Gearing Up: Shoes

“I fly! I fly! See how I fly.”
-Puck, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

BECAUSE THE GAME IS AFOOT

This blog continues on from where I left off from my Primer. In it, I’m going to go further in-depth with information on the most basic of curling gear: shoes.

Why start with shoes?

Outside of a few dissenting opinions here and there, almost everyone I talked to was of the opinion that shoes are the one piece of gear every curler should get first. So here’s an deeper look at what you need to know before you buy: broken down by parts of the shoe and various things to consider.

The most basic of which, is knowing that the shoe with the Teflon slider on it will be opposite of your throwing hand. In other words, if you’re buying online and select “right-handed” shoes, the pair you get in the mail will have the slider on the left shoe.  This is because right-handed deliveries, by USCA and International rules, must be made out of the left side of the hack. For most of us right-handers who use the commonly accepted delivery slide you see everywhere, we put our right foot in the hack and slide out on our left foot, and vice versa for lefties. (There are unique delivery styles that change things up a bit, as you’ll see in the video, but that’s a blog for another time. I assume you use the commonly accepted sliding technique.)

Parts of a Curling Shoe

When it comes to most curling shoes, the obvious benefit to them is having the Teflon slider permanently affixed to the sole of the shoe. This eliminates the risk of a slip-on slider shifting, or being in a different place on your foot from shot to shot. Having the slider in the same place every time only serves to increase your consistency. It is often the most featured talking point of any pair of curling shoes (which is also why I give it so much space in this blog). Beyond this, you often will have a few basic parts that are (usually) also described: the upper, the griper, the toe, and (sometimes) the laces. I’m going start with the simpler parts.

The gripper: The rubber cover that goes over the slider. Some companies call these anti-sliders; which is just a different name for the same thing. If you don’t already have one, just make sure you buy one that fits your shoes when you purchase a pair.

Toe coat: A layer of epoxy that covers the outside of the shoe on the toe of your trailing foot. This is an “extra” that some companies offer. The top of the toe on your trailing foot is often what sees wear and tear the quickest. Makes sense: you drag it behind you on an uneven surface, often while putting weight on it. How much you use your shoes should be the deciding factor or whether you want to splurge on this or not. If you only play once a week, then it may not be necessary. If you’re curling two to three times a week, and/or plan on hitting a lot of bonspiels during the season, then it might be worth the oft-quoted extra $25 most places charge for it. The nice thing here is that if you don’t opt for it, you can always add it yourself later with a toe coating kit.

Lace cover: A piece of material that covers the laces of your shoes. Some companies offer this only on the trailing foot, some on both, and some not at all. Again, as with toe coats, whether or not you want this is entirely arbitrary. Some curlers place a lot of their weight on the top of their trailing foot, instead of the toe. Those that do not only see wear and tear quickly on their laces, but also the area of the shoe immediately surrounding them. (In extreme cases, some people even said that because their drag was so extreme on the laces, the first thing to ruin on their shoes was the eye-holes tearing apart.) So should you opt for it? Not if your sliding style doesn’t call for it. If it comes standard on a pair of shoes you like, great. Having it won’t hurt you.

The slider: The Teflon attached to the bottom of the shoe that you slide out on. The slider is pretty much what makes a curling shoe, well, a curling shoe. It’s probably the first thing you look at when you’re looking to buy. Some would say it’s not the most important thing to consider (see: “The Upper” section below), but it’s definitely a biggie. Given this, there’s a lot of material to cover here and more-than-a-few things to be concerned with: the thickness of the slider itself, whether to get a split-sole or full-sole slider, and if the slider should even be permanently attached to the shoe or not.

Let’s start with the obvious option: thickness.

In the sliding lunge, it’s natural to slightly shift your weight around on your forward foot to maintain your balance as you travel down the uneven surface of the sheet. Thinner sliders (like a slip-on) bend easier and conform more to the foot of the shooter, making it easier to maintain balance. This little bit of “play” or “wiggle room” is perfect for brand new players to learn how to get used to the task of shooting a curling stone. The trade off here is, of course, not being able to push out as far, nor with that much relative ease. It can be done, it just takes a lot more effort.

