Dare to Curl
That admonition greeted us when our Mystery Tour took us to our local arena to observe the US National Curling Championship Bonspiel (correct name for a match). This sport is not well-known in the USA in general and certainly not in sunny and warm Florida!
However, our city's entertainment organizers saw an opportunity to host this championship and at the same time introduce this now Winter Olympic sport to those who rarely see snow and ice at home.
So we decided to give the game a look! Our gamble also provided us the chance to finally see the Jacksonville Veterans' Memorial Arena. Though it is already 13 year old, we have never been to any event staged there.
We purchased tickets for the women's semi-final round at 10:00 a.m. but when we arrived and took our seats we discovered that we were watching the men play. But that was okay, because we would have been just as lost watching the ladies as we were observing the gentlemen. Because the trip was a mystery to Kay, I could not suggest that we bone up on the rules and language beforehand. Nor did I try to learn anything about it either. So we were equally ignorant of what to expect and of how to watch the competition intelligently; it was the same as if we had decided to attend a cricket match. A true mystery to match our day's outing!
Superficially, the game looks a lot like shuffleboard on ice. Shuffleboard may indeed have preceded curling which is generally believed to have been developed in Scotland (first mention of the game is found in records in the parish church there in 1541). Henry VIII is known to have played shuffleboard in 1532 because there is a notice in the royal purse records of is having to pay a gambling bet on that date because he lost a match.
However, where shuffleboard players use weighted discs and a cue to push them along the course, curling uses 44 lb. Granite stones polished to a fine glassy finish along with a special sliding stick to launch the "stone" as it is called along the ice sheet towards the goal, called a house . Besides, there are brushes used to sweep the ice in front of the moving stone to keep it sliding on a straight course . The 4 players on a team take turns "sliding the stone" and "sweeping" in front of it, sometimes in a rather comical frantic fashion.
We knew nothing of all this until we came home and did research on the game and certainly the method of scoring was totally enigmatic to us until then . However, we did enjoy watching and learning as much as we could from simple observation. The small crowd provided entertainment as well because they occasionally burst into spontaneous applause and ringing of cowbells for reasons we could not always understand.
We also quickly learned that we were inadequately dressed for the occasion because sitting near the ice sheet had us pretty miserably cold. The more experienced audience members had brought lap robes and heavier jackets to fight that side effect of attending a curling match.
We discovered also that our fairly new arena is quite a spacious (seats 15,000) venue for sports, concerts, tractor pulls, Disney ice shows, and the like. It is very attractive and harbors many vendors for food and drink and snacks. Perhaps we will look more carefully at the arena's calendar of events to see if there might not be another event staged there we would like to attend.
And for sure, after watching the matches today and then reading up on the sport, we will eagerly watch for it at the Winter Olympics in 2018 in South Korea!