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Curling expert Nate Clark takes to the ice. Photo by Rebecca Fishow.




Ready to give curling a try? 
New Hampshire has a small community of curling enthusiasts who curl on competitive teams and at non-competitive meetups. The Nashua Country Club offers lessons and club teams for its members and even hosts the Granite State Bonspiel (a curling competition). For more information, visit mvcurling.com.




Curling, demystified
A first attempt at the Olympic sport

01/23/14



 When Nate Clark, a Nashua resident and former U.S. National Curling Team member, talks to people about curling, about 50 percent of them have heard of the sport, and even they seem a bit confused. 

“They say, ‘Are you the thrower or the sweeper?’ And you just say ‘There’s a rotation. Everyone does both,’” said Clark. “A lot of people seem to think there’s one person who throws all the stones and everyone else just sweeps.” 
The confusion is understandable, since we’re are talking about a sport that seems to pop up magically during the Winter Olympics for a couple weeks, then disappears for another four years. People watch it, become intrigued and try to figure it out before it retreats back into the secret places from which it comes. 
One of those secret places is the Nashua Country Club, which houses a three-lane curling rink for its members. I spoke with Clark there on a sunny Sunday morning before he gave me a lesson. 
The facility was empty and serene as I sat in the lounge area waiting for Clark. A lone curler carefully launched stones across the far left ice curling sheet (that’s what they call the floor where the game is played). Though there wasn’t a lot of commotion at the time, cork boards with postings of league rosters and schedules, rows of spectator benches in front of massive glass windows and an equipped snack bar suggested the place often became very lively. 
Was I nervous about my pending lesson? Not really. At worst, I thought, I would simply be bad at it — maybe slip and fall on the ice or deliver a disastrous stone. But I could live with that. 
Enter Clark, a tall, bearded redhead, ready to teach me a thing or two about a sport often misconceived as being unathletic. 
“A lot of people think they can probably just show up,” he told me. “They think, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be easy. This sport looks dumb.’ You’re going to fall over, and you’re not going to do well.”
Curling has a bit of a learning curve, Clark said. Newcomers tend to struggle with finding their balance when delivering stones, being able to line it up or releasing the stone so it “curls” right (hence the sport’s name).
“If you turn it a little too much, you set the stone off path. You’re shooting this thing a hundred-something feet and you’re trying to hit a spot that’s maybe half an inch wide,” Clark said. 
I couldn’t participate in an actual game, because curling is played between two rinks (teams) of four (players are called the lead, second, vice, and skip) that each throw eight rocks and try to score more points than the other team. But I could at least get a feel for throwing and sweeping. 
Before we hit the ice, Clark put on his curling shoes. One shoe had a slider sole, which was smooth and slippery on the ice. The other had a rubber gripper. A good pair of shoes can go for upward of $250, but beginner pairs are sold for as little as $80. 
Obviously, I didn’t have my own, so Clark pulled out a box of slider soles, which fit over shoes with elastic straps. It’s a temporary curling-ready footwear solution. 
The rink was separated from the lounge by a wall, and when we walked in, things quickly got skating-rink cold. My sweatshirt and winter hat weren’t quite enough to keep me warm. I wore jeans, which was a bad choice too. Sweatpants or stretchy yoga pants would have worked better for flexibility. 
I took a minute to find my balance with one very slippery sole. I imagine I looked a bit like a confused penguin at first. Then Clark showed me the stones lined up to the left of the ice and the hack (starter’s block) in the middle. He demonstrated how to position my feet in the hack, shift my weight back with the stone in one hand and a sliding support in the other, and slide my slider foot forward to propel my body forward in a stretched-out, down-on-one-knee posture. 
“Like this?” I asked a couple of times before reluctantly launching myself into a forward glide down the ice. I released the stone with way more force than necessary. It hit the back wall beyond the scoring area. The second time I gave it a shot, Clark helped me focus on my hand movement for making the stone curl. It involved a wrist motion that felt extremely awkward, but to my surprise Clark said I curled the stone pretty well. 
Clark showed me how to sweep, too. He explained that I should move the brush back and forth across the ice in front of the moving stone while applying as much pressure as possible, in order to remove debris and create friction. If throwing the stone felt awkward, this was worse; I had no real way to judge whether my motions were doing anything at all, and I imagine I’d need a few more lessons to get a sense of that. 
Final verdict: In a lot of ways curling is for everybody. While it requires some athleticism, it’s a lifetime sport played by all ages and physical abilities (there’s even a delivery stick for people who can’t crouch down. Wheelchair curling is popular too!). The sport also requires its fair share of strategy and precision, so it’s great for people who like to get brainy. I left the curling club more interested in the sport than I was when I went in and would love to grab some friends for a more serious lesson. But I also knew that if I attempted to join in on an actual match, my frustration levels would probably peak. 
In short, it was definitely fun, but I didn’t leave feeling the urge to devote all my spare time to the curling gods.  
 
As seen in the January 23, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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