2008-11-14 / Neighbors
Curling finds a home in Ventura County
On Saturday nights at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley, after the hockey players have hung up their skates, players of a different sport take to the ice in jeans and sneakers, wielding brooms and 40pound stones.
The sport is curling, which grew in popularity in the United States during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, when the U.S. men's curling team brought home the bronze medal.
Curling is played with specially shaped granite stones, which are released by each player as he or she slides on the ice toward the target, or "house," at the far end of the "sheet," the playing surface of the ice.
To help the rock reach its goal, team members sweep the ice in front of it, which helps the rock to slide farther. Each member of the four-player team throws two stones in each "end."
Once all 16 stones have been played, the end is over and the score is tallied. Similar to scoring in shuffleboard, only the team with the stone closest to the center of the house will score in each end. A game is made up of eight ends.
Charlie Engen of Simi Valley curled once as a teenager during a trip to Switzerland. He said the Olympics revived his interest in the game.
"As lucky fate would have it, the Southern California Curling Club identified and started curling in Simi Valley," Engen said.
When SoCal Curling formed in 2006, the Easy Street Arena Iceoplex didn't have the lanes marked out, so curlers had to spend time before each practice drawing the lines on the ice with markers. These lines, said Carrie Cresante of Westlake Village, would often smear during play.
Fortunately for SoCal Curling, the rink permanently installed the lines needed at its own expense after the first season, said Kate Styers of Simi Valley, who organizes the club's curling sessions.
"The Simi rink wanted to invest in curling," Styers said. "The rink was redoing the ice for hockey and added the curling houses and lanes at the same time."
While the sport has its detractors, curling enthusiasts say there is more to it than heaving rocks across the ice.
Because the teams take turns throwing stones, a stone that looks like it's scoring could be knocked out of the house before the end is over. Therefore the game requires a certain amount of strategy, an aspect which appeals to many of the players.
"I enjoy curling because it is a skill sport, which can be learned, unlike many other sports which depend heavily on innate physical prowess," said Matt Born, who travels to the Iceoplex all the way from his home in Santa Barbara.
Andy Walker, a junior at Thousand Oaks High School, also enjoys the game's strategy, as well as its focus on teamwork.
"There's so many of these subtle strategies involved with curling . . . and you have to be aware of your teammates—teamwork and honor are highlights of the game," he said.
But it's not just the strategies that people love.
"I feel like I'm getting exercise," said Ivy Ratafia of Thousand Oaks.
Her interest in the sport came not through the Olympics but from a film.
"I saw this movie called 'Men with Brooms,' which is all about curling," she said. "I thought, 'I would really love to try this.'"
SoCal Curling will host a curling open house from 9:15 to 11 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15 at the Iceoplex, 131 W. Easy St., Simi Valley. The cost to play is $20, which includes curling lessons. All equipment is provided. Participants must be at least 12 years old to play. Spectators may watch for free.