By Elan Paulson
For my whole life I knew nothing about the sport beyond that it resembled the shuffleboard table in my grandparents’ basement and it was a Winter Olympics sport (again). I hadn’t even seen the Canadian romantic comedy, Men with Brooms (2002), with Leslie Nielson.
Then, in 2020—pandemic year 1–I joined a curling club. I am not amazing at curling, but thanks to many supportive players I picked it up faster than I picked up soccer as an adult.
Now in my second season of curling, I’ve discovered that this sport is growing its inclusivity and fitness focus, yet remains rooted in etiquette and community. Let me tell you a little about what I’ve learned about curling!
Curling is for Many People
Curling is an olympic and paralympic sport, with medals for four-person women and men’s teams. Men and women can play and compete together in mixed leagues and on mixed doubles teams (two people instead of four), since finesse matters as much as strength.
Curling is also a recreational sport for youths, seniors, and everyone in between. Learn to curl clinics are put on annually by curling clubs, and online information for new curlers is widely available.
There are various support tools for all types of curlers. These “sticks” and “crutches” aid the release of the curling rock that travels down the 146 to 150 feet of ice, providing stability and balance for players. The supports also alleviate pressure on the knees and body, giving all kinds of bodies a chance to curl.
Curling associations, such as Curling Canada, encourage the sport’s accessibility. The Ontario Curling Council explains that wheelchair curling leagues and curling competitions are available for those who are non-ambulant or can only walk short distances. Canada boasts talented, award-winning visually impaired and wheelchair teams.
In terms of gender inclusivity, my teammate tells me that some larger clubs have open and LGBTQ+ leagues. More clubs are also drafting inclusion policies, showing that this once traditional and gender-siloed sport is striving to grow and change with the times.
Curling is in Many Places
Curling clubs have existed in Canada since 1807, with the first curling club located in Montreal. Today, you can find curling clubs throughout Canada, but more than half of these clubs are still located in small towns.
Sports and recreation foster not only healthy activity but also local community. Studies have shown that curling supports the health and wellness of rural women and older adults. I hear that many people grew up with curling in the family (so kids learn to play whether they want to or not).
In the country and the city, curling has a reputation for courtesy. League games are non-refereed. Curlers are supportive and unpretentious. (When you throw a rock really well, you celebrate by complimenting your sweepers.) It is customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks for the losing team after the game. (This tradition of sitting together post-game was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Fitness of Curling
Curling has a reputation as a sport for being more recreational than rigorous. However, the author of this article from The Cut describes how throwing and sweeping rocks over two hours led her to conclude curling is a good interval workout. One study that measured participant heart rates after sweeping suggests that fitness training can help avoid fatigue during curling. At the competitive level, where athletes curl 10 ends a game and play multiple games in a tournament, mental and physical training is now standard.
The media is increasingly hyping the athleticism of the curling, and paying more attention to the bodies of players. An NPR article from 2014 describes the need for curlers to be extremely fit, not just for the sport but for the tight uniforms. The fitness element of curling also got press when “Superwoman” curler Rachael Homan won curling titles while 8-months pregnant and then again just 3 weeks after delivery.
My Oura fitness tracker ring tells me I don’t yet get a high intensity workout from curling, but I only play one 8-end game once a week. Watching others, I’m pretty sure that I would be a stronger sweeper and have more controlled throws if I were in better shape. So I might pick up one of the books available on curling training and strategy, such as Fit to Curl (2016) or Curl to Win (2010).
Still Learning about Curling
Curling was going to be my “retirement sport”—in another 15 or 20 years. But without other regular indoor winter sports to keep me active during the COVID-19 pandemic, I advanced my timeline (not the retirement part, sadly). I’m glad I did. It’s been a physical and social activity that has had many benefits for me.
Thanks to my teammates and my league, I am eager to continue to learn more about this sport, which is in fact way more complex than grandparents’ basement shuffleboard. I am grateful to the St. Thomas Curling Club, which has gone to great lengths to adjust the rules and maintain the safety of its members during the pandemic.
If you curl, what brought you to the sport? If you don’t, would you like to try?