It's never too late to start a hobby. Even if that hobby is curling.
You know the sport: Folks slide a stone on a sheet of ice from one end of a court to another, with their teammates' sweeping ahead of the stone. Some Americans know about the sport thanks to the Winter Olympics, but many have little knowledge of how the game works. Still, there are 16,500 active curlers in the U.S., according to the United States Curling Association, and there's no reason you can't get in on the action.
Philadelphia-area residents can get involved at several clubs, including the Bucks County Curling Club. Started in 2010, the BCCC has 120 members and puts on games, tournaments, and lessons year round. Want to get involved? There's a how-to clinic on Sunday.
"It's a great combination of exercise, competition, and friendship," said Ian Alexander, 54, a BCCC instructor and King of Prussia resident.
A curler for about 10 years, Alexander has been with BCCC since its inception. While he grew up in Canada, home to some of the world's best curlers, Alexander didn't start curling until long after he left his homeland, something he deeply regrets.
To save you a similar grievance, we've put together a primer on curling.
Develop a Vocabulary
From skips and rocks to buttons and houses, curling has a lot of jargon. It almost seems like its own language sometimes. "That's probably true for most activities, let alone sports," Alexander said. Don't let all these new terms intimidate you.
Teams in curling are made up of four players: a lead, a second, a third (or "vice"), and a "skip." The skip, or team leader, directs the other players to slide ("throw") 40-pound stones (or "rocks") made of granite from one end of a sheet of ice (a "curling sheet") to the other.
The goal is to use a combination of throwing and sweeping to land the stone on the bull's-eye ("button") of the goal ("house"). At the conclusion of each of a game's 10 innings ("ends"), points are awarded to the team with the stones closest to the house's button. It's similar to shuffleboard or bocce.
Watch and Learn
To really understand curling, you need to see it in action. The Winter Olympics is two years away, so your best bet is to take in a tournament ("bonspiel") or two.
Bucks County Curling Club holds two invitational bonspiels, or weekend curling tournaments, a year: May's Crooked Billet, named after a Revolutionary War battle, and September's Big Buckin' Bonspiel. Both offer prime chances to see plenty of the sport outside the usual curling season, which typically runs from October to April. And you'll get a look at other clubs to boot.
"We welcome community members to come by," Alexander said, and not just during bonspiels. A schedule of regular-season games is available on the BCCC website.
Bucks County, however, is not the only option for quality curling. Other clubs in the area also regularly hold events, including the Philadelphia Curling Club in Paoli, the Jersey Pinelands Curling Club in Mount Laurel, and Diamond State Curling Club in Newark, Del.
Get the Gear
When it comes to getting your own curling equipment, don't fear the sweeper.
"The barriers for entry are low," Alexander said. "It's easy to get involved in curling."
Clubs sometimes provide equipment for members and guests, as is the case at BCCC. Guests should bring clean sneakers to avoid getting grit from outside on the ice, and wear loose, comfortable clothing — perhaps the most important part.
"It's always a shame when someone shows up in tight jeans," Alexander said. "It's tough to be flexible like that."
Learn Your Lesson
As Alexander says, curling is easy to learn, but difficult to master, which is why you'll probably want some lessons.
BCCC takes individuals, families, and groups for lessons, with interest spiking every four years with the airing of the Winter Games. The club offers several ways for new curlers to get their brooms wet, including the Curling Experience (a $45, two-hour introduction to curling held monthly) and the Curling Clinic (a $75, two-day clinic that gives more advanced instruction).
"You can walk in not knowing a thing about curling," Alexander said, "and two hours later, you'll know quite a bit."
The lessons at BCCC teach basic curling delivery before moving players into a game setting, so getting on the ice for some hands-on experience is the priority. Curling Clinics typically butt up against regular league play, so folks can jump right in as soon as they feel confident.
Just Start Sweeping
Most important, you'll want to get out there and play — and don't let the strategy of the game or how complicated it might seem fool you. When you're just starting out, it's best to focus on your position and having fun.
Newcomers will start off playing lead. Shooting stones in that position is lower pressure and less physically intense. As players gain more experience, they tend to move up the ladder to skip, the person who calls the games and deals with strategy.
New players don't need to rush. Their familiarity with how the game works will come naturally as they get more games under their brooms. Not understanding everything that's going on is OK.