Curling Makes Gains in U.S. Popularity

Recently I asked some of my friends what they thought of curling? As you might expect the answers varied from "my hair looks better straight" to "isn't that the game where they sweep the ice?" While in reality I guess both answers are right, the game of curling is not well understood in the U.S. despite the fact that USA Curling reports it is gaining in popularity. The average American just doesn't know or understand the sport.

Curling Popularity

Curling is traditionally found in countries with colder climates. Of the estimated 1.5 million curlers world-wide, Canadian curlers account for nearly 1.2 million and only four other countries have more than 10,000 curlers. Over the last few years, curling has grown by 53 percent in the United States. In 2002, there were 10,805 American curlers. That number grew to 16,512 in 2011. It is also not limited to those colder states such as Minnesota and North Dakota anymore. Curling Clubs are popping up everywhere, including hot and sunny Arizona. Curling clubs can now be found in 38 of the 50 U.S. states.

The Players

Curling is played with four players on each team and the team is called a rink. The players are known as the lead, second, third (also known as vice-skip) and skip. Each match is made up of 10 ends which are similar to innings in baseball. Each end involves the throwing of 16 stones with each player throwing two stones. However, all players are involved with every shot. The player throwing the stone will follow the direction of another player near the house (That target thing they aim for). The other two players are responsible for sweeping the ice if necessary. Sweeping can clear the ice of frost and aids in keeping the stone on the desired line and increasing momentum.

The Tools

Curling is played with stones and brooms that are specifically made for the game. The stones are made from polished granite and weigh 42 pounds. On the top of the stone is a handle for the curler to hold and use when aiming their shot. The brooms are small and similar to a push-broom.

The Game

Curling is a game of strategy and planning your shots. In a way, you could compare it to golf except the ball is a stone and your club is a broom. You earn a point for every stone you have closer than your opponents to the tee (this is not the same tee you have in golf) in the house. The house is that big target-like circle at the end of the rink and the tee is the center circle.

Now, if this were golf, the tee would be comparable to the cup on the green. Every golfer wants to sink their putt just as every curler wants to get their stone closest to the target. The only difference is in curling, you can also knock your opponent's stones away from the tee. Think of it as the same as golf if you couldn't use a ball marker on the green and were allowed to hit your opponent's ball if it was in the way.

Each stone that is thrown is designed to score, guard another stone, or take out an opponent's stone. At the conclusion of the end, the score is based on how many stones are closer to the tee than any of the opponent's stones. For each stone closer, one point is scored.

Curling is not a difficult sport to understand and once you know the basics, it really is an amazing sport to watch. With the curling season getting started and the 2014 Olympics getting closer, take some time to learn the game and support the athletes or maybe find a local club and give it a try.

Resource: Press Release from USCO

Deborah Braconnier is a former athlete and an avid fan of curling. Growing up as a figure skater, she remembers the first time she saw curler take to the ice with their brooms and rocks and has been a fan ever since. She now works as a freelance writer and brings her love of sports to her writing.

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Updated Saturday, Nov 19, 2011