Good Sports: A 'Brief'History of Curling

By David Volk
For TekBug

Curling may be an ancient Scottish sport, but it's not much fun to play when you think your underwear is showing. That's what happened in January when I hit the ice during an open house at the Granite Curling Club in North Seattle.

Back then, most Americans still thought of curling as competitive sweeping rather than as a sport. To be honest, so did I, until my wife and I gave it a try—and I almost lost my pants.

If you missed the Olympics, curling works this way. Two teams of people who can't play hockey and don't live in a climate warm enough for shuffleboard stand on an ice court and throw stones. They aren't real stones; they're 40-plus pound granite disks with red handles that look like steroid-fattened gray hockey pucks with red tails.

The action starts when one player pushes off from the end of the court and spins (or "curls") the puck down the ice. Once the stone leaves the player's hand, teammates rush in front of the disk trying to warm the ice by sweeping so that the pebbly surface of the court won't cause a deflection. (To me, this seems as effective as using a hairdryer to melt an iceberg, but somehow, people have turned it into a sport.)

Teams score by moving their stone close to the center of the "house," a target painted at the end of the court. The closer to the center, the higher the point value, but the gains don't always last—opponents can take points away by knocking the stone out of the center.

Learning a sport usually means enduring odd-looking skill-building activities. So it goes with curling—except you're wielding a broom on ice while wearing a duct-taped sneaker (to help one foot slide while the other foot pushes). Ladies and gentlemen, we have competitive sweeping andshoe destruction.

Once we got used to the ice, our trainer had us slide, then hold a broom while we skated. (We ended our first set of drills by vacuuming his kitchen—just kidding.) Then we moved to what looked like a racer's starting block at the end of the court and did more drills before we began curling.

That's where the trouble started. My wife wears ski pants for walking or jogging; I don't. I've only skied once and I've never gotten used to them. I don't mind wearing them or walking around in them, but bending over is another matter entirely. Intellectually, I knew I had a pair of thermal underwear covering my briefs, but when I tied my shoes, I still felt like my underwear was showing.

Normally, this would not be a problem, but the rest of the drills involved bending. First we had to kneel, push off and drift. Next, we repeated the process while holding a broom on the ice in front of us. Finally, we tried the stone. As always, my wife's form was flawless because she's a better athlete, she's more coordinated and she effortlessly bends low enough to the ground in ski pants. She told our coach that I couldn't bend low enough because I wasn't flexible. I knew otherwise, but I wasn't about to correct her.

The final exercise involved pushing off while holding the stone on the ice, then using the handle to put a curl on it while pushing forward and releasing. My wife may be athletic, but it took her awhile to master the release. I may have had trouble bending, but I didn't have any problem because I noticed the warm-up and release actions were similar to that of bowling (I've always whomped my wife playing tenpin).

So, when I released the stone, its path was straight and true. Hers was not. (OK, to be fair, her form was perfect while mine would have frightened children.) I would have gloated, but she stole my thunder. As we were leaving, she said, "Did you know your underwear was showing?"