Curling gaining traction in Houston area
By TOM BEHRENS
The sport of curling ranks right at the top of popular sports in Canada, but not in Houston where frozen ice, other than in a cold drink, is pretty scarce. However, it might be time to reconsider that last statement.
Curling is gaining in popularity because of the Winter Olympics. Friday evening Learn to Curl" classes at Space City Ice Station before the Olympics might have drawn 15-20 people, but now attracts as many as 150-200 rock throwers.
Tom Altman has been a member of the Curling Club of Houston since 1975, two years after it formed.
When I called my dad and told him that I had started curling in Houston, there was this long pause where my dad said nothing," said Altman. He was probably wondering what I was drinking."
Curling was a northern states sport. Altman leaned how to play the sport while growing up in Wisconsin.
Curling, for those folks who missed it in the Olympics, is a team sport in which stones are slid across a sheet of ice toward a target area about 150 feet away, kind of like shuffleboard except played on ice.
The target area is the house," consisting of three concentric rings formed by painting or laying colored vinyl sheets under the ice. The intent is to get the stone, or better known as the rock," down the ice as close to the center circle as possible. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the center of the house.
A game consists of eight or 10 ends. An end consists of each player from both teams throwing two stones down the sheet with the players on each side alternating shots, for a total of sixteen stones.
A curling stone is made from granite weighing between 38 and 44 pounds, has a circumference of 36 inches and a height of 4.5 inches. The stone has a handle attached to the top. A pair of curling stones can cost as high as $1,500.
The ice for curling is enhanced by sprinkling water on top of the ice, pebbling the ice" before games are played.
The ice ends up with a texture, like grained leather on a shoe," said Altman. The point is the pebbled ice sets up a little bit above the flat surface of the ice. If you took one of those 42 pounds of granite and set it on a flat surface of ice, you are not strong enough to slide it all the way down the ice, too much friction."
Ice skates are not used. Rubber soled shoes, with a slider" overlay made of Teflon, goes over one of your shoes and helps you slide your lead foot forward as you propel the stone.
A curling broom is used to sweep the ice surface in the path of the stone and is also often used as a balancing aid during delivery of the stone.
Easy game to learn
We can teach you to play the game in a couple of hours," said Altman. The fun part is it's not an easy game to master. Typically most of our players are in their early 20s. We have folks out there well into their 60s.
One gentleman is on the far side of 70. You can be really good at it over a wide range of ages."
Houston club president Robert Rounding says you can learn how to play curling in 15-20 minutes and then take the rest of our life to perfect it.
I like the strategy part of it a lot," he said, reading the ice, trying to understand what the other team is going to do. It takes some pretty serious thinking to think your way through a game. It's kind of similar to being an armchair quarterback."
Zach Mueller is a newcomer to the game. He also likes the strategy that goes into a game.
You have to play the ice, you have to play the rock," he said. The ice constantly changes as you go through your games; it curls differently."
Try your luck at curling
The Curling Club of Houston curls every Sunday morning, 9-11 a.m. at Space City Ice Station, 18150 Gulf Freeway, in Friendswood.
Learn to Curl sessions are offered on Friday evening, 9:30-11 p.m. and 11 p.m. 12:30 a.m. Cost is $15.
A novice league is beginning March 22.
Games will be Monday nights at 8 p.m. Cost will be around $125 per person for six weeks.
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