Why? It’s simple: the thinner the slider, the more it bends, creating more drag. The thicker (or more rigid) a slider is, the less likely it will be to “dig into” the grooves and bumps that exist between the pebble. Thicker sliders will coast or glide easier across the top of the ice, requiring a lot less effort to push out of the hack. Speaking from personal experience, before I bought my shoes I struggled simply to make it to the hogline with a slip-on slider. Now I not only can make it to the hogline every single time, but I have on more than one occasion slid all the way to hogline at the shooting end of the sheet without even trying (he says with humility).

This doesn’t mean that the thickest slider out there is necessarily the best for a beginner, however.

When the slider doesn’t come with any “wiggle room,” any instability in balance feels magnified (as I have personally experienced). It takes more leg strength after you push out of the hack to hold your posture and keep that forward foot in place. Little balance-checks, wobbles, or weight-shifts along the way that used to be of no major concern, can now result in your sliding foot slipping out completely from under you (ouch), or at the least send you slightly off line.

The good news here is that adjusting to a thicker slider is, usually, a fairly quick process. And once it’s done, finding consistent finesse is a much less daunting task. Most players I communicated with adapted within a week or two (with a month being the worst I heard). Many found that the lack of “play” or “give” that comes with the rigidity even turned into an asset as they learned how to hold their posture better and start to control it.

For these reasons, most players use (and recommend) a slider thickness of 3/16″ (three-sixteenths of an inch). This number seems to strike that near-perfect balance of having enough rigidity to slide further and easier, mixed with enough “play” or “give” to allow for adjustments and balance checks mid-slide. Luckily, most sliders on mid-range quality curling shoes are already 3/16″ thick. Some companies offer the option of going thicker to 1/4″ (a quarter of an inch – which is the thickest I’ve seen), but doing so can up the cost anywhere from an extra $10 to as much as an additional $25 or more. Full disclosure: I personally use this thickness simply because it was already offered on the shoes I bought, which I found on sale for cheap.

(Side Note – For those of you thinking that you might go the cheaper route and just buy your own slip-on slider instead of shoes, remember that most slip-on sliders fall around the 1/32″ – 1/16″ range. This is as thin as it sounds. Think about it; one-third of the thickness for something that not only makes it harder to slide out effectively, but may not even stay in place on your foot.)

Another major thing to consider when buying new shoes: split-sole versus full-sole.

A lot of newer shoes out there (that also tend to cost more) have a split-sole. This is where the Teflon covers the heel and the ball of the foot, but leaves a gap under the arch of the foot. Because of this gap, there is naturally less contact surface to the ice. Less contact surface means less drag, which equals a faster slide. Another benefit split-sole sliders have is found in their flexibility. They allow the shoe to bend easier in the arch of the foot. This makes it more comfortable and feel natural when a player has to walk up and down the sheet with a gripper on.

There is a drawback, however; and that is split-sole shoes make it easier to “toe slide.” This is when the delivering player, mid-slide, lifts the heel of their sliding foot off of the ice and places most of their forward weight on their toes (or the ball of the foot). And why not? Less surface contact with the ice means a further slide, right? The problem is that “toe sliding” places a LOT of extra stress on the muscles and tendons in the forward knee. It is not uncommon for these players to suffer from health problems down the road via stress-related injuries to the knee. In her e-book, Break Through Beginner Curling, Gabrielle Coleman even mentions needing physical therapy for a stress-injury to her T-band because she began curling as a “toe slider.”

That is exactly why I personally opted for the full-sole slider: when I began curling, I found myself “toe sliding.” My knee started to bother me slightly. I tried to focus on not lifting my heel, but I simply couldn’t master it. To fix this problem, I chose to take the easier way out and put a solid quarter-inch thick piece of Teflon over my whole foot. The rigidity of the slider doesn’t allow me the option of “toe sliding” because I really can’t flex or bend my arch.

If you aren’t a “toe slider,” then by all means get a split-sole. And why not? Take any advantage to up your game that you can get – including less surface contact with the ice. As someone with a full-sole, I will say that I don’t notice myself struggling to sweep compared to other players, nor do I find the extra surface contact with the ice to be any hindrance to my game. In fact, I can slide farther down the sheet than most other players I know (which would be a humble brag if it even mattered, but it doesn’t; getting to the hogline accurately is all that matters).

Now, when you go to buy, the last thing you’ll encounter about sliders to think of is whether to get a permanently attached one or not.

