Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Curling we will go...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on January 24th, 2009.

As much as I love sports, I have never been much of an athlete. Anyone who knows or has ever seen me can vouch for that fact.

But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to compete over the years as best I could. As my sons got older, I tried to join them in certain athletic activities. As recently as two years ago I pitched on a slow-pitch softball team, and managed to hold my own. I did decimate a hamstring simply running to first base – but hey, at least I tried.

Lately my attempts to best my two boys have been limited to events such as horseshoes, bocce, and the more-my-speed world of fantasy football. Let the record show I did finish ahead of both of them in one league this year, and for the first time won a championship in a different league. But that doesn’t really count in an athletic or physical skill sense.

Now I am attempting to compete with them in a new and entirely unfamiliar sporting arena. Starting next week, I will be on a team competing against my sons in a sport (?) I never thought I would be playing.

I am now attempting curling. That’s right – curling.

For those who don’t recognize just what curling is, think back to the winter Olympics. Did you see that strange game with people slowly gliding big round rocks down a sheet of ice while others frantically swept in front of the rock like deranged 1950’s housewives? That is curling.

My younger son Nate got into curling while attending college a few years back in Virginia. After watching the Olympics, he and some friends found a curling club in Maryland and decided to give it a try. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and raved about it to his family members.

His older brother Aaron, a newspaper reporter on Cape Cod, covered an event at the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth a short while back. Intrigued by the unusual game and remembering his brother’s stories, he decided it would be a great Christmas gift to sign the three of us up for curling lessons.

You may be thinking it can’t be all that difficult to slide a big rock down a sheet of ice – and you would be right. But curling is a much more skilled and difficult game than it looks like on television, as I quickly found out. Sliding the rock is easy, but getting it to stop where you want is not.

There is much strategy involved in the game, and I am just beginning to understand it all. The captain of each team – called the Skip – calls all the shots and tells his teammates where he wants each rock to land. The first player to throw on each team – called the Lead – is asked to simply get his rocks in the way of the other team. The third thrower (the Vice Skip) takes over when the Skip throws the last rocks and “has the hammer” as he tries to score. You sweep the ice in front of the rock to make it slide further.

Confused? Me too. But I’m slowly learning.

You deliver the 42 pound granite rock by sliding down the ice and gently releasing it as you gracefully glide. My first attempt ended with me face first on the cold surface. My sons were hardly perfect in their early attempts, but they did catch on much more quickly than their competitive Dad.

There is a definite code of conduct amongst curlers, and a lot of etiquette rules. My fellow curlers are of all ages, although a large percentage of the club members are my age or older. This may have something to do with the fact the average age of a Cape Cod resident appears to be 98 or so, but age is not a big factor in curling. It is much more a game of skill than endurance.

My first match in league play will be Tuesday night. I’m practicing my sweeping. My lofty goal is to try and not make a fool of myself. I’m playing Nate’s team. If I fail, I’m sure my sons will let you know.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, a grandfather, and hopefully a curler. If not hospitalized, he can be reached at

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