Curling – A First-Timer’s Story

Swedish curlers at Olympics 2010
You won’t get as good as the Swedish national curling team anytime soon – but you can have as much fun as they do.
Curling seems like a sport out of time and place in Arizona. So explain, then, about 50 people who have never curled before trooping to an ice rink near the McDowell Mountains on a Saturday night to try it.

The crowd includes couples. Hipsters. Corporate cliques. Athletes. Couch potatoes.

Coyotes Curling Club members lead them all during a Learn to Curl session. They divulge the history of curling. They demonstrate the techniques, the critical points of the rules and the inherent sportsmanship. Soon, the cat’s purr rumble of 40-pound hunks of polished granite sliding down ice fills the air. Next come the exultations of first-time curlers hitting milestones.

And we hit many tonight … not sprawling on the ice when we release a rock. Getting our first shots to the Hog Line. Putting our first stone into the house. And, for me (shameless bragging, I know), launching a stone 146 feet down the sheet to settle right onto “the button” – that’s curling’s version of a bull’s-eye or a hole-in-one.

I didn’t do it alone. This is a team sport. My teammates, on the instruction of one of our other teammates, swept the ice in front to make the stone go further. The teammate who told them to sweep also told me where to aim, and what direction to spin my rock.

My role – the skip. I’m the last to throw. And for all throws but my own, it’s me telling when to sweep, how hard, where to throw, what spin to put on the rock.

I figured that, since I’d watched the movie “Men With Brooms” about a dozen times, I had a slightly less-vague idea of the game. But this was my first time touching a curling stone. The end result was a low score, but in our favor: We walked off with a 2-0 victory. My team went berserk when we put our first rock in “the house,” the series of concentric circles that marks a scoring position.

Let me leave you with a few parting thoughts:

  • I know what most people think of curling. Every time the winter Olympics come around, people wrinkle their noses and say it’s not a sport. Go to a Learn to Curl session somewhere, anywhere, and tell me if it changes your mind.
  • Curlers love to introduce people to their sport. They welcome beginners, and they are part of the reason why you will have fun if you try curling.
  • Phoenix-area curlers are trying really hard to get the area’s first dedicated curling sheet. Now, they only have hockey rinks. A real curling sheet means a flatter, truer surface … and more intensity.
  • A little fun – The Swedish women’s curling team picked a song from the metal band Hammerfall as their official team song for the 06 Olympics. Hammerfall – being the cheerful Swedish dudes they are – invited the team to help them shoot a new version of the video. See it below.
Final thought: This is the second time I’ve tried something entirely new and written about it. Got an idea for something off-beat that I should try? Let me know and I’ll take a crack if it’s remotely feasible. 


An Airsoft First-Timer Tells All

airsoft first-timer
Probably the coolest protective gear on the field.

Light drizzle, a chilly wind, 45 degrees and overcast -- it’s finally winter in the desert. I’m warm thanks to my Army battle dress uniform, gloves and balaclava.

And every run, dodge, dip and duck through the ruins of Sasco, Ariz. also keeps the chill away. The abandoned mining town is filled with foes firing torrents of plastic 6mm projectiles at me from replica assault rifles – I’ve lost count of every M-4, M-16, MP-5 and AK-47 I’ve faced.

I’m an Airsoft first-time. And my first game ever is a heaping slice of deep-fried gold.

Never heard of Airsoft? I think of it as paintball done right -- the guns function better, they’re less awkward, there’s no dye getting everywhere. The very realistic-looking weapons spew plastic balls somewhere between 300 and 500 feet per second. My Echo1 rifle, one of its RedStar line of AK-47 replicas, straddles the middle. It’s not fancy or pricey, but it helps me hold my own. No malfunctions, just steady performance.

airsoft first-timer
The pylons lead to the way to what’s left of the mining tunnel. Lots of ambushes and betrayals here …

My Monolith team – one of several teams in the game – has only four people. We’re overmatched and outgunned, with nary a true machine gun or sniper rifle among us. We try to compensate, bribing other teams (like Free Stalkers and Bandits) to harass, harry, heckle and harangue the team standing in as the Russian military.

My entire day of Airsoft first-timer fun is the result of some hard work put in by a go-getter named Darr. He displays ambition, serious organizational chops and a real love for this game. Throughout the day, people rave about his scenario, which he based on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl video game. The remains of the smelter and skeleton of the mining operation fill in nicely as a slice of the abandoned, irradiated Russian city called Pripyat. Darr has everything right: the game area, his ability to improvise, the props and layout. Success requires negotiation skills, duplicity and wariness (for the inevitable betrayals).

airsoft first-timer
Max, David and Henry were my Monolith teammates.

About 30 minutes pass before the teams open fire on each other. Until then, it’s a crock pot of diplomacy, misdirection, evaluation. I love the tension, especially next to the premature release of so many flavors of paintball games.

I learn a lot about Airsoft and the people who play it. They are professionals, college students, high schoolers. Some sit back to take advantage of cover, firepower, superior numbers. Others make and break deals at will. Some sneak through the creosote and ruins, unheard and unseen. Others stomp around in heavily armed herds. In short, there’s something for everyone.

But here’s what worries me about Airsoft, especially in Arizona – there are few convenient places to organize awesome events like this. And too few people willing to do the heavy lifting of contacting the owners and managers of empty spaces. Sasco is terrific, but remote. I can think of several places within 30 minutes of the Phoenix area that would be perfect.

And the Airsoft industry needs to work harder to get more people involved. It should target every single World of Warcraft/Call of Duty/Halo fiend. If one out of every 50 uninitiated people permanently attached to gaming systems wound up on a field with a decent Airsoft replica in-hand, profits and advocacy would soar. I’d also hit CrossFit gyms and all the people who love stuff like the Warrior Dash -- fitness pays dividends in Airsoft. I could see a smart Airsoft shop (or manufacturer/brand) even holding a biathlon – running with your Airsoft replica and stopping to use it to hit targets every half mile. Provide loaners for Airsoft first-timers who don’t have their own – a perfect introduction.

airsoft first-timer

From there? Get players talking about finding viable places to play just as much as they talk about gear (your fancy hop-up and tight-bore barrel will be more fun if you have more places to put them to work).

But those are thoughts for another time. For now, my bottom line: All credit to Darr for his imagination, thoroughness and commitment to crafting a really outstanding time for the Airsoft players from the Valley to Tucson. Поздравляю!

Check out Darr’s YouTube slideshow, and do note the groovy pirate-metal soundtrack. Avast!