Throwing Stones

On Monday night, I went curling for the first time. Too concerned about falling and knocking myself out on the ice (a very real possibility), I didn’t manage to get any photos of the event. But that’s probably a good thing – it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight.

Curling has a long history in Wisconsin. In fact, the oldest continuously operating curling club in the country is in Milwaukee where they’ve been curling since 1846. Wisconsinites curled on rivers and lakes, anywhere they could find some solid ice to throw stones. While curling is solidly associated with Scotland, it may have actually originated in the Netherlands. Paintings from the mid-14th century show Dutch curlers. The game soon traveled to Scotland, though, where it became a national pastime. Scottish immigrants brought their love of the game with them to North America.

Americans often curled with wooden stones because wood was accessible and affordable. These stones varied in size, shape, and weight. A movement to standardize the game didn’t come until the 20th century.

Curling is a surprisingly challenging sport: something I hadn’t quite appreciated while watching it on TV during the Olympics. A slider fits on over your left shoe (if you’re right handed like me, that is) while your right foot slides back into a “hack” that’s kind of like the starting posts on a track. The basic movement is a long, low lunge with your left knee bent up and your right trailing behind as you push yourself forward on the ice, attempting to simultaneously aim your stone and not kill yourself. It’s a thigh burner and a real balancing act. Sweeping is a lot of fun, though, also requires serious coordination as you run down the ice alongside the stone sweeping, sweeping, sweeping fast and hard.

I left the curling open house with a new appreciation of this centuries old sport. I was also reminded of this charming booklet, the Annual of the Grand National Curling Club of America, 1880, detailing the matches of the 1878 – 1879 curling season that I’d run across years ago at the Wisconsin Historical Society. There’s much talk of “hardy men” braving the harsh winter weather to curl and the sumptuous meals served afterward to renew their strength.

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