WHAT CLEANING A HOUSE, QUIDDITCH, AND CURLING ALL HAVE IN COMMON
Buying a curling broom is a serious investment. With the right care, modern brooms can last for years. There isn’t a position on the ice that doesn’t need one for various reasons, though they more often than not will find their primary use in sweeping.
In fact, as I mentioned in my Primer, some people are of the opinion that those who play front end (Lead or Second) should invest in a broom before they even buy shoes. I’m not here to debate that point. I’m here simply to help you make sure that whenever it is you decide you’re ready to buy a brush, whether new or used, you have a better sense of what to look for so that you find one that not only fits your budget, but also your needs.
Parts of a Curling Broom
Like I did with curling shoes, I’m going to break down what the parts of the broom are, and how they can affect your game.
The Pad: The cloth-like fabric on the head of the broom that touches the ice. For the longest time, curling brooms were just that: literally, brooms. Made out of corn and/or straw, they looked like the stereotypical witch’s broom you see everywhere around Halloween. A while back I shared a charming short film called Gone Curling in this blog. Filmed in the 1960’s, this movie shows just what these bad boys looked like in action. You don’t see those old brooms anymore for one simple reason: technology has progressed enough to render them and their abrasive ways obsolete.
We are at a point of development in curling gear that virtually every single pad on the end of a curling brush is made of a synthetic nylon-esque material. These pads are far less abrasive to curling ice in the bad way (much like hockey skates are bad for curling ice – Right, arena curlers?!), and far more effective at polishing the pebble in the good way to retain the integrity of the sheet’s surface.
When it comes to buying a broom, the pad – more often than not – was viewed as the main point of focus to worry about. In fact, to paraphrase numerous people I asked, I was often told, “Above all else, make sure you get a broom that can support an EQ or a Norway pad.”
There are two pads out there with specific brand names you should know: EQ faceplates (from BalancePlus) and Norway pads (from Goldline). These pads are not only made of a high-grade synthetic cloth, but they also have a layer of mylar (space blanket) on the inside. This helps retain the heat generated from the friction of sweeping and insulate it back down onto the ice. Despite minor design differences between the two (Norway pads are more ribbed, but whether this provides a better advantage or not is of much evenly-split debate), they both are, more or less, required for a competitive curler.
In fact, I recently had the opportunity to test out a broom with an EQ pad on the end of it. I can honestly say that the difference in my sweeping wasn’t just a slightly better than when I used an old loaner broom from our club, but glaringly better. I felt like a one-man sweeping army. For a guy with little no arm strength, that’s saying something. (Seriously, if you see any ripped muscular biceps and triceps lying around, I’d be happy to give them a good home.) In fact, the advancements in brush pad technology are what have narrowed the gender gap of the playing field to almost a nil difference.
For those of you using your own brooms that don’t already have an EQ or Norway pad: don’t panic. Luckily for you, most modern brooms with pivoting heads (which I’ll get into shortly) have two screws on the top of them that allow the pad to be replaced. And guess what? Both the EQ and the Norway pads are sold independently of brooms at many stores and online retailers and will fit the standard shape of a pivoting brush head. So, with rare exception, if your broom can fit one style of synthetic pad, it more than likely can fit any of them.
And yet, as time marches on, so does the gear. There’s a new player on the scene this 2014 season called Hardline, and they make a product called the IcePad. They claim their pad is revolutionary in its design and effectiveness. So much so, that there’s a lot of hype around how it could be the “Next Best Thing” in curling brooms. With a unique design and shape, the IcePad is not interchangeable with your standard broom head. This means you either need to buy their brand of broom specifically, or cough up the extra money for a new brush head to go with their pad.
And yet, apparently this slight drawback is worth the price, according to the one person I’ve talked to online who owns one. Unlike the EQ and the Norway pads, which degrade in quality as they sweep away debris off the ice (requiring them to be flat out replaced), the IcePad is machine washable, making it last longer. However, I can honestly say that while I am aware of this product, the aforementioned opinion was the only experienced one I could find. (That’s how new this product is, compared to others.) Yes, there are some elite teams out there you’ve heard of that will be using Hardline brooms and IcePads this upcoming season (which is a strong vote of confidence to the company’s claims), but just how much more effective they will be over what is already offered and considered standard has yet to be seen. I’m only mentioning the existence of this product simply to offer a complete picture of what exists on the market right now.
The Head: The plastic part of broom at the end of the shaft that holds the pads in place. The head of the brush is probably the easiest part to discuss because there are only two major types out there: rigid heads and performance (pivoting) heads.
Rigid heads are just that: attached to the shaft at an angle and immobile. In order for a rigid head to help be effective, the sweeper wielding a brush with one has to constantly be aware of how they hold they their brush, and at what angle. Because of this, it’s the sweeper that has to adjust their stance and sweeping style to match the broom, not the only way around. Popular in years gone by, a lot of brooms with rigid heads are now just a cheap alternative to their more modern brethren and they exist mostly to serve as a base line for comparison. While they usually come with synthetic fabric pads, these pads are often of a unique rectangular shape that doesn’t offer an EQ/Norway equivalent. That means these are nowhere near as effective.
Most mid-range or better quality brooms have what are called performance heads. These are the pivoting heads you see on the brushes of every major elite World-class level curler. If you plan to go competitive, you’ll need a broom with a performance pivoting head. The range of motion in these heads allows the sweeper more freedom of movement in brushing technique while keeping the entire face of the pad on the ice. It also allows skips the ability to bend the head to an angle that makes for a better target, and allows shooters to bend the head back into a comfortable position for sliding. In fact, many performance heads have a flat plastic lip on the side that rests on the ice during a stone’s delivery to protect the pad and reduce drag.
