Around Pittsburgh, everyone’s commentary on the sport of curling is pretty much the same:
“Oh, I watch that on the Olympics!”
That certainly represents the extent of my exposure, catching some glimpses every four years of one person sliding a 40-pound disc across the ice while a couple of others guide its path with brooms.
While not quite the most action-packed of athletic endeavors, curling does hold a certain esoteric appeal that always has made me want to give it a try. But I wasn’t about to travel to, say, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for the opportunity.
Millvale is a tad closer, and that’s where my friends at LumberjAxes, the place you go to throw axes at targets, have opened their latest venture in the world of innovative entertainment.
Sliders Ice Curling presents a simpler version of the sport, in which no one has to worry about strapping on skates or wielding anything that sweeps. Rather, you kneel on rubber mats, grasp the handle of a disc – it’s called a stone – and attempt to figure out how much propulsion it needs to stop within a targeted area 40 feet down ice.
“We figured there was a way to do it, but actual curling, it’s like triple this size,” co-owner Jack Welsh says about a standard Canadian-type rink, or sheet. “So we knew we couldn’t do the whole sport. But we liked the idea, and this is what we came up with.”
The Sliders setup is four lanes, accommodating a pair of two-person teams on each, for a maximum of 16 participants at once.
“You will practice against each other for a while, to get used to the weight of the stones and everything,” Jack tells me. “Then you play some rounds against each other. And at the very end, you’re going to play against each line for a high score. Then we give a gold medal.
“Wanna give it a try?”
That’s what I’m here for, and I get into position: my right knee on one mat and my left foot planted on another. I grasp the handle of a stone, pull my arm back, bring it forward, and release.
It stops maybe two-thirds of the way to the target. On the next try, of course, it slides all the way past to the edging at the far end of the sheet.
“A little too much,” resident curling coach Adeline Kubicsek advises.
But after a few more attempts, I hear from her:
“Nice! Five points.”
I’m anything but consistent, though, and further slides are too short or too long, which reminds me of the frustrations of putting.
Unlike golf, curling allows participants to employ strategies such as knocking an opponent’s disc off the target to cost him or her points or attempting to bump a teammate into scoring range.
Unlike croquet, you can’t blast an opposing stone back to the, uh, Stone Age.
Speaking of which, my 57-year-old legs are feeling the effects of remaining in curling position, but I want at least one more decent slide. There’s a one-pointer, but that’s not quite good enough.
“Another five!” Adeline announces.
When I tried ax throwing, I knew enough to stop when I’d stuck one right in the bull’s-eye. So I figured I’d do the same with curling.
That being said, I’m looking forward to trying it again.
As long as I don’t have to bring a broom.