A lot of really nice, fancy, and expensive new shoes don’t have Teflon glued to the bottom of them any more. Instead they have Velcro. Yup, Velcro. The reason for this is that it allows the player to swap out “discs” or “pods” (different names for the same thing) on the bottom of their sliding foot to change up their game. Held in place by the Velcro, these pods or discs can be made of varying shapes and thicknesses of Teflon, steel, or whatever other material you can find or make. (Most people with “pod” shoes still opt for the Teflon, however.)

When I asked, no one with these new fancy kicks ever once had a pod fall off because the Velcro failed them. In fact, many people consider their shoes to be of comparable quality to those with glued on sliders. So basically what you’re paying for here is simply the added bonus of a split-sole shoe that comes with the insurance of being able to replace the Teflon should it become damaged. While nice in idea, I’ve found these shoes to be among the most expensive out there (and the replacement/extra pods are not cheap, either). So do you need it? Not really. Might you want it? I’m of the opinion that that is entirely up to buyer.

The Upper: The material that makes up the main body of the shoe (aka – the part that envelops the foot when wearing the shoes). When buying new shoes, some people are of the opinion that the quality of the upper is more important to consider than even the slider. The most often stated reason is that “Teflon is Teflon. It will not break or come off of the sole once it’s firmly attached in place. It’s the upper that seems to suffer more wear and tear.”

Luckily, the most quality shoes you’ll find out there come with a leather upper exterior, and an insulated interior. This is good because leather will survive the changing temperatures better than most other materials you might find. Remember: your shoes are going to be played on ice, but stored in a warm room (or in a bag in your car, like mine). Having a material that can withstand these extremes is crucial, and leather fits the bill nicely. The only minor downside is that new leather shoes are going to be tough and slow to break in (especially since you’re playing on ice). Just be patient with them and soon they’ll fit like any other pair of shoes you own.

To Sum it All Up

So what can you expect? Well, assuming the recommended 3/16″ slider that comes with a gripper, no toe coat, no lace cover, and no discounts or sales, I’ve found that the good-quality mid-range shoes from various companies run about $120-$180, give or take. (Does not include shipping, if you buy online.)  A rather broad range, I know.

But, to compare: The most expensive pair I’ve found (split-sole, 1/4″ thick Teflon pods attached by Velcro, with a gripper, toe coat, and leather-upper) totaled up to $320. The cheapest pairs I found, which had a thinner 1/8″ slider, full-sole, with no gripper, toe coat, or anything fancy ran about $60-80.

Pro Tip: If you can, wait until the end of the season (March through May). Depending on the company, you can sometimes get a great pair of shoes for the cost of a low-range pair.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – while many options in Curling shoes exist, the market is not over-saturated with companies that sell what, in the grand scheme of things, is really a niche product. The benefit of this for buyers is that you aren’t going to pay insane mark-up prices because there’s a swoop or a logo on the side. You get what you pay for.

Just remember: Above all else, curling shoes are an investment. If you take care of them, they can last anywhere from two to five years (or more). It’s tempting and easy to go cheap, I know. And yeah, if you’re not sure how fancy to go, or even if you want to stick with the sport long-term, it might be best to get a starter pair that fits just to have some fun. But for the more hardcore or competitive player, it’s worth it to just bite the bullet and make the investment. As someone posted on Reddit, “Cry now or cry later.”

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who hopes to one day achieve a full sheet hack-to-hack slide, just for funsies. He also wants a pair of rainbow colored shoelaces to give his curling kicks a personal touch. If you have any suggestions for him on this – or on curling shoes in general – hit the comments below. Or, you can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

Gearing Up: A Primer (part 2)

Continuing on from where I last left off in my “Gearing Up” blog series, in this second part of the basic primer, I discuss and offer up opinions on how science and technology has progressed and equalized the sport of Curling through its gear.

MARS AND VENUS COME DOWN TO EARTH

“So I’m getting my own gear – is it really going to make that much of a difference in my game?”

Short answer: Yes.

(AUTHOR’S SIDE NOTE: In this blog series, I am making the assumption that if you’re reading this, you want to improve upon your game to a competition-ready level.)

Forgive me for the turn this blog is going to take, but I must “go there” if I am to make my awesome point (and I do have one) and bring things full circle.

