Curling basics

What you need to know to start playing

By Emma WoolleyEmma Woolley


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Curling seems simple. Players slide rocks across a sheet of ice, working in teams to finish with their rocks closest to the button (centre target). But choosing where to aim the rocks and controlling their paths requires team-wide finesse, communication, and the ability to adjust strategy on a situation-by-situation basis – never mind the workout players get. Soreness aside, curling is a fun, social, and rewarding sport that can easily be played on a frozen cottage lake.

How curling works

Two teams of four players each compete, with each team sliding eight rocks (two per player). A typical game consists of eight rounds (called “ends”) and lasts about two hours. Teams receive one point per rock that is within the house and closer to the button than the nearest of the opposing team’s. Rocks that don’t slide past the hog line are disqualified from play.

Each end starts with one player from each team (these first players are called the “leads”) alternating throws, followed by the seconds, then the thirds (more commonly known as “vice-skips”). The last players (known as “skips”) study how the rocks have moved and re-evaluate strategy to finish with a higher score. When each end has been completed, the higher-scoring team throws first in the next end.

Players sweep to reduce the friction between the rock and the ice, which helps to control the rock’s movement. Knowing when and how to sweep is key: Sweeping early increases the rock’s speed and allows it to travel farther and straighter, which helps get a rock close its target. Players also sweep to clear the ice of debris that may slow down the rock. Beware: This is much harder than it looks.

What you’ll need

1. Ice

Lake ice will probably never be perfect, but even if frozen smooth, ice requires maintenance and resurfacing to be suitable for skating and sliding. Read our guide to learn how to keep your rink in top shape.

You can also paint your own curling rings on the ice.

2. Curling rocks and brooms

A typical rock is smooth granite, and weighs between 38 and 44 ponds (17 and 20 kg). But for the cottage, why not get creative? For example, one cottager we know made his rocks out of coffee cans.

For sweeping, using a long-handled household broom will work, though not as well as curling brush.

3. Shoes

For smooth sliding, you can attached a step- or slip-on Teflon slider to a running shoe. An even simpler solution is covering the sole of one show with black electrical tape.

For the non-sliding shoe, which you use to push yourself along the ice, the Canadian Curling Association recommends investing in a gripper that is placed over the shoe.

If you choose to wear street shoes on the ice, be extra cautious to avoid any nasty falls.

More information from the Canadian Curling Association

This article was originally published on November 2, 2010

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Emma Woolley