I'm smart enough to know that she who lives in a glass house shouldn't throw stones, but where is the sage advice about throwing stones in an ice house? What if the stone is a 42-pound mini-boulder of solid granite—imported specially from only one of two quarries in the world—intentionally slung from a hack, over the hog line and into the innermost house with the hope of knocking out the competition?
Doesn't sound very neighborly, does it?
In 2004, I entered the icy cold world of curling via telephone during the heat of July to check out the mysteries of the McCall Curling Club from a safe distance. The ancient sport of Scotland and one of Canada's most-popular games, curling is the strategic art of rolling a series of stones over ice and into a scoring area about 150 feet away. It's commonly compared to shuffleboard, but in 2004, chief operating officer of the U.S. Curling Association Rick Patzke told me the game's the strategy is more comparable to golf or even chess.
Four years ago, a Boise club was but a glimmer in one curler's eye. Tony Perreira was a Minnesota native who had moved to Boise in 2003 and began driving up to McCall every weekend to play. By 2005, he'd drummed up enough interest to start a club in Boise. Since its inception, the club has been entirely member-funded, with precious ice time and insurance fees paid for by members' dues. The USCA loaned and eventually sold used stones to the club for less than a quarter of the $300 cost for a new stone.
Now, going into its fourth year, Boise Curling Club's current president Don Eshelby says that membership hovers between three and four dozen members, and he expects interest only to increase with the approaching winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
Under his leadership, Eshelby and another member worked to establish BCC as a nonprofit organization. With its newly acquired 501(c)3 status, Eshelby says BCC is ready to begin looking for local sponsorship, which the club hopes will set a future stage for separate competitive leagues for all ages and, perhaps someday, a permanent home on the ice specifically for curling.
"I'm not as surprised at the growth as I am pleased," says Perreira. "I knew the interest was out there." Perreira says it took a few years to get word of BCC out to the public, and that now, it's lack of ice availability that's preventing potential curlers from joining up. "We have a good base of teams," he says. "Now we need ice."
It's a comment echoed by Eshelby.
"There's just not enough ice time in the Boise area," says Eshelby. "We talked with Parks and Recreation, and they said they do have another facility on the drawing board, but it's a few years away." Currently, ice time at Idaho IceWorld is at a premium due to demand, and the two-hour 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday time slot may not be preferable for BCC, but it's the only time they can secure, and as of yet, the club is unable to extend its hours.
"We don't even have an opportunity for a youth league so we can build better players," says Eshelby. However, at some point, he says, that will hopefully change and the club will eventually become more competitive as league play is phased in.
Three years ago, BCC was made up mostly of enthusiasts without any curling experience who were being taught by a handful of skips, or team captains. Now, although a few members boast extensive experience, most players have a few sessions (of which there are two each year) under their belts and it's a minority who are only novices.
Last Sunday, BCC started its latest session after hosting an open house the week prior to recruit new members. The group took the ice en masse, a total of eight four-person teams facing off in parallel lanes the length of the ice rink. One of the new members, 35-year-old Mike Borkoski, crouched down and slid out from the hack—a set of starter blocks set into the ice—to deliver a stone before stumbling sideways.
"It's harder than it looks," he said. "Last week during the open house, I fell at least 10 times." Like many of BCC's members, Borkoski first saw curling on television during the Olympics. Milton Coffman was a more adventurous newcomer. Coffman is a lead on his team, meaning that as the least experienced, he's the first to throw. He was roped in by a friend, and even though he'd never seen a game—not even on television—the 69-year-old Coffman signed up.
The stones are slightly larger and more oblong than a bowling ball, polished smooth, and flat on the bottom with a colored handle—indicating the team to which it belongs—on the top. The players with more experience push out from the hack and glide effortlessly over the ice, releasing the stone with a precision aided by teammates who then sweep the ice furiously just ahead of the stone, carving out an imperceptible path. Skips guide the stones in, yelling to sweep or to stop. The constant rumble of stones over the ice is a dull roar, occasionally punctuated by the hollow thwack of two stones colliding.
One of the youngest players on the ice last week was 15-year-old Dakota Castetes. Between his throws—each player has two—he said he's been curling for five weeks with his dad and that even though it is as hard as it looks, he likes it because it helps him clear his mind and think. Later that night, his father, Philippe Castetes, said Dakota used to make fun of him for curling. The 47-year-old carpenter said when he moved to Boise from Florida a few years ago, one of the first things he did was search for a curling club because it was something he'd always wanted to try. He played three sessions before his son asked to join him for this, his fourth, session.
Using the Castetes family as an example, Don Eshelby dispelled the misconception that curling is a sport for "old men." He pointed out another teenager on the ice, as well as a few married couples, the club's vice president Dave Rittenhouse and his wife Suz among them. Friends of Rittenhouse were on the sidelines last Sunday, watching as he was faced with what his friends mused was not just a longshot, metaphorically speaking, but what could literally be an impossible shot. Rittenhouse examined the house, strategizing his entry before sliding back down the rink to the hack. He crouched down, pushed off the hack and watched as his teammates swept ahead of the stone, ushering it into position, knocking three points off the opposition's score and making the impossible shot.
His wife Suz laughed, saying they talked about moving back to Montana, but her husband objects with the observation that they'd have to quit BCC. He's addicted, she said. Borkoski admitted the same. So did Castetes.
As the final games of the night wrapped up, Eshelby gave me a quick tutorial on form and technique and let me throw a couple of stones. I wobbled all over the ice, forgot to let go of the stone and instead, gave it a crooked push. I put too much of my own weight on the stone. My spin was nonexistent. In the end, I fell over onto the ice. Dakota Castetes was right, it was harder than it looked. With a few pointers from Castetes and Perreira, I was up and at it again. And again. Quickly, however, we were booted off the ice to make way for the hockey game scheduled next, but not, however, before another addict was born.
For more information, visit BoiseCurlingClub.org.