blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"It's all about balance"

I have to be careful here, because if I get the terminology wrong, I will look foolish. Early this morning the RA Centre on Riverside introduced a large number of us in the Ottawa CFUW's Diplomatic Hospitality group to the basics of curling.

The first thing to do was to take our sports shoes across to the inspection table to make sure there wasn't a spot of dirt on them that would compromise the ice we'd be playing on. "You have worn these shoes outside, haven't you?" said the shoe examiner with a hint of disapproval as she turned my shoes over, before attacking the soles vigorously with a vegetable brush dipped in a bowl of water.

There are six "sheets" on the ice at this curling rink and a dozen or more ladies in red jackets had made themselves available to give us instruction in six groups, making sure that we didn't fall over on the ice, or if we did, that we'd be able to get up again. They were all keen amateur players and, it seemed to me, very well trained teachers too. They wore special black curling shoes with a removable rubber sole cover for the "off foot," usually the left one, that had a very slippery "slider" attached. We novices were lent portable sliders, slightly less slippery underfoot.

I was in a group with a Japanese lady, an Italian lady and another novice Canadian. The first exercise was to walk up and down (without deploying our sliders) on the bobbly ("pebbled") surface of the ice to see what it felt like, and then to repeat the walk sweeping the tee line on the ice with our long handled brooms: Women with Brooms in this case, not Men with Brooms (with Paul Gross as the Skip).

The rock is made of polished granite
To deliver the shot, you've got to have flexible hip joints and knees, although players over the age of 85 or so are permitted to use so-called curling sticks that allow them to stay upright while playing; we weren't given the option of trying these. We had to practise getting up off the ice in case we fell, holding ourselves in the "throwing" position without overbalancing and finally pushing off from the hack (i.e. starting block) with the slider under our left foot, sliding ourselves forward and keeping our balance in the process. I did it all too gingerly because the surface of the ice looked like a very hard surface to fall on, but was admonished for looking down at my feet and eventually persuaded that I'd keep my balance better if I looked ahead, up into the eyes of my instructor. I had the use of a sliding support for my left hand but my right hand was free to flap about (it should be held extended). All of us breathed a sigh of relief when given a rock (with a handle) to hold and release. These objects are about 20 kg in weight so gave us a reassuring illusion of steadiness while pushing off from the hack.

Apparently there's a way to vary the delivery that gives you an even better sense of balance: having the slider under the right foot instead! However I have only discovered this since coming home and browsing the Internet.

The last exercise before we could begin to let fly with the rocks was to move the sliding foot back as a prelude to our slide, keeping that foot flat on the ground, which is only possible if one sticks one's bottom in the air, brings one's left knee to its full bend and has one's right knee well behind one's centre of gravity, practically scraping the ice. It's not as easy as it looks! I thought of all the Chinese people I'd seen last year, squatting flat footed in the parks of Hangzhou to chat to one another. They'd have had no trouble with this sport.

The male curlers enjoying their Spiel
We also got some instruction on how to aim the rock with a rotation of the hand and how to interpret the arm movements of the person towards whom we were aiming. The curling rink is a chilly place and by this point in the lesson my hands and feet were growing numb so the instructors suggested that two of us should practise sweeping the ice with our brooms to keep ourselves warm as well as to assist the rocks' progress while the other two in our team were practising longer and longer shots. We never got round to actually scoring because the electronic whistle blew, ordering us off the ice so that some serious players (men) could have their go after the rink had been cleaned with a wide sheepskin brush. However, I did manage to deliver a couple of rocks as far as the house before we repaired upstairs for coffee and the ladies were all after me to sign up for curling lessons at the RA next season.

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