Who hasn’t watched in anticipation as Olympic athletes scurry across the ice, brooms in hand, desperately trying to push a solid, 42-pound granite stone across the finish line before their competitors do? It’s difficult not to get swept up in this engaging competition, and some people are so enthralled that they choose to attempt curling themselves.
“I got involved in curling after the 2014 Olympics,” said Dustin Devine, president of the Pittsburgh Curling Club. “Like most people, I watched those Olympic athletes and thought it didn’t look so hard and that I should be able to do it.”
After a little research on Google, Devine tried it and quickly learned that it’s harder than it looks. But that didn’t stop him. “Curling is a social game where you get to know people you might not ordinarily meet,” he said. “We have a lot of fun.”
A History of Curling
Curling boasts a centuries’ old history brought to us by the fun-loving Scots. Played on frozen ponds and lochs, the first recorded match happened around 1541 when a Scottish notary recorded a match between a Paisley Abbey monk and a relative of the Abbott. The sport spread to North America with the arrival of Scottish immigrants in the 19th century. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Scotland—the sport’s “mother club”—wrote the first official curling rules in 1838.
This ancient pastime of throwing stones over ice during a frigid Northern European winter continues to be a popular spectator sport that attracts fans and favorable television ratings. It also attracts people like Devine, who enjoy the challenge of learning something new.
A nonprofit, volunteer-run organization, the Pittsburgh Curling Club was established in 2002 to bring the enticing sport to southwestern Pennsylvania. The club recently opened a new curling ice facility minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The facility is ADA-compliant, provides easy access to the ice and includes an elevated warm room for spectators.
It’s more than the competition that keeps Devine involved. “What makes curling great is the inclusivity and accessibility of the sport,” he explained. “At the Pittsburgh Curling Club, we have members ranging in age from their 20s to mid-60s.”
Not everyone looks like an Olympic athlete, either. “Participants don’t necessarily look like they go to the gym,” said Devine. “In fact, some have limited mobility and we also have wheelchair-bound participants.”
Curlers with achy backs, grumpy knees and other mobility issues enjoy the sport with the aid of a delivery stick. Using a delivery stick evens the competition by allowing the curlers to move the rock without the deep bending necessary to touch the rock’s handle.
The Club also offers Wheelchair Curling, which was introduced to the Paralympic Games in 2006. The Pittsburgh Curling Club introduced its program in 2008. Playing on the same ice using the same rocks as non-wheelchair participants, wheelchair curling opens the sport to people with a wide range of ability levels and ages. Played from a stationary position, rocks may be thrown by hand while leaning over the side of the wheelchair or pushed utilizing a delivery stick.
Pittsburgh Curling Club member Jacki Temple was introduced to the sport in 2007. Now in her 16th season, one of her favorite experiences occurred in 2016 when she took a team of women to the arena nationals. “I had nine years of experience at the time but the other three women on the team were relatively new to curling,” she recalled. “When I asked what their objectives were for the competition, they said they wanted to scare all the other competitors with loud and scary uniforms!”
Donning bright orange, yellow and black jackets covered in skulls, these formidable women caused quite a stir at the competition. It was a nail-biter of a game, but they won the bronze medal with the very last shot. “It was crazy and challenging, but it was a moment I’ll never forget!” said Temple.
Bonspiels and Broomstacking
While curling remains a competitive sport, it may be one of the friendliest you’ll ever encounter. Even the tournaments are call bonspiels, which means friendlies. Touches of Scotland abound in the sport of curling.
“Traditionally in tournaments before the final match is played, players are piped onto the course by a bagpiper,” said Devine.
And then there’s the broomstacking tradition. “In the early days of curling, after playing on a frozen loch or pond, players would stack their brooms by the fire then grab a shot of whiskey to warm up,” said Devine. In keeping with tradition, broomstacking continues today, and this social get-together happens after each game. And, as curlers play to win but never to humble their opponents, the custom dictates that the winners buy the losers the first round of drinks.
Want to Try Curling?
The Pittsburgh Curling Club offers classes for the curling-curious. A typical two-hour class consists of the following:
10 minutes of off-ice introduction and instruction
45-60 minutes of on-ice instruction
An hour of instructed game play
And, of course, broomstacking after the game!
For more information on the club, classes and broomstacking, visit https://www.pittsburghcurlingclub.com.