Fifty years ago, in the days of corn brooms, it made sense to separate the genders in terms of forming teams (old-school notion of gender-roles aside). Why do I say this? Because (and here we go) male physiques were more capable of building strength to really beat the Hell out of the ice with a corn broom to affect the path of a stone. That is not me ragging on women, I swear. That is, quite simply, physiological differences. If you take the best power lifting woman in the world and put her up against the world’s best power lifting male, he would be able to hoist up more weight. Does this mean all women are weaker and not capable of being stronger than men? HELL NO. In fact, if you took the world’s best female MMA fighter and put her in a cage match against, say, me – I’ll see you in three months when I wake up from my coma.

Now before every woman out there beats me with a corn broom to prove her strength – let me make my point: This was fifty years ago. As in, not the case present-day. One of the awesome things that I LOVE about the sport of curling is that the advances of technology in the equipment we play with almost-completely equalize the sport. By integrating Teflon sliders onto the shoes, using carbon fiber broom shafts, and even advancing the brush pads to include insulating space-age mylar – brute force and accurate strength alone no longer make a difference. The sport’s “meta” has shifted from muscle to mind, and there are any number of scientific journal studies out there I could cite that state the same thing: men and women may be physiologically different, but mentally we are equal. The power of the mind favors no gender. Which means the ‘olden days’ belief of gender inequality are now just that: olden days. Archaic. Gone. Done. No more. Etcetera.

“How?”

Simple. Before adding Telfon to the shoes, the amount of leg strength required to get a stone down the sheet for a big-weight takeout was pretty hefty. In fact, there’s an old school belief that, because of this, women “can’t hit.”  In the words of Gabrielle Coleman in her e-book, Break Through Beginner Curling, “Bullsh!t.” Thanks to slider, and to studies done on human body mechanics, women can now shoot (and especially hit) just as fine, if not better, than men. Case in point: Canadian gold-medalist Jennifer Jones is known for her amazing hitting skills.

“Okay, that’s shooting. What about sweeping?”

For the longest time, this is where men had a arm-up on women (so to speak), but that isn’t the case these days. Thanks to the awesome magic of technology, higher-end brooms make women (and weaker-armed males, such as myself, lol) just as competition-ready as beefy-forearmed men. Think of it this way: High Definition TVs are getting more and more “Hi Def” (if the ads are to be believed) with more and more pixels built in to each new generation’s screen that comes out. And yet, we are approaching a point in advancement where the pixels are so small, that the change in adding even more of them is no longer discernible to the naked human eye. Sure, a next generation HD television technically will be even more advanced than a current one, but if you place them side by side and look at the same picture, you won’t be able to tell which is which.

Now imagine those pixels are brush pads. How long does it take a stone to pass over any given pebble droplet with two brooms in front of it? Not very long. It used to be that a sweeper really had to scrub that pebble as he or she passed it to truly polish it down enough to build up a noticeable effect on a stone over the length of any given shot. However, with modern-day (and appropriately-named) EQ pads, short for ‘Equalizer,’ and Norway brush pads (Goldline’s version of the same thing), mylar is now integrated into the fabric on the end of a broom to insulate the fabric and retain warmth generated by friction. This means that, overall, it takes much less friction in one’s sweeping to achieve the optimal effect of polishing any given bump of pebble to a desirable smoothness. This helps all sweepers, and removes the amount of strength required to be effective – making the sport of curling not only more gender-equal, but beginner-friendly. (Advancements in making lighter weight carbon fiber brush shafts only help ease the burden of sweeping, too.)

“Great. Science and technology are awesome. So what does this mean?”

It means that, thanks to technological advancements, every one is more or less on the same footing. So much so, that there is a push to add the discipline of Mixed Doubles Curling to the 2018 Winter Olympics roster. If this happens, Curling will be only the THIRD Olympic sport, and the FIRST Winter Olympic sport – EVER – to allow both men and women to compete with and against each other simultaneously. (The other two being Equestrian sports and Badminton.)

“So what does this have to do with gearing up for Curling?”

Everything! The base-line equality exists in the equipment.

If you are of a physique where you will not be modeling on the cover of Health & Fitness anytime soon (as I will not), finding the right gear is crucial to your continued success in this sport and to help you be the best curler you can be. Will having the top-of-the-line gear instantly make you a gold medal contender? No, of course not. And I will never claim that it will. This is still a sport after all, and physical prowess is required.

