Gearing Up: Brooms

“Well we can’t all come and go by bubble.”
-Elphaba, Wicked

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.”

“…a what?”

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 🙂

(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.)

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 1)

“Arm yourself, because no one else here will save you.”
-Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name”

THE BASICS

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a blog series for those of you out there in Windy City Curling Land that are looking to invest in your own equipment. Fall is fast approaching, and so too is Curling season. Being a new curling club, a lot of us – understandably – are beginners to the sport ourselves. As we continue to grow and get better as players, one of the things I’m asked, or hear others asking about, is gear. With questions ranging from the simple (“How much should I expect to pay for…?”) to the more complex (“What is a performance brush head, and how is it better or worse than something else?”), I’ve been scouring the internet and asking fellow club members for answers to just about every gear-related question I could think of.

I’m going to be breaking this blog series into various parts for ease of future reference (shoes, brooms, buying online versus in-person, brands of note, and even how to do-it-yourself). This first foray into the fray will consist of answering the absolute basics.

“Do I need to buy my own gear?”

Short Answer: technically, ‘No.’ You absolutely do not.

Windy City Curling has loaner gear at the club, ready for anyone to borrow. From brooms to sliders to stabilizers, everything you could need to enjoy your night on the ice is there for you to borrow.

“So then why buy gear?”

There are many answers to this question.

Starting simple: A lot of beginners like owning their own gear for emotional reasons. When you make the financial investment into your own equipment, you make an emotional investment as well. A lot of people claim it makes them feel like a ‘true’ curler.  And there is something to be said for that. A big component of curling, or any sport for that matter, is the mental game.  Feeling confident and capable in your own abilities, strangely enough, breeds confidence and capability. One of the things that helps generate this is familiarity with the gear you use. We may not be suiting up in modern-day armor like pro football players, but donning your pair of curling shoes and arming yourself with your curling brush – as someone on Reddit posted – “…feels like visiting an old friend every single week.” This emotional connection shouldn’t be discredited.

But beyond the emotional rationale, there is a practical reasoning as well:  Picture it. Two sheets of curling ice, both EXACTLY identical, right down to each individual pebble droplet. You have your skip calling the exact same shot twice in a row. Nothing changes between shots (assume, for this example, the ice is magic and resets itself to the same conditions every single time). You slide out for your draw – same stone, same hack, same everything. The only variable that changes here is you. If your line, weight, or curl differ even slightly between the two shots – you will see a noticeable difference in the end result. This is where consistency comes into play and gives the sport of Curling that minute level of finesse and grace you often hear about when watching the elites perform on TV.

This is one of the reasons getting your own gear is extremely helpful. While yes, you can – and are always welcome – to borrow the Windy City Curling gear for the night, if you are actively trying to improve your game and get better, you need to eliminate as many varying variables from the consistency equation as possible. If every single week you’re grabbing a different broom, or using a different slider – those changes will slow the progression of fine-tuning your consistency. As WCC member Rebecca (who recently bought her own shoes) told me, I did not feel safe with the slip on slider because it flopped around. I like my shoes better because I know they’ll stay on my feet. I think they have definitely helped my game.”

I myself experienced this. While using slip-on loaner sliders was a great way to get my feet wet and start out, it wasn’t until I bought my own pair of shoes that I felt like my shooting truly started to improve. I could slide further with less strength required. I found I could make minor mid-slide adjustments if my weight felt off. And I found a sense of balance that allowed me to focus more on the broom at the other end of the sheet, rather than on what my body was doing down on my end. In short: I was able to start finding a level of finesse that simply wasn’t possible before.

“So you’re saying I should buy shoes first, right?”

Not exactly. While everyone I spoke to agreed universally that having a pair of competition-level shoes (which means a standard 3/16″ slider or thicker; which I’ll get into later) almost instantly improves their delivery consistency, there was some differing opinions on which piece of gear to get first: shoes or a broom (assuming you can only afford one or the other).

For beginners who want to focus primarily on shooting, yes – get your own shoes. In fact, most people suggested buying a pair of curling shoes first. The sooner you get a thick Teflon slider on your foot that is built into the shoe so that it won’t wobble, shift, or move around around on you, the sooner you will feel improvement in your shooting. And since you have to shoot two stones every end no matter what position you play, shoes are something you will need to invest in at some point in time.

(AUTHOR’S SIDE NOTE: From this moment forward 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.)

The only downside to buying shoes is that they are the more expensive piece of gear to acquire. Some places online do offer end-of-season sales and whatnot so that you can fine a pair of shoes for cheaper (as I was lucky enough to do), but if you can’t find a sale, then you’re looking at least $150 for a quality pair that will last you a season or two. The higher-end brands with fancier options can run as much as $320 for a pair; no small chunk of change, to be sure. Still, the primary focus of the sport is scoring points by putting stones in play, and every player does that by sliding them there. Shoes for the intermediate curler and above are practically a prerequisite.

“Okay, but I sweep six stones an end, and only deliver two…”

If you start out in our club playing a lot of front-end (Lead or Second), then perhaps you might want to consider getting a broom first. And there a lot of pros for this: With all that sweeping you’re going to be doing, finding a light-weight quality broom with a modern high-tech brush pad on it will make you a better sweeper. If nothing else, it’ll save your arm strength. As you advance your shooting skills, having the same broom tucked under your arm as you practice your slide creates that familiar level of consistency I mentioned above. And, in a fun side-note, of shoes and brooms, I noticed a lot more people felt the aforementioned emotional attachment to their broom, much in the same way a knight feels connected to his or her sword. And yes, some people even named their broom. (Which is awesome.)

Brooms also tend to – comparatively – run much cheaper. I’ve seen brooms as low as $55, and as high as $180. The nicer thing about owning your own broom is that, down the road, if you ever decide to hang up your curling shoes permanently and get out of the sport (a sad thought I’m not going to dwell on), it is easier to re-sell a broom than a worn pair of shoes. So they have that going for them, too.

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

Short answer: Yes.

And I’ll get more into the reasons of ‘How’ and ‘Why’ in Part 2 of this primer…

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who, in an effort to find the “perfect” pair of curling shoes and the “best” brush out there, has created enough spreadsheets to know no such magic exists. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)