Curling — or, as most Americans think of it, “that funny sport with the rocks and the brooms” — tends to fall off people’s radar except when it makes its quadrennial appearance at the Winter Olympics. But there’s
a bit of a curling boomlet taking place at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, the ice facility in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Spots filled up quickly for an inaugural series of six-week instructional clinics that were offered in the fall, and competitive leagues — believed to be New York City’s first since the 1880s — are currently convening on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
Most of the Lakeside participants have been beginners, which poses an interesting challenge for the instructors. It’s one thing to teach, say, tennis, a sport with lots of TV exposure and a certain status in mainstream culture. It’s another to teach a fairly obscure sport like curling, especially to people who are unfamiliar with the game’s technique, strategy, jargon, or even the basic rules. The fact that the whole thing takes place on ice only makes things trickier.
“Some people are very excited and gung-ho, but you want to have a slow, steady progression,” says Seth Mellin, one of the Lakeside instructors. “If you give someone too much information at once, you can overload them.” Mellin, a 34-year-old Brooklynite who works in pharmaceutical advertising, got hooked on the sport at age 12 after a visit to New Jersey’s Plainfield Curling Club,
one of the few dedicated curling facilities in
the region, and is now a certified instructor with the United States Curling Association. He says teaching New Yorkers can be dicey because they’re “always in a rush, always impatient.”
On the other hand, he says, getting the hang of maintaining one’s balance while delivering the curling stone tends to be easier for people who’ve done yoga, which may give New Yorkers a leg up.
Full disclosure: I was enrolled in the fall instructional clinic and am competing in a league starting this month. I had curled a few times before, so I was a bit ahead of the curve, but I still wish there had been more instruction regarding strategy. Curling is a lot like chess — you have to develop positional strength and anticipate what your opponents will do, often several moves ahead, which is difficult for novices. A five-minute whiteboard session prior to hitting the ice each week would have gone a long way.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. “This group approached the sport more seriously than what we typically see,”
says Dean Roth, another one of the Lakeside instructors. Roth, 52, who runs a machine shop in New Jersey, is a former president of the Plainfield club and estimates that he’s taught over 1,000 people to curl in the past decade, but the intensity of his Brooklyn students caught him off-guard. “There were more people who approached it as something they want to do, as opposed to something they want to try,” he says. “So we’ve adjusted our approach for the next round of classes.”
Such growing pains notwithstanding, the Brooklyn sessions have convinced Roth that curling has huge potential for growth in the city. He’s part of a group that’s negotiating to have curling included at the proposed Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx, and he has his eye on other spots as well. “We think the city could support twelve full-time sheets that would attract 2,000 regular curlers,” he said. “That may not sound like much, but it would be about 10 percent of the curlers in the United States. Trust me, if you build it, they will come.”