I have taught many English classes over the years and when I ask new Canadians what they dislike most about Winnipeg 90% say “winter.” So what do we Canadians do? Why do we choose to live in this frozen wasteland? The best way to survive winter in Manitoba is to dress properly (as I mentioned in my first column) and to embrace what winter has to offer. Now before many of you stop reading and go to the next page of this wonderful paper, consider this advice: start playing a winter sport. Of course there’s always hockey, but it’s athletic, costly and can lead to broken teeth and bones, so why not try CURLING? Curling is a perfect sport for non-athletic types like me since it’s not very arduous and going for drinks before and after the game is encouraged. How many sports can you think of where you can drink a litre of beer minutes before walking onto the ice and still play well? Some curlers won’t curl unless they’re drinking beer, like it’s Gatorade.
There are few sports in the world that are as “Canadian” as curling and although the Scottish invented the sport, Canada has dominated international competitions for decades and curling used to be THE sport to play in Manitoba. Teams came from all over the world to curl in our MCA, the World’s largest bonspiel (tournament) and Manitoba’s largest tourism event. Curlers played all throughout the City and even in neighbouring towns. After games everyone returned to the Airliner Inn to enjoy a drink and listen to tales of recent games at their rink’s “hospitality room.” I had many blurry nights at the Airliner Inn visiting many different hospitality rooms.
Of course, there’s a lot more to curling than alcohol, ugly pants and funny sweaters. The goal of curling is simple: get more “rocks” closest to the middle of the coloured circles at the far end of the ice “sheet.” The rock will curve gradually depending on the direction you turn its handle which allows you to curl rocks completely behind other rocks making it difficult for the opposition to remove them. Since every sheet of ice is different, the challenge is to “read” the ice and figure out how much your rocks will curl, allowing you to throw better shots.
After you throw your rock the other players determine if it should be swept or not. In the early days of curling, the sport was played outside so teams required brooms to clear snow and debris from in front of the rock. Some time later curlers realized that sweeping actually affected the curl of the rock and the distance it traveled: sweeping a rock will make it travel further and stay straighter. The traditional sweeping yell is “hurry!” and the more urgent “hurry hard!” To get your teammates to stop sweeping, the call is usually “whoa!” or “off!” or “right off!” When it’s close to a perfect shot, you will often hear a sequence of commands: “hurry, hurry hard, whoa, off, right off, yeah, hurry, hurry hard, whoa, hurry, whoa!” all the way down the ice.
Each team has eight rocks and four players: a lead, second, third and skip. Each player throws two rocks, starting with the lead and ending with the skip. It is the skip’s duty to plot the strategy and hold the broom for the other players. Players aim at the broom and add the appropriate turn hoping to make the perfect “shot.” The skip throws the final two rocks, hoping to score as many points as possible. If your team scores you throw first in the next end, but having last rock is usually considered an advantage since you are better able to control the outcome of the end. If teams score without the last rock it’s called a “steal,” as if they didn’t deserve the points. Most curling games are either eight ends or two hours in length, which is about as long as most curlers can survive without a beer refill. If the score favours one team too much, the losing team can opt to quit. This common “mercy” rule allows teams to retire to the bar much quicker since they are likely to lose anyway.
Curling is fun, friendly and mildly athletic sport, which helps you survive our long winter. Consider watching it on television and talking about it to your friends and family. It’s a great way to practice your English.