Sunday, February 14, 2016

Curl Up and Learn Something…

This was an amazing week for ole Chuckie. I spent 7 days downtown at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena watching the USA National Curling Championships. That’s right, Curling, all 7 days and every match.

I know what you are thinking, Has he lost his mind? Spending a week watching a bunch of northern kids flinging biscuits down a frozen unswept shuffleboard court.  Having to wear winter weather clothes, has Chuckie finally lost it for good?

Once again I will prove to you how wrong your assumptions are and that I am, as always, on the cutting edge.

At first this goofy looking sport looks easy, almost too easy. Sometimes things that can be said easily enough are the hardest to do and master. Let’s go to the moon, let’s make a million dollars in Las Vegas, let’s swim across the ocean. All much easier said than done.

The biscuits these people are throwing weigh in at about forty (40) pounds each. Around the same as a frozen 5 gallon bucket of water. The granite they are made out of is mined in only one quarry on the planet. They are carved, more like milled, to tolerances that NASA would be proud of. They cost more than $500.00 new and the ones used for championships have another $500.00+ worth of electronics mounted in them. It takes sixteen (16) of these high priced rocks to play a game.

The ice is groomed so it’s covered with a bunch of tiny “pebbles” frozen to it. Imagine a basket ball with the pimpled texture on it just a little rougher. These pimples are then shaved down to a uniform height measured to the thousandth of an inch. This in itself amazed me. All I know about ice is that it’s cold, slippery, hard, and you grind it up to make Margaritas. They even make these pebbles with de-ionized water! A team of experts from around the country were in Jacksonville just to make ice!

The sweeping of the ice sheet in front of the rock is where the magic comes into play. By sweeping they are actually melting the ice thus forming a temporary microscopic layer of water. This area is slipperier than the drier ice and the rocks direction can be changed. These athletes can direct the 40 pound rock moving at anywhere from one to six miles and hour a couple feet in either direction just by sweeping. They are throwing these rocks at a target a foot in diameter 150 feet away! The closest stones to the center of the bullseye score points. You have to see it to believe it. It is downright spooky. Uri Geller spoon bending type magic!

The most amazing part is that even though these folks are the best in the world at this sport (played by millions around the globe) they are all good friends. I mean hugging each other, hanging out with each other’s families type friends. A National Championship match with 17 teams of four from all around the country, competing for trophies and titles and they are all pals. They smile, slap each other on the back, goof around and party afterwards with each other. This is a sport on ice where everyone carries a stick and I didn’t see one fight and everyone had all their teeth! I was adopted by a couple of these athletes families who gave me a crash course on the sport while sitting with them in the stands. I met and hung out with a three time olympian’s wife and children. Not one asshole or snob in the entire group. Try doing that with NFL or NBA players without bringing along some cocaine.

And don’t even begin to think that these people who master this frozen magic are just “Dumb Jocks”. There are Oncology Nurses, Pharmacists, Flight Test Engineers, Lawyers, Software Developers, Insurance Executives, and Grocery Store Clerks. One guy, I am told, even owns a franchise of 3 Ice Cream parlors…In Fairbanks Alaska!

This sport is called “Chess on Ice” and to me that’s an over simplification. I play chess. Pretty well in fact. In chess you can examine and evaluate the board and plan your moves based on your opponents play. In curling the moves can be anticipated but the placement of the shots and the resulting rebounds are variables and can’t be completely predicted. It is more of a mental exercise than you can imagine, and once you have a basic understanding of what is going on it becomes addicting.

Some of these teams have sponsors to help them offset the cost’s involved in playing and traveling to matches around the country. Most of them don’t. They are doing this because they have curled since they could walk and just love the sport. Try to imagine taking time off from work, flying to Florida in the winter, spending a week to ten days eating restaurant food and living in a hotel to play a sport you aren’t getting paid for. Talk about loving a game. This is amateur athletics at it’s finest.

How hooked am I? Well, Wifey and I are seriously looking at flying to Everett Washington next February to watch the 2017 National Championships. You do the math. Airfare across the country, lodging and eating plus car rental and event tickets to watch kids we don’t know throw rocks on an unswept hockey rink?

You are damn right. 

It’s that good.