MY CURLING teacher, Lola Bradford, was just a few weeks shy of 16 when we met at Granite Curling Club.
She’s been curling for five years. The high-school sophomore does it because she likes ice — she wore a short-sleeve T-shirt throughout my lesson — and the “spirit” of curling, shaking hands with opponents and getting drinks together afterward. I presume nonalcoholic.
But first things first: We had to clean my shoes.
She sat me down, took my sneakered foot and flicked pebbles out of the rubber soles with a Swiss Army knife. One little pebble can throw a curling stone off course, she said. Also, the people who maintain the ice are very grumpy.
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I inferred I should avoid making them mad. Curlers are serious about their ice. The first rule of the sport is safety. The second is “be nice to the ice,” which means if you fall, get up as quickly as possible to avoid melting the ice more.
Easy enough if you’re an experienced curler. Newbies like me land on our knees and hips rather a lot. Ice, in case you forgot, is hard.
We put some rubber grippers on my shoes to help me walk on the ice, and took along a “glider,” a slick base applied to the bottom of the shoe on the foot you use to throw the 42-pound rocks.
I learned that throwing a rock requires technical skill.
Lola took me through some deep lunges, then had me practice using two hand supports to hold me up when I pushed off from the footholds in the “hack” to glide forward in a deep lunge.
She had me work on balancing in the lunge without putting weight in the handholds so that when I threw a rock, I could let it go smoothly. And not fall over.
The lunge is deep, and you really have to dig in with your legs to get the momentum for a long throw down the ice, known as a sheet. After many rounds practicing getting my front foot in line with my rock and back leg and doing it with momentum, I emerged victorious — albeit with tired legs and a bruised right knee.
Lola also taught me how to slowly spin the rock, curling, essentially, to the right or left.
Curlers learn to control the force with which they release the rock and also send it in a particular direction down the sheet. Lola liked my “line,” or how straight I threw the rock, and we worked on getting the rock to the house, the circular target at the other end of the sheet, where points are earned.
After lots of practice throwing, we moved to sweeping. Sweepers run alongside the rock and furiously brush the ice with brooms, using the friction to clear the path for the rock to move farther down the sheet.
Technically, sweeping is easier; run after the rock and sweep as vigorously as you can until the rock reaches its destination. It’s also where you work the hardest — and as I hopped rocks as I swept, I was mindful of that first rule: safety!
There are a dizzying number of rules, strategies and names for rules and strategies in curling, which is played in teams of four. I couldn’t keep up with Lola’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the game, the roles on the team and strategy.
I was crystal clear, however, when Lola yelled, “Sweep! Sweep!”
Curling is sometimes called shuffleboard on ice. Like Lola, I like ice. I also like shuffleboard. Seems like me and curling are quite the icy match.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.