Teams glided down the lane, eyeing the slightest of slopes in the ice, barking at each other to sweep harder or let up, steering the sliding granite. Their voices echoed off the overhang at Prospect Park’s outdoor rink on a recent Sunday night as eight teams played simultaneously.
They were curling — a winter Olympic sport with its own lingo, and one that often fascinates and amuses viewers in equal measure. It looks simple: slide a stone across ice and sweep in front of it as it glides. “It’s like Canadian shuffleboard,” someone said.
But the sport — and anyone who has tried running after the stone on the slippery ice, sweeping intensely ahead of it knows it is indeed a sport — is as challenging as it is fun. And unlike more popular Olympic sports such as speed skating, bobsledding, and snowboarding, it’s fairly accessible to anyone living in or near New York City.
“It’s a very social sport, it’s a very inclusive sport,” said Dean Roth, co-founder of CurlNYC. “Anybody can curl.”
Curling began in the 16th century in Scotland, and was played on frozen ponds and lochs, according to the International Olympic Committee. It debuted at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in France, but was dropped before being brought back as an exhibition sport in 1932 in Lake Placid. It was finally revived for competition in 1998 at the Nagano games, according to the IOC.
Roth started CurlNYC after seeing a demand for the sport after the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. In November 2014 (the same year as the Sochi games), the club founded the Prospect Park program with a two-hour league on Wednesday nights. By the end of December, they had expanded to four hours on both Wednesday and Sunday nights, he said.
Roth said there are currently more than 100 people in the club. And Roth said he’s been working with the Kingsbridge Armory, a planned Bronx ice skating complex, that could potentially handle 2,000 curlers.
A typical match begins by first spraying the ice with warm water, a process called pebbling, which creates more traction for the players and more air flow for the stone to slide down on. Beginners wear grippers on their feet, which makes it slightly easier to traverse the ice. In a typical two-hour game, players walk about three miles sweeping vigorously in 20 second intervals.
At the end of a friendly match, all players participate in “broomstacking,” where the winning team buys the first round of drinks.
Amber Will, 28, originally from Wisconsin, moved to Hell’s Kitchen in September and almost immediately got involved in teaching curling and league play in Brooklyn.
“It’s an opportunity to meet people — it’s a very social sport, but it’s a very collegial sport,” said Will, who curled in high school. “I’m a very competitive person by myself, but curling is fun because even when you lose, at the end you’re like ‘good curling, good curling,’ and then you go drink together.”
When people first try the sport, Roth said, they’re surprised at how physically demanding it can be. The learning curve is steep, he said, but first-timers pick it up quickly.
“They say ‘oh cool, it’s that silly sport with the rocks and the brooms. Why do they sweep?’ and “oh yeah, I could do that,’” he said. “Really, if you boil it down, if you look at the Winter Olympics . . . curling is the only one you watch on TV and say ‘I could do that.’ And the answer is yes you can, but it’s a lot harder than you think.”
A crowd gathered around the rink in Bryant Park on a recent weekend, allowing passersby to try their hand at throwing a stone, one of several events at the rink that CurlNYC has held in anticipation of the 2018 Olympic Games. An announcement before the session told parkgoers to go try the “mysterious Olympic sport.”
Upper West Side resident Rachele Wilen, 25, surprised her husband Jon Wilen, 27, with a trip to the park to try the sport.
“We have to figure this out,” she said. “It’s like the least intuitive sport . . . every other sport in the Olympics you’ve done or you could do, but this is something that no one really knows how to do. It’s sort of a funny sport.”
NYU student Katie Donaway, 19, said her roommate told her about the free curling and she couldn’t wait to try it.
“It always seemed pretty interesting to watch,” she said. “I’m hoping it goes well.”