Chill out with a game of ice curling
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Did you watch curling during the Sochi or Pyongchang Olympics? Do you remember Scotswoman Rhona Martin skippering the 2002 gold medal winning British women’s team, shouting “HURRY!!”? Did you know you can try it for yourself? No? Well you can … and just down the road from London at Fenton’s ice curling rink in Kent? For the purists the sport is simply called “curling” but for beginners and SEO purposes it’s going to be called “ice curling” in this post. I know – sorry 🙂
Update: Fenton’s reopened for the season on October 5th 2019 … plus there’s now a public rink up in Preston too.
How did we find out about ice curling?
We discovered Fenton’s rink by Googling “ice curling” while watching this year’s Winter Olympics. I assumed a local ice rink might have a temporary area cordoned off for curling. However Fenton’s is actually the only dedicated ice curling rink in the whole of England. If we were going to do it, then we were going to do it properly. Having left it a bit too late to book a lane while the Olympics were still on we visited in April 2018 – just before Fenton’s season came to a close (their season runs for September to April).
Organising a group and arriving at the rink
Ice curling’s played with a team of 8. We however only had a group of 7 but that mattered not and we simply split into a 4 and a 3. On arrival you wait in the reception area where you can check out the previous groups’ antics through the large display windows. Soon after the three groups for your chosen time slot are all called together to watch an introductory video which explains the basics of the game. Not picking up or dropping the stones was a key takeaway.
I had visions of gliding down the ice before realising the stone but that’s more for the pros. Instead you do a big stride forward from one of the rubber “hacks”. Your rear foot stays fixed in place when you throw. The video explained most things quite succinctly but it was the nice to have a member of the Fenton’s team run through some of the finer details.
Time to hit the ice
Once you’ve swapped your footwear for some curling shoes – one slides and one is grippy – and have stowed away your belongings in the lockers you head out on to the ice. We were assigned the middle lane out of the three and had a few trial throws each to get used to being out on the rink. After explaining the basic rules and reiterating that we shouldn’t touch the ice (it melts), not picking up the stones (dropped stones damage the ice and more catastrophically the cooling systems underneath the ice), and not to sweep the broom in one spot for too long (that also melts the ice) he left us to our own devices. It was chilly inside the building but not cold and after 5-10 minutes most of us went down to wearing just a jumper.
How close did we get to the centre button?
Each of our first few throws fell embarrassingly short. Then consequently they went too long! You seem to know as soon as it’s left your hand whether it’s a good throw or not. So after a few ends some of us were getting within a few metres of the centre button in the “house”. That’s not bad considering it’s over 34m away! You’ll even find yourself adopting some of the finer techniques of ice curling such as spinning the stone ever so slightly on release. Turning the stone clockwise makes it curve to the right slightly. Anti-clockwise makes it curve to the left. In conjunction with your team members’ sweeping you can then change the path of the stone. In short it can be explained thus:
- Clockwise and no sweeping = right curve and shorter
- Clockwise and sweeping = slightly less right curve and longer
- Anti-clockwise and no sweeping = left curve and shorter
- Anti-clockwise and sweeping = slightly less left curve and longer
Got that? 🙂 There’s far more to it than that of course but that will do for starters. You’ll soon realise too that the final “hammer” stone (number 8 out of the 8 stones thrown per end) can be decisive, undoing any of the hard work of the other team up until then.
We made sure we scored each end but were more interested in our team, as well as the opposition doing at least one good throw! After 90 minutes we all agreed the time slot was pretty much bang on. Any longer and we’d have started to get tired.
So any tips for first time curlers?
- Check ahead in the calendar in case it gets all booked up!
- Although this should be less likely now the Olympics have passed!
- Don’t worry too much if you can’t get exactly 8 people but that does make things easier.
- Pack some thin gloves and a hoodie. You can always take them off when you warm up.
- Take a nice team photo at the end.
- Revel in some mild glory if your team wins.
- Tell all your mates how good it was and how they should try it out too.
So it was great fun and we each had a few good throws. Sweeping was almost as much fun, while one of your three other teammates took their go. Nobody fell over either on our visit which is always a bonus. So give it a try this Winter. Shouting “HURRY!” (sweep the ice harder) like Rhona Martin is purely optional 🙂
While you’re here find out what it was like to experience the Sochi Winter Olympics.