While Virginia’s warm climate might not offer the perfect venue for some Winter Olympic sports, indoor ice rinks have opened their doors to the ancient art of Curling.
At a regional club near Richmond, Travis Hamilton bends down into a lunge position. He balances himself carefully and softly rocks back and forth a few times before he lets go of a 40 pound rock that slides out of his tight grasp.
The rock rumbles down the 146 ft stretch of ice as James Deyerle follows closely, brush in hand. Once the rock has traveled far enough, Deyerle furiously brushes ahead of the thundering boulder to create a smooth surface for the granite stone to slide upon.
Hamilton and Deyerle are both members of the Curling Club of Virginia, a volunteer organization of enthusiasts for a sport that has its roots in 16th century Scotland. Curling gained prominence in America after it was added to the Winter Olympics in 1998. But it wasn’t until about a decade ago when the sport found a home at Richmond Ice Zone. That's when eight curlers of different ages and interests began to fill the chilly arena with the rolling sounds of sport.
“If you can do a lunge, you can curl,” James Deyerle says as he runs through the prerequisites for the game. There aren’t many and that’s why the Indiana native loves it so much.
“It’s a very egalitarian sport," Deyerle says. "Our club membership's about 50/50 men and women. We have teenagers. We have retirees. And they can all be better than you. It's much more of a skill sport. We’ve had two members curl while they were months pregnant because it's much more about skill and balance than anything else.”
While far from Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Team USA’s curlers will be throwing over the next few weeks, the Curling Club of Virginia offers plenty for the experienced and curious
The sport plays similar to bocci. Each game consists of 8 rounds, called ends. Each end has 8 stones being thrown by each team. The thrower mounts themselves on the hack, kind of like a starting block for a track sprint. They “throw" or "shoot” the stone down the playing field known as a sheet. Once the stone makes it about halfway down the sheet, teammates use course brooms to sweep down droplets of ice, called pebbles, that are sprayed onto the sheet ahead of play.
The intensity of the brushing determines how much you reduce the pebbles. If the rock is moving too fast, you don’t brush much, if it's going to slow, you brush more.
“When I got too old for lacrosse I started curling just about the time when my wife and I got married it was something we could do together,” Mike Beaudrias remembers. He is one of the more senior members of the club and has been curling for 40 years. “It's a lot easier than someone chasing you with a stick,” he jokes.
I ask Beaudrias for some advice before I step into the hack for my inaugural throw. “Safety. The ice doesn’t know when you’re letting go. Keep your balance. The key to delivery is taking your time,” he says.
After my marginally successful attempt, I think I’ll leave it to the pros.
Team USA’s curling events are already underway in South Korea.