The Sport of Curling and Flatout
Flatout talks to a very talented food blogger and editor, David Dial of Spiced, about the sport curling, an ice sport that’s gaining popularity in the states.
Curling season is right around the corner, and regular player David tells us everything we need to know about this fascinating game, which, as he describes, is easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master. Curling is a convivial sport that entails a lot of skill and teamwork, but at the end of the games, there’s always time for refreshments. Fortunately for us, David loves flatbread and has shared several of his favorite pre- and post-game recipes. If you’ve ever been curious about this ancient sport, read on!
Q: What got you intereseted in curling, and when?
My wife and I just randomly stopped by an open house event a couple of years ago. We’d seen the club, but we never thought we’d be able to play…until we went to that open house! We learned a bit about the game, and then we got to go out on the ice and throw a few stones. That’s all it took as we were both hooked on the sport from the first day!
Q: Tell us about the history of curling, and how it came to the US.
Curling has actually been around for hundreds of years. The sport first originated in Scotland in the mid-1500’s, and the World Curling Federation is still based in Scotland. In these early years, curling was a sport where competitors would throw stones over a frozen pond. As such, it was (and still is) primarily a winter sport. Over the years, the technology of the sport improved, and stones evolved from river rocks to granite. Similarly, the playing surface has improved too: a curling ‘sheet’ (playing lane) went from a frozen pond outdoors to a well-maintained sheet of ice indoors.
Curling first arrived in North America via Canada. By 1830, curling began making its way south across the border into the U.S. There are now several hundred curling clubs throughout the U.S. While most clubs are located in the northern Midwest and New England, curling has been gaining popularity in recent years throughout the southern states.
In short, a curling team is comprised of 4 members, and each teammate is responsible for throwing 2 stones per end. A game consists of 8 ends (or rounds). The objective is for your team’s stones to be the closest stones to the center of the circular target located on the opposite end of the sheet of ice. One member of the team stands at the far side of the ice and calls the shot. One member of the team throws the stone. The remaining two members of the team sweep the stone using ‘brooms’ in an effort to influence the path of the stone.
Curling is an easy sport to learn, but a difficult sport to master… and that’s what makes it so much fun!
Q: What are some things we may not know about curling, and what makes the sport unique?
Curling originated in Scotland, and the sport has maintained strong Scottish ties over the years. Before the championship game of a bonspiel (i.e. a tournament), it is customary to have a bagpiper in full Scottish dress lead the players out onto the ice. The players then form a line across the ice where they toast the piper and then their opponents with a shot of Drambuie, a traditional Scottish liqueur.
Q: What kinds of special equipment does a curling player need? What about uniforms?
In order to curl, players aren’t required to have a lot of specialized equipment. In fact, a broom and curling shoes are usually the only requirements, and most clubs have club brooms and step-on shoes for members to borrow. (Of course, many players elect to purchase their own brooms and shoes if they anticipate curling a lot.) Curling shoes are specialized in that one shoe has a smooth nylon bottom which allows the player to slide further on the ice. Stones are obviously required to play the sport as well, but clubs purchase the stones for use at their facility. Uniforms are certainly not required, although many teams (especially teams that play together a lot) elect to get matching team jackets. In general, warm athletic clothing that provides the ability to move easily is the choice for most curlers.
Q: Can curling be played anywhere where there is an ice rink?
Curling can indeed be played wherever there is an ice rink, but the sport does require curling stones. A set of stones is expensive, and clubs purchase these stones for use in their facility. (At 40+ pounds each x 16 stones needed for a game…it’s not exactly possible to bring your own stones to an ice rink.) Many clubs operate at local ice rinks, often sharing the ice with local hockey teams. Other clubs have dedicated ice facilities, which means the ice is only used for curling.
Q: What do you like about your league/curling team?
For me, one of the best things about my curling team and league is the camaraderie. My wife and I moved to upstate New York from Atlanta several years ago, and when we first moved here, we found it diffcult to meet new friends. We found the other members of the Schenectady Curling Club to be very welcoming and friendly, and in fact a number of our close friends are other members of the club. We obviously see them quite often at the club during the winter, but we all hang out regularly during the summer, too.
Q: How would you encourage young players to learn more about curling?
I actually just helped host a middle school community day where 40+ kids came out to learn about curling. It was a great success, and the kids really seemed to enjoy getting to know more about the sport. Most clubs have programs for children, and I would absolutely encourage kids to check it out. I have a young son, and in a few years I plan on taking him to the kid’s program at our club. The same goes for adults who have not played the game! Check and see if there is a club in your area. If so, see if the club has any open houses coming up. Get there and learn about the sport! It truly is a sport that can be played for an entire lifetime. We have kids playing in the children’s league starting at age 6, and we have a number of active members who are in their 80’s.
Q: How long does the average amateur tournament last?
A standard 8-end curling game takes a little over 2 hours to play. Most clubs have leagues that play during the days or evenings, and you can sign up to play as often as you would like. Curling tournaments, called bonspiels, are events consisting of anywhere from 8 teams to 35+ teams. Depending on the format of the tournament, these can last for 1 day up to a week or more. Most amateur bonspiels start on Thursday or Friday and last until Sunday. You don’t have to compete in bonspiels in order to curl, but they are a great chance to meet new people. For us, we regularly get to meet and talk with Canadian teams, and that always leads to interesting conversations! In turn, we also travel to Canada to participate in bonspiels up there.
Q: How do you prepare for games?
Preparing for games is pretty easy actually. Depending on what time the game is, I’ll eat a light meal like a wrap or a sandwich. (Both these Southwestern Veggie Wraps and these Thai Peanut Wraps make great pre-game meals!) Aside from that, I make sure to stretch before going out on the ice. Oh, and I make sure to drink a lot of water. It might be cold out there on the ice, but you get quite hot once you start sweeping!
Q: I’ve heard that curling displays a lot of sportsmanship, and that the winners buy the drinks. But what are some of your favorite pre- and postgame recipes?
Curling is indeed a sport that displays a lot of sportsmanship. Teams shake hands with their opponents prior to a game and wish them ‘good curling.’ Curlers also do not show excessive emotion if they make a shot or if their opponent misses a shot. Following a game, it is customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks at the club bar. Tables in the ‘warm room’ have 8 chairs…one for each player in the game. Following a game, players will sit and chat with their opponents. This friendly atmosphere is definitely one of the more unique aspects of curling. (After all, you don’t see many sports on tv where opponents wish each other good luck and then voluntarily socialize with them after the game!)
As far as recipes, I try to eat fairly light before a game. After a game, well, it’s no holds barred! 8 guys can get quite hungry after curling, and all sorts of tasty treats often show up at the table following a game. We’ll pretty much eat whatever we can find, and I often like to bring food in to share with the table after a game. I’m planning on bringing a batch of these BBQ Chicken Pinwheels for everyone after our first game this season!