“So then why bother buying gear?”

As I have said, getting better at curling requires repetition and consistency. Lots of it. Tons of it, even. In order to maximize your progression, you need to eliminate as many variables that detract from achieving maximum consistency as possible. Using the same quality broom and shoes every time you step out onto the ice is a major way to do that.

Now, while there are many brands out there, there aren’t a TON of options in gear. That is why I’m doing this series: to wade through the options, opinions, and advertisements, and to field some common and not-so-common questions in an effort to help fellow beginners navigate through the potentially slippery ground of getting gear. I may not be able to cover every base, but I certainly will try to touch upon as many of these bases as I can, and condense them into a simple and easy-to-use guide.

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who has done so much research on Curling gear that he never wants to hear about gender disparity in Curling ever again. Like, ever. However, he does want to hear from you. So drop a comment below. Or follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

Learn2Teach. Teach2Learn.

“Look: I haven’t any money. I can only pay you in knowledge.”
“Then you’ve got me for as long as you need me.”
-Anonymous (overheard exchange)

There’s an old saying I read (that I’ve mentioned in a previous blog I’ve written) about how new curlers can always up their game: “Learn to teach, and teach to learn. We all need to go back to the basics at one point or another.”

The idea behind this saying is simple. Learning from instructors is a great way to gather knowledge. Learning from experience is a great way to gather wisdom. And yet, learning to teach is a great way to build upon both. By focusing on helping others, not only are we required to improve our own knowledge and experience, we are tasked with being able to articulate what we know into a language that others can comprehend.

How many times have you been on the ice and had an epiphany – a moment of clarity when something “just clicked into place”? Have you ever had a hard time explaining that revelation to others? It’s one thing to come to a conclusion on our own, it’s another to be able to articulate it (especially in a way that helps others). And yet, when we find those words to impart our knowledge, somehow watching another try to implement our advice opens up even newer revelations. By seeing ways for others to improve, we think of new ways to improve ourselves. Whether we discover a flaw in our advice/wording, a new problem our “solution” didn’t anticipate, or an even better way to streamline what we thought we already knew, teaching others only serves to better our own game. It offers us an outside perspective; a critical eye with an attention for detail that we, hopefully, can then turn on ourselves.

This is one of the reasons I love watching my toddler-aged nieces grow and learn: without experience to teach them, whenever they are faced with a problem, they have nothing but their own creativity to find a solution. They don’t always arrive at the best answer, but sometimes they absolutely amaze and surprise me with their simplistic ingenuity. So, too, do other beginners of this great sport of ours.

That’s why I’m throwing down a challenge to each of you reading this: I want every single one of you to, if and when you feel comfortable, volunteer to learn how to teach a Learn2Curl. Not only will you be helping give back to Windy City Curling by encouraging growth and new members to join us, you will also be learning to improve upon your own game.

This club of ours, like so many others in the United States, thrives because of its amazing volunteers.

If you were at the most recent all-member meeting, you already know that our club is in a bit of a transition; a cross-roads, if you will. What the current board began is an amazing thing. Now, as we hope to expand and grow, our club needs some helping hands to move past this “growing pain” stage we currently find ourselves in.

The board has proven they can do a great job getting new players addicted to this awesome sport (heck, they hooked almost everyone here all by themselves). But, as we saw in the meeting, their efforts to keep this club going are needed in ever-increasing and differing directions (marketing, funding, membership, scheduling, event planning, etc.).  So, in an effort to help them not spread themselves too thin, I’m asking that we the members help take this one simple task – teaching new prospective members that register for our Learn2Curls – off of their plate, if we are able.

There are some amazing people that take to the ice every single week at Windy City Curling; they play this sport with heart, passion, skill, and genuine camaraderie. I can think of no better ambassadors to bring new blood into the fold.

-Eric 🙂

P.S. – For those of you wanting an even extra challenge to tackle, I’m working on getting a group of WCCC members together to take an official Level 1 USCA Certified Instructor Course that will be happening out in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 27th, 2014. You can read all of the details (that I currently have) HERE.

