Kristen Conrad flew in from Paris just in time to join her teammates on the ice for the Friday Evening League games at the Charlotte Curling Association’s new facility on Nov. 29.
The coin had been tossed and teams chosen, and players were stretching as she rushed through the glass doors to shouts of “welcome,” big grins and warm hugs.
Conrad has been curling for four years. She said she was hooked right away.
According to the Charlotte Curling website, curling is one of the hottest sports in the Southeast, with five facilities in the Carolinas alone.
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The Charlotte Curling Association will have a grand opening and open house for its new facility 1-4 p.m. Dec. 13.
The 17,000-square-foot building on Old Statesville Road near Metrolina Expo resembles a simple warehouse from the outside. Inside, the open lobby, complete with a bar, overlooks 12,000 square feet of ice.
The ice is divided into four sheets, which can accommodate 32 curlers: eight teams, four members to each team, at the same time. On Nov. 29, 22 people divided into six teams.
Ronda Harlow, a founding board member, said she became interested in curling after watching the 2010 Olympics with her husband, Jay.
The Harlows got the first league together by June 2010, with 24 people curling at the Pineville Ice House.
Harlow is passionate about the sport: “It’s something the whole family can do together,” she said. “It’s multigenerational.”
As the players share a drink before the games, a “learn-to-curl” session was taking place on the ice. Lora Papineau and her husband, Marcel, arrived an hour early to learn the game. They learned strategy, practiced throwing (or delivering) the rock and got a lesson in sweeping before the others joined them.
Omar Van Rooyen, one of several Canadian members, has been playing since his college days. He got serious about curling after joining the Canadian Army, where curling was on every base he was stationed.
“It’s a very social sport, and courteous, like golf. Players compliment each other on a shot well done,” he said. “It’s described as chess on ice because of the strategy.”
Van Rooyen was one of the “skips” (team captains) playing in the Friday night games. He joined Steve McKee, president of the Charlotte Curling Association, as they headed to the rink.
Curling also is called “the roaring game,” because of the sound the rock makes as it glides over the “pebbles” (ice). What appears to be quiet, like snow, creates a low roar when on the ice.
The sounds include not just the slide of the 42-pound granite rock across the ice but the call of the skips as they maneuver the sweepers toward the target.
“Hurry! Hurry! Hard! Sweep!” shout the skips.
The game, which originated in Scotland, is steeped in history, language and subtle etiquette.
The language is unique: The “hammer” is the last rock thrown in a game; the “hack” is where a player puts their foot to push off when throwing; “delivery” is sliding the rock.
The “house” is the set of rings that combine to make the target. The “button” is the center of the house.
“Grippers” and “sliders” are on the bottoms of players’ curling shoes.
Players for each team are called the lead, second, third and skip. The lead throws the first two of eight rocks; the second and third sweep. The skip is captain, something like a quarterback, deciding strategy and calling plays.
The rules are simple, but the strategy is complex. The goal is to throw (slide) the rock 134 feet across the ice to the target (house) at the other end. The game is scored by which team’s rocks, and how many, come closer to the target center than the opposition’s.
The game is called “curling” because the rocks can make a slightly curving path on their journey down the ice. The sweepers use their brooms to make the rocks go faster, farther or straighter as they sweep in accord with the calls of the skip.
The consensus among the association is that curling is a sport anyone can play from the moment they step onto the ice.
Dawn Hozjan was watching from above while her husband, Jeremy, played.
“I don’t even like the cold, but it’s surprisingly fun. It’s hard to do it well, but not hard to do it,” she said.
“You can spend a lifetime getting better, but it’s fun from the start!”