The Roaring Game: Cuddling Up to Curling
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - They call curling "The Roaring Game" for a reason.
Because that's the sound the stones make as they rumble over the ice on their way to the concentric circles that make up the target.
It's a sound magnified in the cavernous rink at Idaho Ice World on the eastern fringes of Boise, ground zero for anyone wanting to learn how to play the game.
"Let's go right foot on the hack," Jeff Salmans tells a group of eager first-timers.
He's instructor-in-chief for the Boise Curling Club, the go-to man for the finer points of the game.
He stands before a group of about 50 in the lobby area of Ice World and patiently explains what will happen in a few minutes out on the ice.
"We're gonna grab our stone and our stabilizer, give ourselves a slight forward push," he says.
Then from a crouching position, he slowly brings up his hips, like he's about to mold himself into a yoga position.
"Bring it back as far as our hips. Come up. Then up to a handshake to release."
He makes it look so easy, but it's clearly not as those gathered in a semi-circle try to replicate Salmans' stance.
That's just for starters.
Then we have to master how to give the stone a spin, or "curl."
Salmans says the speed of the curl is make-or-break.
"The faster the stone gets spinning, the less it bites into the ice and curls," he says.
Tracey Kowalewski knows this full well, because she's on her second go-round with curling.
"It's actually harder than it looks," she says.
"Did you fall?," I ask about her first time.
"Yeah, I did."
But she's back for more, along with her daughter who's visiting from college.
"The silicon they put under your sliding foot is very slippery," she warns me.
She's referring to the small patch of slippery material that goes under whichever foot isn't positioned on the hack, a kind of launching pad that aids in the push-off.
"Every sport has a shoe, an official shoe," says Tracey. "But we just get to stand on a slider. They tell you to put all your weight on this silicon sliding thingie and you slide."
Or you try to.
Curling Club president Jared Belsher adds some crucial information for us first-timers.
"If you're not properly balanced on your delivery foot that's underneath your chest," he says, "you're gonna end up forward or sideways."
I quickly realize veterans like Belsher make it look easy for a reason: they've had lots of practice.
Coordinating all these odd moves is very much like trying to write with your non-dominant hand. It feels other-worldly and disconcerting.
But Belsher launches himself in one fluid motion and glides silently past, as if to say, "Watch and learn."
Newbie Tracey chimes in: "There's strategy involved. You actually have to have some balance. And you don't just push the rock. You let it go."
But that's just half the battle. There's also the sweeping.
And we practice first with floor mops.
Jeff Salmans demonstrates the strategy involved, by swinging his broom from launch to target.
"If I think the stone's gonna end up here and I want it end up here then I sweep it, and I can get it to come that far."
Basically, the brooms warm the ice by a few degrees in front of the stone, just enough to get it to move a bit farther.
But as I watch the wanna-be curlers, I can see it's easier said than done.
Frankly, players look a little crazy rubbing the brooms furiously in front of the moving stones.
Tracey winces when she says, "I burned a rock tonight. It means I was sweeping and I hit one of the rocks. I got kinda a little too excited."
But that's the infectious nature of curling, an activity that practically anyone can do.
"I don't have to be 22 years old and in the prime of my life in order to still do it." says instructor Salmans.
And he's right because the assembled group is a motley assortment that includes children and retirees.
There's very little talking on the ice. Instead the concentration is palpable, as is the frustration.
But no one is complaining. And when the session is over, everyone gathers at center ice to shake hands.
"Good curling," they mutter to each other in between big grins.
So maybe there's a motto that applies: People who live in ice houses should throw stones.
Tracey Kowalewski has another point of view.
"It's like a zen thing."
She's hooked, and knows it.