(Eric Reithel is -despite what anyone would convince you of- just a guest-blogger for the Windy City Curling Club. Some will say he is THE blogger, but those people are lying to you. Okay, they actually aren’t.  It’s official: he is WCCC’s blogger. But he wants you to know that this is a title and responsibility he reluctantly accepts out of fear of being a disappointment. He also wants you to know that you can follow him on Twitter – reluctantly or enthusiastically (dealer’s choice) – @TheCraftyCurler.)

Gone Curling!

Found on Reddit, this is a charming short film (10-minutes long) that offers but a mere glimpse into the life of the sport of curling from the glory days gone by (all the way back to 1963!).  The obvious differences in the equipment used back then compared to now are there, sure (I mean, do you see any Teflon on those shoes? Because I sure don’t!), but the familiar heart and soul of the game remains the same.

Gone Curling by John Howe, National Film Board of Canada

To those who played and kept this great sport alive during a time in this planet’s history when (most of) the world didn’t even know it existed, a big THANK YOU from those of us present-day who do.

Man, after watching this… What I would give to go back in time just for a night to throw some stones around with those folks. 🙂

-Eric

(Eric Reithel is a guest blogger who, after seeing the technique required to use the corn brooms in this film, will never complain about the condition of any brush he ever borrows out of the loaner bucket ever again. You can follow him Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

On the Other Hand…

“There is no stability without solidarity and no solidarity without stability.”
-Jose Manuel Barroso

If you’re looking for a place to discuss all things Curling – be it players we love, games we’ve seen, bonspiels we’ve attended, or even advice on game theory and gear – there is a wonderful online community of curlers on the website Reddit. (For those of you who may not know, Reddit is a massive online site where users mainly post various pictures, stories, news articles, and discussion topics. These are are all further broken down into what are called “subreddits” where the content is geared towards the chosen topic. And yes, there is one called “Curling” devoted strictly to this awesome sport of ours.)

One of the discussions that appears every now and then (as new users come and go) is the topic of stabilizers. You know… these things. As discussions progress, there’s always some people who love using them, some people who think them to be a crutch, some people who feel they ought to be banned, some people who could take ’em or leave ’em, and some people who view them as an excellent teaching tool with which to start off new players before eventually “graduating” them into sliding out of the hack with a broom. My opinion on stabilizers mostly falls into this last group mentality, although I do take exception to the notion of “graduating to the broom.”

What makes the topic so lively and one that keeps coming up is that stabilizers are allowed at all levels of competition nationally and internationally.  That’s right – you can use one at the Olympics. In fact, some Curlers have. (That’s skip Pal Trulsen from Team Norway at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. His team won the gold medal that year.)

It’s an interesting debate, to be sure, and one that I don’t think will ever come to a solid conclusion anytime soon. But it is a discussion occasionally worth having.

You see, I was always told stabilizers were there for beginners who may not have yet developed the balance needed for proper rock delivery. It’s supposed to help new players get used to putting their upper body’s weight on their non-dominant arm instead of the stone.

According to various sources I’ve read, “ideal” stone delivery should have almost, if not all of your weight on your sliding foot. Should you need it, your trailing leg is to be used for upright balance, but it should mostly just be there for drag to help you adjust your speed after pushing out of the hack. Your broom/stabilizer should only be there for lateral balance checks if you absolutely need it. (Theoretically speaking, you should ideally have such solid balance that you don’t need anything in your non-throwing hand at all.) The combination of these three contact points on the ice – sliding foot, trailing leg, and broom – should create a tripod-like effect for stability. This allows no weight to be placed on the rock at all – allowing for cleaner, more accurate delivery.

Again, all of this is in-theory.

Since it takes a natural period of time and strength building to adapt to having all of your weight on one foot in a lunge, people will naturally use their trailing leg. And also, since most people aren’t perfectly centered when they balance on their two feet positioned in a straight line, it makes sense they’ll need to begin their curling careers with one arm out on something for support. Since you don’t want this support to be the rock they’re going to ultimately be letting go of, you give them something to use: a stabilizer or a broom tucked under the shoulder.

And yet, the learning process of figuring out how to tuck a broom under your arm to use for support also takes time to learn how to do effectively.

