Since its re-introduction to the Olympics in 1998, curling has gained popularity across the world, including in Oklahoma.
You probably know it from watching on TV – teams of two or four furiously sweeping a sheet of ice in front of large granite stones to make them slide, or curl, toward a target area. It’s like a frozen, interactive game of shuffleboard.
Several clubs give Oklahomans a chance to try the sport for the first time or refine their skills. Jeremy Witzke of the Oklahoma Curling Club in Edmond says the group began in 2010 and has about 100 members.
“It was started by a gentleman from Canada who moved here to teach at Oklahoma University,” Witzke says. “He was driving to Dallas each weekend to curl and decided to start a [nonprofit] and promote the sport here in Oklahoma.”
Highly social, curling emphasizes sportsmanship and camaraderie.
“Each game is started and ended with a handshake and well wishes,” Witzke says.
A match typically lasts about two hours. Each person on a four-member team slides two stones (or four stones on two-member teams). The object is to have your stones stop closer to the middle of the “house” (a 12-foot circle) than your opponents’ stones. The more stones you have closer to that mark, the more points are scored.
The Edmond group has open houses and Learn to Curl classes for those new to the sport.
“We also run curling leagues on Sunday evenings for those who would like to compete on a regular basis,” Witzke says. “Members of our club have participated in playdowns for national curling championships and in bonspiels [tournaments] all over North America.”
Competitions can be great social events due to broomstacking, which “is quite possibly one of the best traditions in curling,” he says.
After matches, the sport’s early participants – some evidence points to curling’s invention in Scotland in the 1500s – would stack their brooms in front of a fire near the frozen pond and enjoy beverages with their opponents. The tradition continues. A modern bonspiel usually has a designated broomstacking area of tables. The winning team buys the first round of refreshments for the other team. The players then exchange club pins and stories with one another for a generally good time.
Eric Vardeman formed the Tulsa Curling Club in 2012 after commuting for two years to participate with the Edmond group.
“It’s also fairly inexpensive for beginners to start as well,” says Vardeman, adding that newbies need about $40 for shoes and gear.
Curling also contributes to fitness.
“It provides a good workout for your core and leg muscles,” says Vardeman, explaining that an elite-level sweeper can burn as many as 1,500 calories during a match.
The average beer, however, is about 154 calories, so be careful with how much you consume during the broomstacking at a bonspiel.