The first thing you should know about the sport of curling is that it’s harder than it looks.
It’s awkward and clumsy trying to imitate the graceful lunge and slide of a curler.
The polished granite stone is surprisingly heavy – 42 pounds – so don’t be embarrassed if it only reaches halfway down the ice your first couple of throws.
And you actually work up a sweat sweeping with that broom.
Such is the first curling experience of this well-intentioned but misguided reporter, who wondered what all the buzz was about at the RiverWorks Event Center on Ganson Street, where the Buffalo Curling Club offered “Learn to Curl” sessions throughout the weekend.
Nearly 400 people signed up for the two-hour sessions that run through today, an introduction to a sport that’s so popular with our neighbors to the north but still destined to take on a larger presence in the Buffalo region.
The inaugural Buffalo Curling Club Bonspiel – that means tournament – will be held Friday and Saturday, along with additional lessons for newcomers.
A fall league is also planned at RiverWorks, which will serve as the new home of the Buffalo Curling Club, said Danielle Buchbinder, club president.
“It’s harder than it looks,” Buchbinder said. “The people you see on TV make it look easy because they’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Buchbinder offers some advice to the novices.
“It’s all for fun,” she said, “and the more you like something, the more you want to do it and the better you get.”
The lessons on Saturday were offered on five narrow playing surfaces designed on an ice rink used for the recent Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament, nestled near the General Mills plant.
“Has anyone ever curled before?” said Mike Molenda of Alden, one of the curling instructors.
A few people raise their hands.
“We’re going to jump right in,” Molenda said.
The game has two teams of four players who take turns sliding the stones, or “rocks,” down the ice into four concentric circles.
Each player throws two stones. Points are awarded for the stones closest to the center circle. When both sides have thrown all their stones, it’s called an “end.” Games are comprised of eight to ten ends, just as innings are to baseball.
Molenda takes a knee to the ice. He grips a stone with one hand and the stabilizing bar with the other. He places his back foot in a foothold to push off and lunge forward. He slides along the ice and releases the stone, which glides smoothly toward the other end.
“Who wants to try?” Molenda asked.
It’s the scribe’s turn.
Molenda offers a couple tips, but the attempt is botched and the stone barely reaches halfway down the sheet.
Teammates Bill and Karen Youngs of Orchard Park – curling for only their second time on Saturday – are there to provide an encouraging word.
“It’s kind of humbling when you first start,” acknowledged Bill Youngs. “It looks easier than it is – definitely.”
The curlers grab their brooms.
Molenda glides a stone down the ice and teaches the curlers how to sweep in front of it.
“The object of the sweeping is to keep the ice clean in front of the stone,” Molenda said. It also prevents the stone from curling and carries it farther down the ice.
He reminds the curlers that touching the stone with a broom is an infraction that needs to be confessed. Curling, after all, is an honorable game.
“I’m into it,” said a red-faced Kathy Youngs, who has been sweeping so hard she decides to take off her winter coat. “I’m having fun.”
Molenda goes over technique, scoring and a few other rules before the curlers are divided into teams and something resembling a game breaks out.
“There is a lot of strategy involved,” Molenda said. “Some people like to call it chess on ice – but we’re here for fun.
“It’s great exercise, and pretty much if you can walk, you can curl,” said Molenda, who got the curling bug after watching the sport during the winter Olympics several years ago. “It’s something to do in the winter, too – and, boy, we need a lot of that around here.”
Peter and Jennifer Fay of Depew were among the curlers.
Peter has been curling for years, and would frequently drive up to Niagara Falls, Ont., to play the sport indoors. More recently, he plays about three times a year.
“I didn’t know what to expect today, which is part of the reason I came,” Fay said Saturday, “and I’ve always wanted to curl outside, which is pretty neat.”
Bonnie Besmanoff of Amherst signed up to curl, too, and brought along Cindy Chase, Dee Dee Fisher and Shirley Murray.
Besmanoff enjoys sports and thought curling would be less taxing. “People have been known to curl into their 80s and 90s,” she said.
“It’s a riot,” added Fisher. “I’m terrible, but it’s a riot. It’s nothing like I’ve ever done before.”
Chase has been wanting to try curling for sometime and is having some success on Saturday using a delivery stick to push the stones down the ice – like in shuffleboard – as opposed to getting down and sliding out of the foothold. She hands the stick over to this reporter for a try.
I fit the stick onto the stone and give it a good push down to the circles at the other end of the ice.
The other curlers cheer.