February 20th, 2010

Shaun: Bitzer working

Being a Good Sport: Gotta Have Some Stones

On Friday, I got to try out something new. It's the sport that was described in the Olympic brochure as "a practical joke by drunken Canadians that got out of hand."

I speak, of course, about curling.

This is a sport that appears to be rather goofy. But then you play it and you understand that it's actually got a lot of finesse and strategy even though it is, in fact, rather goofy. I mean, it involves either doing a lunging shove to push a disc of granite or running along ice while sweeping with a broom -- neither of which are natural activities.

Now I don't know the history of this sport, primarily because I'm too lazy even to search Wikipedia, but I would be greatly surprised if the phrase "Goddamn, I'm bored" wasn't involved. I picture someone living next to a frozen lake in Canada, snowed in during winter, walking outside just looking to do something that day. Out of frustration, he kicks a rock with his boot such that it skids out across the ice. It slides to a stop inside a set of concentric rings that his neighbor just happened to have painted on the ice because he was bored too. Standing there, the flow of sporting history about to change, he wonders if he's just broken his toe and whether that'll hurt when his circulation starts up again in the spring.

Thus we got the great sport of curling! It's now a growing international sport and part of the current Olympic games. And it is, in all truthfulness, quite a bit of fun to play.

I got to try it as part of a teambuilding event at work. We all took the middle of Friday to drive out to a local curling club. (Doesn't your city have curling clubs? You must not have a truly world-class city!)

A very nice man named Don helped out my group, giving us basic instructions and going over the rules of the game and the correct form. He was quite patient, knowing that almost none of us had ever even seen curling close-up.

To understand just how patient Don was, think about the fact that he's been playing with this local club for about five years. They've got a nice place with all the equipment you need, including a big pile of ice-treating gizmos and little wall-mounted Kleenex holders because even noses of professional curlers will run if you move from a warm clubhouse out into an ice rink.

Into this world of chummy sportsmanship comes a group of forty computer engineers. This passel of geeks will then begin trying to do things like run across ice waving brooms without seriously injuring themselves or breaking equipment or causing the staff to hemorrhage themselves laughing.

The thing was, we were keen. I was really willing to give this a try because, unlike most other sports, this one was inherently goofy. I like things that are inherently goofy and I've long ago abandoned any self respect. (Insert your own furry or fursuiter joke here.)

Our team managed to win Don over by actually being interested in the game and willing to give it a solid try. We spent about an hour learning the skills, including the all-important delivery of the stone. You put a rubber gripping sole on one shoe and use that to brace and push yourself off with. Under your other foot you put a sliding pad made of genuine friction-free teflon. To push (or "deliver") the stones (or "stones"), you end up sliding along balanced on one foot, so half your body's in a deep knee bend while your pushing leg trails behind like a rudder.

While I won't say that my group of coworkers has reached Olympic caliber status yet, I will say that we did actually manage to deliver stones consistently to the other end of the ice. Sometimes they'd even stop inside the rings (or "house") so that one team could score actual points. I will also say that, despite my misconceptions as an observer, it's easy to get the stone moving too fast. Once you impart momentum to a huge block of granite, it likes to keep moving.

If it needs to go further, it can be sped along by your teammates' sweeping. Conversely, your teammates' ankles can slow it down. (Not technically allowed in the rules or recommended by medical authorities. Always consult your physician before embarking on a personal curling regimen.)

I was also surprised to find that I have a knack for curling! Out of the eight of us playing on our lane (or "sheet"), I was able to get the hang of delivery after just a little practice. I also fell over onto the ice the fewest times.

So I'm definitely going to have to consider a career as a world-class curler. I would begin training right away but evidently this club charges member fees (or "real money"). Just means that I'll have to work out the sponsorships deals beforehand in order to cover club fees. No problem.

I recommend you all give curling a try! To help you out, here's some handy curling "tips":

  • The target painted at the far end of the sheet is the "house". I'm pretty sure no one lives there, though.
  • The "stones" are granite and weigh 42 pounds. Do not pick them up if you value your toes.
  • When "delivering" a stone, you twist the handle a bit as you release it. This rotation (or "spin") causes the stone to curve (or "curl"), hence the sport's name: "veer". I mean "curl".
  • Scoring is like bocce ball. Another fine sport that involves less ice, less club fees, but less Olympic opportunities.
  • There's something called a "hog line" and I'm pretty sure it's unrelated to the clubhouse lunch buffet.
  • Shoving (or "tossing") all your stones and your opponents' stones down to the other side represents one round (or "end"). Shoving all the stones into your opponents directly represents bad sportmanship (or "prickishness").
  • Curlers have already heard all the jokes. Don't try to impress Don with bad jokes. Just offer him a beer, remember to watch the line of your delivery, and try to keep your right toe pointed this time. And have fun.