in early 2010, the bay area curling club added a new location in oakland, just down the road from where i’d moved a couple of months earlier. having been glued to the televised competitions from turin during the 2006 olympics, i jumped at the opportunity and signed up for an introductory clinic. fast forward a year and i am totally, completely, hooked. i have the shoes, clothes, gear, and a nametag shaped like a curling stone; am signed up as a participant in the club’s winter league and as an instructor for a pair of lesson series; and will be traveling to vancouver with seven other club members for my first curling bonspiel in january.
i love curling because it’s the funnest sport i’ve ever played — yes, it’s funner than whirlyball — but i love it even more for the people it attracts. by and large curlers are competitive but super friendly; if the first rule of curling is “winners buy the first round” then the second is “call your own fouls.” indeed, it’s expected both that you will fess up if you do something you shouldn’t, and that once the evening’s competition is over, you will retire to the nearest watering hole en masse. either you’ve won your game, or you’re getting a free beer, so either way it’s a good time.
during a normal curling match, your team’s captain (known as a skip) stands on the other end of the ice and through a series of gestures tells you where and how to throw your stone. the skip is often the most experienced curler on the team, and bases their decisions primarily on 1) knowledge of your individual strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies as a curler, 2) their ability to read the ice, similar to how a golfer would read a putting green, and 3) their assessment of what action your team needs to take at the moment. the throwing curler needs to execute the shot properly, which is not as easy as the olympians make it look like on TV, but the burden is on the skip to call the right shots, and doing so is equal parts art and science.
last week, with the holidays upon us and the fall league competition completed, the club offered open ice time for members to practice individually and/or to participate in a holiday-themed “draw to the button” contest. in these contests, there are no teams and no skips; everyone is aiming for the same place (the middle of the bullseye, known as the button) but it’s up to each individual curler to determine how to get their stone the closest to, or preferably right on, the button. it’s a pretty standard part of any bonspiel’s festivities. as for the holiday-themed part?
yes indeed, that WOULD be a 14-lb ham wrapped in packing tape with a handle. and yes indeed, these would be christmas decorations:
hence was born hamspiel 2010. for some context: around the holidays, curling clubs often have tournaments called “turkey spiels” but this usually is just a play on words, and doesn’t actually reflect the fact that any turkeys were involved in the competition. our fall league had an informal turkey spiel, and i do believe a frozen turkey was thrown down the ice, but i don’t have any video or photo evidence to prove it. anyway, here’s some of the action from hamspiel 2010:
i didn’t end up winning the grand prize (which was, er, the ham itself), but i did come in fourth place with a distance of 36 inches. the winning distance, set by one of my vancouver teammates, was a whopping 6 INCHES. (to put that in perspective, the next closest ham, thrown by one of the most experienced members of the club, was 23 inches.) i can’t think of a more fun way to close out 2010, or a more fun group of people to do it with. more curling adventures to come … in the meantime, find a club near you and try it yourself!