I'm not letting you skip to the random thoughts today. I mean...this is curling we're talking about.
As promised, here is a well-detailed account of yesterday's "Learn to Curl" session hosted by the Triangle Curling Club. The event took place at the home of all TCC events, the Factory Ice House in Wake Forest. (It's 33m08s away from my apartment, by the way.) I got there kind of early - I didn't want to be late for this. I had no idea how many people would show up for this thing - it could be anywhere from 3 or 4 to over 20. Well, it ended up being over 20. That isn't a bad thing, though - they had plenty of "experienced" curlers available for group instruction. But first, a guy with a strong Canadian accent gave brief introduction to curling, the TCC, and an overview of how the session was going to work. Then, we each picked a broom, and went out onto the ice.
(Just a warning - my writing isn't going to flow very well. Think of it as a little kid excitedly telling his parents about something without stopping to breathe.)
They split us up semi-randomly into five groups of 4-to-6 people, and we each got our own couple of instructors. Lucky me, I happened to draw the club president! Wahoo! I think that gave my group an advantage. So...how does one teach one how to curl? Well, the first thing to learn is balance, considering that curling is played on ice and all. Learning the proper release mechanic and maintaining your balance is the most important thing here. The release is basically a four-step process. 1) Crouch down with your right foot (or left foot if left-handed) on the left (right) step of the "hack" (the footrest you start from), and your opposite foot sliding freely. 2) Move forward slightly, sliding your opposite foot. 3) Step up, then move back, keeping the stone on the ice. (They didn't give us a stone at first - it was important to get the mechanic and the balance down first.) 4) Push off your right (left) foot, and...weeee! Simple enough, right? Well...there are a lot of other things to remember, particularly when you incorporate a stone into the release. Clean off the bottom of the stone first. Aim for where the skip is pointing at the other end. Give the stone the proper turn. (You're supposed to give every stone a rotation, either "in" or "out" - the stone will rotate on its own if you don't, so you might as well control the rotation. The rotation makes the stone "curl" as it moves down the ice.) Don't support yourself with the stone, because you're going to eventually let go on it. Put your weight and balance on your opposite foot. Stay low when you release - it's an easier balance and a shorter trip to the ice if you fall. Release the stone as soon as possible for the most power (unlike the people on television who get much more power off of their release and can afford to slow down and wait to release). Don't slide on your right (left) knee - it'll hurt after a while if you do; instead slide on your opposite foot. Again...simple enough, right? Well, after some more practice in with some actual stone throwing, it didn't quite seem second-nature, but I still didn't have to think as hard and could actually concentrate on things like, you know, power and accuracy. (One quick note - although you can slide on a regular shoe, it's much better to slide using a super-slippery slip-on that you put on your opposite foot's shoe. They had some makeshift ones you strap on. They're really slippery. I don't recommend trying to walk in them, although the people you see on television don't seem to have a problem. But they're a lot more experienced than I am. Not that I fell or anything. Actually, I didn't...at least not with the slippy thing on. More on that later.)
There's one more thing aspect of curling that I haven't mentioned yet - the sweeping. Sweeping should seem pretty simple, right? Well, it would be if this game wasn't played on ice. The trick is to get a moving start with the stone - start a few feet ahead of the thrower, start moving forward as soon as they release. Then let the stone catch up, walking forward steadily (no sudden movements), and sweep away at the direction of either the thrower or the skip. If the stone passes you by, don't worry about it - if you try to speed up, you might fall; besides, if the stone is moving fast, it probably doesn't need any sweeping anyway. Thanks to the sweeping, everybody is involved on every shot - the thrower, the two sweepers, and the guy who provides the aim. The "aim provider" is usually the skip, except when the skip is throwing; then someone else does it. The skip also helps with sweeping towards the end, and they can sweep the other team's rocks once they pass the center of the target. Sweeping is a lot of fun, and it's quite a workout too. See - curling is exercise!
Now that we have the fundamentals down, let's play a quick three-end game against one of the other groups, shall we? Our group was fortunate enough to have exactly four people in it, considering that there are typically four people on a curling team. We semi-randomly chose the "throwing order", and for the first end, I was the "skip", meaning I pointed to where I wanted the throwers to aim (and spin) the stones. No sweeping, unfortunately - in that regard, being the skip isn't a whole lot of fun, but at least you get to "call the game". There wasn't much strategy involved here - we were just trying to get a stone in the target area. Unfortunately, none of our throws did - they were either short, long, or wide. My throws both ended up going straight through the target. Even with the sweeping, it's really hard to get a feel for how hard you need to release off the hack and release the stone. The other team (who won the "coin toss" and had last rock for the first end) scored one in the first end (one stone in the target) for an early 1-0 lead, but we had last rock in the next end. (In a professional match, having last rock and only getting one point is bad - you're better off "blanking the end" and carrying last rock over to the next end. But in a game like this, every point is good.)