Personal Experience: Coming from a former dance background, using a stabilizer always felt a bit weird to me. When I would use one, it felt like I was in more of a hunched over I’m-about-to-beat-my-fists-into-my-chest gorilla-ish/linebacker pose, instead of in an upright, here-gracefully-comes-my-curling-stone delivery. This put a lot of my body weight forward in my lunge, which meant my legs were required to work overtime pushing out of the hack. Sure, I was able to make shots, but personally, I was having to ‘muscle it’ too much just to hit draw weight. Shooting, though fun, was an incredibly taxing and exhausting ordeal on my quads and hamstrings. (And while this style of leg-driven delivery may work wonders for stronger men just fine, I, believe it or not, am not one of those men.)

So I tried tucking the broom under my arm. This was also super awkward at first because I could never quite figure out how to hold the darn thing solidly in place during a slide in any variation of straight, flexed, or bent wrist/elbow/shoulder combination.

That is, until I saw this guy at Notre Dame simply holding his broom under his arm while standing around before a game having a casual conversation with a friend. I was watching him hold his broom in curious awe. “How is he doing that?” I asked my self. From my angle, I couldn’t see the broom head, so it looked like he was simply holding a medieval quarterstaff (aka – ninja bo staff). He looked similar to this.

Having taken a few stage combat lessons in my day (theatrical acting degree activate!), I instantly remembered how I used to casually hold a staff under my arm, too. So I applied the same body mechanics to my broom, adjusting things slightly to account for the broom head and sliding angle, and viola! – this position put the shaft of the broom in a more comfortable position against my back, and put my arms into a more familiar squared-off dance-like pose. Since making this connection and discovery, I’ve been coasting out of the hack with what feels like finesse and grace ever since, but making this connection and applying it into practical use took some time. Like, about four to five weeks. (And to be honest, I’m still working on getting my broom tuck down pat. Remember? It’s supposedly my “Guide Dog” or some other such thing.)

Given all of this, when you have a bunch of absolute beginners in a Learn 2 Curl wanting to try out this crazy rock-throwing sport of ours, there is the risk of turning people off if you expect them to even remotely grasp the commonly accepted system of delivery with a broom straight out of the gate. Therefore, to make things easier, and to keep people ultimately interested in the sport by maximizing their fun at the on-set of learning, you give them a tool to lend a helping hand: the stabilizer.

Personally, I have no problem with this for beginners. Heck, I needed a stabilizer when I first started out, too. The broom tuck was the bane of my existence. And I know I’m not alone. In fact, if you had asked me to start off with only a broom instead of a stabilizer, I probably would not have stuck with the sport. Switching from stabilizer to broom was a challenge for me. I fell on the ice a lot. And it hurt. A lot.

I needed to have a few incredible weeks of experience under my belt with a stabilizer to give me that drive to want to better myself at my sport by “upping my game,” so to speak. And now that I use the broom, I can feel the difference in my shooting. I know that, even with a wobble here-and-there out of the hack, I’m throwing better now than I ever did with a stabilizer. But that’s a personal journey I made. Not everyone will feel the same. Some will disagree with me, swear by the stabilizer, and use it for life. So what?

With some beginners who only want to play casually in a once-a-week league and nothing else, why force them into a period of painful and potentially frustrating trial-and-error when letting them just have fun and a stabilizer will do just fine?

Eventually, encouragement to do so from other players, and seeing a majority of those at the top of the sport use them, will naturally move some of the new players on to the more traditional broom delivery if/when they are ready/willing. (Having a league without any stabilizers to use at all so that people are forced to use the broom can also help this process, but I wouldn’t personally recommend taking that risk with your beginners. Unlike at Notre Dame. Where they did.)

But until then, let people fall in love with the game in their own way before asking to them to fall in love it your way. Maybe they’ll change, and maybe they won’t.

Besides, having a Norwegian skip win the Gold Medal while using one at the Olympics – y’know, just the pinnacle of competition in our sport – kind of adds a lot of points to the “Stabilizers are a-Okay!” column, whether anyone likes it or not.  So there’s that.

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a guest blogger who, once he abandoned stability in favor of only using a broom, used the pick-up line, ‘Would you like to go Curling together, or shall I just sweep you off of your feet now?’ in his online dating profile with very limited success. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)


Now what about you? Have an opinion on the matter? Feel free to share it in a comment below, over on our Facebook page, or tweet it to us @WindyCity_CC.  See you on the ice!