Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

The beginner's guide to curling

NAIT alum and Olympic gold medalist demystifies a quirky but beloved game

Why are they hurrying hard? What does a hammer have to do with this?

If you’re unfamiliar with the sport of curling, those might be some of the questions you have. The game can be confusing. The first rules were drawn up in Scotland in 1838 and most still apply today.

Luckily, Adam Enright (Petroleum Engineering Technology ’04) knows those rules very well. He was part of Kevin Martin’s (Petroleum Engineering Technology '87) gold-medal-winning team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as well as the Tim Hortons Brier and World Men’s Championship winning teams in 2008.

When it comes down to it, “closest to the middle wins,” the Spirit of NAIT alumni award winner says, loosely comparing the game to darts. “For people just starting, all they see is a great big bullseye. That’s the basic concept.”

Canada’s national men’s curling championship, the Tim Hortons Brier, is on now in Regina. If you find yourself watching a game on TV or at a curling club (hey, that happens in Alberta!), here's what you need to know to understand what’s going on.

curling rocks and broom

The house

Curling is all about throwing rocks at houses, if you really want to simplify things. 

The "bullseye" at each end of the ice is called the house, and it determines which team gets points and which doesn't during an "end," or a portion of the game that might be likened to an inning in baseball.

At the middle of the house is the button, surrounded by coloured rings. Those are referred to by their diameter, says Enright.

The four-foot ring encircles the button, followed by the eight foot and 12 foot. The house is split into quarters by the centre line, which runs down the entirety of the ice, and the tee line that runs across the middle of the house. Teams alternate throwing eight rocks each; the team with the "hammer" has the edge.

“I don’t know where they came up with the term hammer,” says Enright. “All it means is whoever has the advantage of throwing the last rock [of the end]. That’s a big advantage.” That’s determined before the game starts, usually with a coin toss or with a competition to see who can throw a rock closer to the button. When a team scores, they give up the hammer to the other team for the next end.

Once all the rocks are thrown, the team with the ones closest to the button gets the points. For example, if Team A has two rocks near the button, and Team B has the third closest rock, Team A scores two points and Team B scores zero. Only rocks in the house count for points.

The role of the skip

The skip is the player who literally calls the shots from the house his or her team is throwing toward. He or she will tap their broom where’d they'd like the rock to end up and then reposition the broom appropriately as a target.

This is a game that involves finesse: the curler throwing the rock slides out of the hack (almost like starting blocks embedded in the ice) straight at the broom target but then, with a twist of the wrist, puts a turn on the rock so it will curl to where the skip originally tapped the broom.

“The turn dictates which way the rock is going to curl as it goes down the [ice] sheet,” Enright says.

The space between where the rock should end up and the broom target is referred to as the amount of ice being taken. In a light shot, known as a draw, there will be a lot of ice taken. In a heavy, take-out shot there will be less ice taken.

Throwing the rock

The skip also determines what kind of throw needs to happen, based on how many other rocks are in play and where they’re located.

You might hear a skip call for the rock to be thrown with a certain weight: hack weight, board weight, tee line weight, or with 12-, eight- or four-foot weight. The skip is referring to where they’d want the rock to stop if it wasn’t to hit anything.

“If you throw hack weight and it doesn’t touch anything, it should stop right around the hack [on the other end of the ice],” Enright says.

Sweeping

curling sweeping nait ooks

The skip often encourages the team to sweep as a rock glides down the ice. That’s when you’ll hear “hurry hard.”

“People don’t realize the effects sweeping has on the rock,” Enright says. It can help the rock slide further down the ice, up to five metres in some cases. That’s useful for lighter throws.

Sweeping can also be used to keep a rock straight. When a team is attempting to take out another rock with a heavy throw, sweeping can prevent the rock from curling, referred to as “keeping the line.”

Drinks for a hogged rock

The hog line is roughly 20 feet from the house. Once a rock passes that line, it’s in play. If it doesn’t cross the line, it’s considered a hogged rock and “you have to buy drinks for everyone in the building,” jokes Enright. The rock gets removed from play.

The need for strength

For years, curling was associated with drinking, smoking and heading upstairs to the lounge after the game. It’s still a social game, Enright says, but now there’s a bigger focus on fitness.

“More strength, more endurance, especially for the sweepers,” he says. “It requires power.”

Canada has curling competition

There’s no arguing it – Canada didn’t have a great showing in curling at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The men’s and women’s teams both failed to medal, for the first time in Olympic curling competition (though, to make up for it, the Canadian mixed doubles team took gold).

Enright says watching Team Canada be beat by international teams was almost inevitable. "It’s been going on for a number of years."

European teams are living and training in Canada, competing in and often winning top events, he adds. “In the past, you could get away with having an off game and still beating those countries,” he says.

"I think it’s good – not for Canada, necessarily – but I think it’s good for the sport."


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