Many performance heads also come in the same standard oval-like shape. This is what makes replacing the pad one-size-fits-all easy. Not only that, but many newer brooms attach the head to the shaft with screws. So if the pivoting neck of the head breaks or becomes too loose with use/wear, replacing it can be easy.
The Shaft: The long metallic “handle” part of the broom that will always be in a player’s hands. Available in many styles, different materials, and a variety of artistic designs (depending on the depth of your pocketbook), this is what many people notice first about the broom.
The only two major things to be worried about here are what material the handle is made of, and whether or not it allows the head to be replaced. All else is extra, superfluous, and up to the buyer. Given most modern mid-range brooms automatically account for the fact the head may need to be replaced, this section will focus mainly on available materials.
When it comes the pressure a sweeper applies to the ice, there are two big things a player can do to increase it: Work out more to build arm and core strength, or buy a lighter broom. (Ideally, you’ll do both, but I’m not here to talk about working out. When it comes to blogging, I like writing about things with which I have some miniscule level of familiarity.) When a broom weighs less, it’s not only easier to sweep, but more of the energy and force exerted when doing so is transferred down into the ice because not as much of it is needed to muscle the broom itself back and forth. As you might expect, yes, lighter brooms do cost more. Of what’s on the market right now, the lightest broom shafts you’ll find are made of carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber brooms are not only incredibly light, but also incredibly durable. In fact, many people I talked to have said that while replacement pads and performance heads have come and gone, the shaft of their carbon fiber broom is the one thing that has survived season after season (with some people even saying they’ve even had the same brush shaft for seven years!).
If I’m being honest, there wasn’t one person I spoke with who had anything negative to say about carbon fiber brooms. Even the people who didn’t presently own one (but had tried one out) expressed some level of envy over those who do, and mentioned wanting to get one down the road as a goal – myself included. As for brand choice, the opinions I received on the matter seemed to be simply based on preference.
Now if you can’t afford a carbon fiber broom, there are cheaper alternatives. The brand you pick will determine what other materials are available, but the most common and heaviest (thus, the cheapest) broom handles will be made of fiberglass. Some companies offer a middle-of-the-road composite broom – made of a mix of carbon fiber and fiberglass (if that makes sense) – and these are a great next-best-thing if you have some extra money to spare on a broom, but can’t afford to go nuts. However, I am of the opinion that if you can afford to go middle-of-the-road, you can do yourself a favor and wait just a little while longer to save up for a carbon fiber handle. It’ll be worth it in the long run.
Now as for the superfluous “extras” I spoke of earlier, these are simple either/or options that are solely up to the buyer. What you get should be based on whatever will make your game better.
For example, one option is handle thickness. The two choices (if given) offered will be either a 1” (one inch) diameter or a 1 1/8” (one and one-eighth inch) handle. Make this choice based on your grip. If you have smaller hands, get a thinner brush shaft. One company that received favorable reviews about this in particular was BalancePlus. Their broom handles are tapered to be 1” at the top, and 1 1/8” at the head. This gradually increasing thickness makes it easier to push down on the handle to really scrub the ice without your hands sliding down and throwing off your posture. They are the only company to offer a tapered handle. And yet, Goldline applies a layer of slick-resistant coating to their broom handles to give the same effect. These brooms also received many positive mentions.
See what I mean? These options are purely up to the preferences of the buyer. Heck, some companies even offer custom broom handle designs to really add a personal touch for the curler. While nowhere near the realm of “necessity,” knowing you can truly make your gear your own and retain your personal flair while competing is certainly one way to establish that emotional connection to the sport I talked about.
To Sum it All Up
So what can you expect? Well, if you merely insist on having your own broom, but refuse to remotely spend any more than you absolutely must to achieve that goal, a heavy fiberglass broom with a rigid head and basic synthetic pad with set you back $40-$60. But if you’re going to do this, you might as well save that money for broomstacking beer and grab a loaner brush out of the bucket every week. Seriously.
If you want to go a little better than that, but can’t go nuts, a lighter composite broom with a performance head and a synthetic pad (that is not EQ/Norway) will run you roughly $100-$120 new. And remember, if you do go this route, you can always upgrade and get a new replacement pad later for about $20-$30 to increase your sweeping’s effectiveness.
But, as I said, if you’re going to drop that kind of money on a broom, you might as well go the extra mile and get something that not only will be incredibly effective, but also durable enough to survive multiple seasons. A brand new carbon fiber broom shaft, with a performance head, and either an EQ or a Norway pad (assuming no custom design) will run $150-$180 (without shipping) depending on the brand you pick. No simple chunk of change, to be sure, but it’s only a minor step up from the middle-of-the-road brushes and almost universally believed to be worth the extra money.
Full disclosure: While I have done my best to ensure that everything I’ve written above is accurate, I must admit to you that I myself do not own my own curling broom just yet. Shocking, I know. However, I have tried out many brands and many styles, but none for any length of time that allows me the ability to offer a personal opinion rooted in deep experience. This particular entry to my “Gearing Up” series is more of an amalgam of opinions learned from talking to a great many people both in-person and online, reading multiple reviews, and testing out a spectrum of different brushes with varying options from week to week. I know what I’m aiming to buy when the time comes that I can afford to do so, but I felt the need to disclose that I am not quite there yet, should that alter your opinion of, well, my opinion.
(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who eagerly awaits the day he can afford a carbon fiber curling brush, as it seems to be an easier alternative to doing push-ups. Because he really hates – and he’s using the word hate here – doing push-ups. Feel free to mock his feeble arms on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)