It didn’t take long for me to find myself nearly facedown on the ice, but once I got that out of the way, I was ready to learn how to curl at Ion International Training Center in Leesburg. You know curling: It’s everyone’s favorite must-learn sport during the Winter Olympics.
Ion’s leading curling instructor, Dave Brown, says sign-ups for lessons surged when the Winter Olympics aired last February, calling it the “Olympics bump.” Brown teaches weekly Learn to Curl classes at the ice arena. He’s also a founding member of the Loudoun Curling Club, competing in curling tournaments across the region.
I’ll admit, I was one of those curling fans who watched, on the edge of the sofa, as the U.S. men’s team took gold in a nail-biter match in 2018. The Americans finished fourth at the last Winter Games, but my interest level in the sport remained high. Curling may not be in my blood, but I could still be an Olympian, right?
So, on a Saturday night in mid-October, I joined eight or nine other like-minded and warmly dressed curling enthusiasts eager to learn how to play the sport. But first, we needed to learn curling lingo. Brown briefed us on “hacks,” “sliders,” “brooms,” and “stones.”
The hack is like a track starting block. It lets you brace your foot so you can push off and slide across the ice. The slider is a slippery shoe-shaped piece of pliable plastic that lets your other foot glide forward once you push off. More competitive curlers, including Brown, wear shoes with built-in sliders.
The curling stone is the 42-pound circular piece of polished granite with a handle that each player pushes down the ice. Lastly, there’s the broom, which helps reduce friction between the stone and ice, allowing the stone to glide across the ice rink.
We started by learning to push off the hack. I let a few of my fellow novice curlers step up as I nervously readied for my turn. It’s not so simple, at least not at first. Not only do you need to push off and pick up speed, but you need to quickly slide your other foot all the way in front of you and then throw the stone (i.e., push the stone across the ice).
The goal is to get the stone into the house, which is about 140 feet away. It’s got four rings and looks like a bullseye. The goal, like in darts, is to get your stone closest to the center, or button. Whichever team of four does this wins the end (a set).
While this sounds like a lot to grasp, if you focus on anything, make it the push off. “Once you get comfortable on the ice, in the delivery position, you’ll quickly realize you can throw a stone from one end of the ice to the other,” Brown says.
By the end of the session, I was pushing off with relative ease.
Curling is kind of like riding a bike. Once your body figures out what to do and how to maintain balance, your brain tends to remember for next time. I may not be ready for the Olympics, but league play may be in my future.
Learn to Curl classes at Ion cost $30 and take place every Saturday night from 9:10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. You can sign up for classes at ionitc.com/curling. Ion is also home to the Loudoun Curling Club, which meets on Friday nights. It’s a super chill league, and people of all levels are encouraged to come out and have fun.