We’ll know after this first trial,” said mom Kalpana Kyasa, who had never watched curling before. “Let’s hope so.”
Coach Krawczyk, too, was optimistic.
“Once they felt a little comfortable with their balance, they were throwing rocks down the ice,” Krawczyk said. “Within 30 minutes, we had them curling.”
Krawczyk, who is also helping to coordinate weekly Learn to Curl sessions at Chaparral Ice during the month of February, added that attention to curling in pop culture only helps the sport.
“The Norwegians have a reputation for their wild outfits, and apparently they will be just as wild in this Olympics,” Krawczyk said. “But it’s all good for the sport. I think it grows the visibility of the sport and gets more people interested in coming out and trying it.”
The educational component is a big part of what drew the Dunns to curling.
“Both of us being teachers, we appreciate anything we can do for kids to give them opportunities, something different,” said Dennis Dunn. “Maybe they’re not academically inclined, but they could be pretty athletic, and it’ll keep them motivated and interested.”
And while the Dunns love the home base they have at Chaparral Ice, they’re also excited about what having dedicated curling ice could do for the city.
“There are so many opportunities to grow the sport here in Austin,” Anita Dunn said. “It’s not just about the Olympics. It’s about the heart of the sport itself and keeping it alive, bringing all this young blood in and getting kids interested. I’m really excited about that.”