Curling: The Best Sport You Know Absolutely Nothing About

Insults, Brooms and Bruises Build Character

By Pilar Melendez

After two miserable attempts at chasing a large granite stone that ended in painful collisions with the ice, I realized that curling is a very serious endeavor that looks deceptively goofy from afar. Jiri Candara, my instructor, gracefully uses one professional curling teflon shoe to skate by me as I fall for the third time, laughing at my inability to not only curl, but “to even have enough balance to stand.” I just want to trip him with my stick.

Photo by Daniel Kopatsch

Curling became a competitive professional sport in the Czech Republic only after the fall of communism in 1989. Photo courtesy of Daniel Kopatsch

To the untrained eye, curling appears to be an icy alternative to shuffleboard between two teams armed with large stones and broomsticks. I thought it would be a fun, simple and quirky pastime to try out in Prague. A sport that allows Olympians like Kristie Moore, a Canadian curling Olympian that was five months pregnant at the 2010 Winter Olympics, to compete couldn’t be that hard right? I was deluded.

Curling became a competitive professional sport in the Czech Republic only after the fall of communism in 1989. Today, there are only 450 professional curlers compared to the 500,000 ice hockey players in the country. I figured with the sport’s relative obscurity, not much planning would be required. It would be like going bowling. Wrong again.

Arriving at the Curling Promo Club in Prague 4 after two cabs and 15 minutes of panic, my four friends and I were quickly escorted out by the manager. We didn’t realize we had to make an appointment via email at least a week prior. We were also told to please “wear curling appropriate clothing. Trendy clothing does not belong on the ice.”Black chelsea winter boots and jeans didn’t cut it.

Overwhelmed by the hasty exit and long ride home, I made the appointment by email this time, requesting a reservation for five. Almost immediately I received a response accepting my request, along with a host of requirements my group would have to follow in order to be accepted inside the club.

1. Wear sports shoes. NO trendy shoes.

2. Wear sport clothing. NO trendy clothing.

3. Be on time. Many people want to use the sheet of ice you are reserving.

4. You will be accompanied by an instructor, Jiri. Please be respectful of Jiri as he knows how to curl and you do not.

5. Have fun!

Photo by Clive Mason.

To play, each team must “curl” eight 42-pound granite stones toward a target at the other end of the ice. Photo courtesy of Clive Mason.

Determined to follow these rules, my friends and I returned to the Curling Promo Club dressed in running shoes, sport leggings and baggy sweaters, our best interpretation of curling sport attire. We were immediately greeted at the door by our instructor, the aforementioned Jiri, a 28-year-old economics student. Jiri, who insisted we call him George, had recently tried out for the Czech Olympic curling team and was not successful. Naturally, this meant that he had to push us to be the best curlers we could be, and in less than two hours.

After examining the bottoms of our sport shoes, Jiri scraped every last piece of dirt from our soles with a small brush and pick. Then he let us onto the ice. I fell immediately. When I finally got up, Jiri explained the purpose of the game. In curling, teams are generally made up of four people, but to Jiri’s dismay we showed up with five.

“The sport requires an intense sense of balance, strategy, and endurance that my friends and I could not grasp.”

To play, each team must “curl,” or rotate and push eight 42-pound granite stones toward a target at the other end of the ice. With confidence, Jiri told us that while we would not be successful in getting the stones to the center of the target, also known as the “house,” whichever team had the most stones closest to the house would win. Using a broom, each player must “sweep” the ice, which warms the pathway and allows the stone to travel further. These brooms, which resemble a window car-cleaning squeegee, require great strength and a quick pace, two talents I was not blessed with as Jiri made sure to note throughout the lesson. Once all the stones have been curled, the round is complete and points are added up so that the team with the most points wins that round. Each professional game lasts about ten rounds, or roughly three hours.

Through various drills, a slew of insultsfrom Jiri and one full game, I learned the science of curling. “You’re being stupid,” was Jiri’s constantly refrain whenever I would run too slow, laugh or take too long between turns. The sport requires an intense sense of balance, strategy, and endurance that my friends and I could not grasp. This resulted in many collisions onto the ice and various run-ins with the brooms, stones, and each other.

Caught in the act of curling. Photo by Pilar Melendez

Caught in the act of curling. Photo by Pilar Melendez

After two grueling hours, my body was as bruised as if I had been in a boxing match. Jiri claimed that this was normal for any beginner, and after 12 years of experience, he still feels the pain from curling. He also made it clear to point out that we were the worst group of curlers he had ever seen. He attributed our immense lack of curling knowledge to the obscurity of the sport. He also believes that curling is a sport designed specifically for “athletic intellectuals.” In other words, he thought we were both clumsy and moronic. Jiri’s sentiments toward the United States might not have helped our cause: He said that all Americans do is “sit around eating cheese.”

As our session was ending, a crowd of 12-year-olds barged into the rink with their proper curling attire, Jiri made sure to mention that we should stick with more American sports like football and baseball. With a whole new perspective of ourselves and the sport we used to watch mockingly, my friends and I discovered that curling highlights the personality of the Czech people we have met thus far: quiet, intense, and hilariously enjoyable. Except Jiri.

The Curling Promo Club is located at Komarkova 12, Praha 4 Roztyly. Please make an email appointment at least three days in advance at info@curlingpromo.cz or call at +420 234 710 370. There are instructors in English if needed.

Pilar Melendez is in the NYU College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2016. Her hometown is Miami, Florida.

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Categories: Spring 2014 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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