Plainfield Curling Club President Ed Veltre explains the winter sport of curling.
“The whole idea behind curling and the reason it’s called that is because of what you’re doing with the stones that you’re throwing down the ice,” he said. “It’s spinning down the ice. It’s either rotating in a clockwise turn or a counter clockwise turn and that allows the stone to go down the ice and curl around your opponent’s stone to reach a target 150 feet away to get as close to the bull’s-eye as you possibly can.”
There’s action on the ice at the Plainfield Curling Club. Here, two games are played side-by-side, sliding 42-pound stones of granite mined only in Scotland, where curling was invented back in the 1500s.
The playing field is called a sheet, and the ice on it is not smooth. It’s deliberately a pebble-like texture.
“There are raised bumps on the ice that allow the stone itself to sit on top of as it rotates down the ice to be able to gain friction and curl,” said Veltre.
When a stone’s sliding on that textured ice, and you see curlers start to scrub furiously with their synthetic brooms it’s because they’re going for the long shot, Veltre says.
“What that’s doing is creating friction on the ice to create moisture, to allow the stone not to go faster, but to be able to travel further. When you’re watching the Olympics and you see the men or the women really sweeping the rock as hard as they possibly can, they have the opportunity to drag that stone along the ice another 10 to 15 feet,” said Veltre.
The game itself looks deceptively simple. There are teams of four. Each player throws two stones aiming for the bull’s-eye, or button, located in the house, which is a 12-foot wide circle. Strategy involves blocking a well-positioned stone or knocking one out.
“There’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a lot of grace and elegance that’s in the sport as you watch people come out of the hack and it does take a fair amount of balance,” Veltre explained. “And the physical activity that’s behind it is also quite strenuous. Sweepers at an Olympic event could be burning 900 to 1,000 calories a game.”
He says the need for strength and stamina might explain the alleged doping scandal by the Russian Olympic curler. But once you learn the basic moves, it’s easy on beginners and growing in popularity. The nonprofit Plainfield club that was founded in 1963 is filled with trophies. Its workshops are full for the season, which runs October through April. There’s another New Jersey club in Mount Laurel, but Plainfield is the only one with its own pebbled sheets and a bar.
“Curling is the one sport you watch in the Winter Olympics where you don’t have that feeling of ‘Hey, they’re going to kill themselves’ atmosphere to it. They’re just out enjoying themselves,” said Mountainside resident Paul Teller.
“It’s a great game for seniors because you can keep playing long past retirement, as you can see by looking at the folks that are here,” said Charlie Rebick, a Princeton resident.
“There’s a camaraderie. You have teammates that you’re working with. We even like our opponents. We’re very nice. And then after the game, we socialize,” said Pennsylvania resident Bill Vallier.
Probably the best part of curling comes after the game. The winners buy the losers a round of anything they want and then everyone sits down to chat. You might say, everybody wins.