Greetings From… St. Paul, Minnesota

MsBoyink (left) holds a curling broom in her left hand, a curling stone in her right, has a slider on her left foot, and her right foot is in the hack.

by Michael Boyink/ mike@douglascountyherald.com

Minneapolis, MN

Curling.

You know, that funny Olympic sport with the brooms and big pucks.

YouTube comments on curling videos can be harsh:

“LOL curling is the biggest joke ever…worst thing is that they call this a sport.” 

“This sport is for ppl who cant play any athletic sport.” 

On a curling-themed episode of The Simpsons, Homer was a little less caustic: “Marge! This is perfect for both of us! It’s got bowling for me and sweeping for you!”

And I have to admit.

When we drove through Bemidji, Minnesota (which I don’t know how to pronounce either), and saw that it was the “Curling Capital of the United States”, I might have smirked. 

And I may have had a little of my tongue in my cheek when I suggested we should try curling.

We were, after all, in Minnesota. Besides listening to A Prairie Home Companion and going to a church potluck, what could be more Minnesotan than curling?

We were headed south, following the Mississippi River. I looked downstream and found there were curling clubs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

One of them was offering free lessons. 

I signed us up.

We started in a classroom learning the basics of the game.

Each curling team has 4 people. The lead is called a “Skip” and they are the team strategist, showing players where to aim their shots. 

To curl, you put a broom under one arm, crouch down, and grab the “stone” with your other hand. 

You then push off against a “hack” with one foot and slide on the other foot. 

You release the stone, both aiming it and giving it a twist so it rotates (or curls) as it slides over the ice.

Your teammates influence the speed and direction of the released stone by sweeping in front of it. But no touching – that’s called “burning the stone” and is an infraction.

At the other end of the rink is the “house” – a giant bullseye. A team scores one point for every stone that it has closer to the center of the house than the other team.

The Skip may want to you to try and score, or knock an opponent’s scoring stone out of the house. Or both.

Each game of curling has eight or ten “ends” – much like an inning in baseball.

It all made sense in our heads. Kinda. We headed onto the ice to put our new-found curling knowledge into practice.

I had skated as a kid. At times the creek behind our house would overflow in winter then freeze and we’d have fun for a couple of days. 

Curling stones gathered around a slider.

But I’m no Scott Hamilton.

And it showed. 

Trying to balance, slide, aim, spin and release a curling stone successfully without ending in a faceplant is hard. 

We looked like newborn giraffes learning to walk.

We all had delivery attempts that ended with us splayed out on the ice before getting the stone released successfully. 

But we had good coaches and understanding teammates. We kinda-sorta got the hang of the stone delivery (although one of us may have started pinch-hitting for the others).

Michael Boyink (middle) in mid-delivery of a curling stone, Miranda Boyink (right) poised for sweeping.

The game strategy was engaging. The banter between teams was playful. 

And after a few minutes?

I had to shed a layer or two. I was getting overheated from the physical effort required to play the game. I don’t care what the YouTube haters say – curling raised my heart rate.

And – I have to confess – while we signed up for curling lessons with intentions to lampoon the sport on our blog, curling had the last laugh.

Because we enjoyed it. 

Missouri residents can give curling a try at the St. Louis Curling Club. Learn more at stlouiscurlingclub.org.