In the second end, I went first. I forget what the other team's first throw did, but my first throw was the throw of the match. I almost threw it right to the center (the "button"), but it was almost completely inside the inner circle (the "four-foot"). Who's the man? (Yeah, it was luck - but still. I had the aim right and everything.) So the end of the match pretty much went like this - they tried to knock my awesome shot out, while we tried to put up guards. My second throw was an attempt at a guard, but I left it short of the "hog line" (the line all stones must reach) so it was taken out of play. Oh well - we got a couple of guards up later, and my stone was never taken out. And on the last throw of the end, the skip put another one in the target, giving us a score of two, and a 2-1 lead going into the last end.
For the last end, the other team had last rock, and I was the second thrower. I don't have quite as accurate a recollection of how this end transpired, but my throws were both quite unspectacular - the aim was off, the turn was too much, and I threw them too hard. But that's okay - I already got my super-duper throw in. But this end, the other team made a good throw too (even if it was lucky). We had a stone hovering between the four-foot and the eight-foot(thrown by the first, I think), and they had one just outside of that. Well, the other team managed to knock their existing stone inside of ours, and keep the new stone in the target area (but further from center than ours). Boo! We tried as we might to get theirs out, but no dice. And this is when I fell down, sweeping one of our rocks. I expected the rock to be thrown much harder than it was, so I got off to a fast start, but then I tried to slow down...and, ouch. Fortunately, I'm not sore today. Now, back to the game. The other team had an outside chance of scoring three on the last rock if they knocked ours out and kept theirs in (coupled with their second stone that was further from center than ours), but they didn't execute - I mean, for people like us, any throw is a tough throw to make. But they still ended up scoring one, ending the game in a 2-2 tie. But I feel like we won - I mean, we only had last rock once, and they had it twice. Had this been a real match, we would have gone to an "overtime" end with us having last rock, which would give us the advantage, but we ran out of time.
Then, we went back off the ice and the club president talked about the club and the events that they do. They currently have a league going on right now. They will have more stuff going on in the Spring, and that's when I think I'm gonig to jump in on the action. I probably won't do a league since I spend so many weekends out of town, but one can be a "sub" and play every in the league every once in a while, so I might do that. Or if they decide just to do pickup games, I'll do that. Good stuff.
Now, a couple of other thoughts. I'd like to make a correction to something I said in my August recollection of the Summer Mini-Bonspiel. I said that they spray the ice with water droplets to make the ice surface rough so that the sweeping actually does something. WRONG - the frozen-on-contact droplets actually make the stones travel further by decreasing the surface area contact between the stone and the ice, and thus decreasing the friction. Also, the droplets allow the stones to curl. If we went out there and played on zamboni-fresh ice, the stones wouldn't go as far, and they wouldn't curl. As for the sweeping, I don't think the sweeping has anything to do with the droplets; instead, it creates a thin film of water that is more slippery, and allows the stones to travel further with less friction. In addition, sweeping cuts down on how much the stones turn. So, now that we have that straight, let me also say that it was pretty cold in there. I'm glad I wore pants and a jacket. Oh, and one more thing - even though we lost the coin toss, we got to choose which color we wanted to be - red or yellow. Wahoo! Our team chose red because one of the people in my group was wearing a Red Sox sweatshirt (ugh).
Sometimes, I wish I was born and raised in Canada. It's way cooler than Florida.
Today's random thoughts:
1) I've said this already, but I'd just like to elaborate that the new traffic guy (Robert Hill, I think his name is) on 102.9 FM in the morning is awful and needs to go. I'm glad I only have to hear him when I'm already at work and don't need a traffic report. He would probably make a good regular DJ with all of his useless buzz words and inappropriate word emphasis, but he's the worst traffic guy I've ever heard, and I say that with no exaggeration. I think he deserves a promotion - he should be the new morning show host on another station.
2) This is a random thought in which I would actually like to know the actual scientific answer. What makes leaves turn color in the Fall? How they know when to change color - rapidly decreasing sunlight, or temperature? And why do the leaves on mountainsides change colors at different times?