Saturday night the Long Island Curling Club competed at a Syosset ice rink against the Windsor (Nova Scotia) Curling Club for the 2023 Cairdeas Cup, which is actually a wooden plaque in the shape of Long Island.
Liz Harmon from Commack acknowledges that the sport “looks bizarre,” but says she was immediately hooked when she tried it about six years ago.
Curling is still a bit of a curiosity in the United States, but it has attracted some serious enthusiasts on Long Island.
“It’s a precision sport,” Harmon said, where “good aim and a light touch” are the necessary skills.
Curling is generally played with four players on a team. Curlers scoot along the ice, kneeling low as they release a 44-pound polished granite stone, aiming for a target at the far end of the ice, called a “house.” The “sweepers” then move in, vigorously brushing the ice in front of the stone, which warms the ice and helps the stone glide along.
The stone can be thrown so it rotates and arcs as it glides (thus “curling”), and the closer the stone lands to the house, the more points the team earns.
There is often quite a bit of yelling involved.
The Long Island Curling Club, founded in 2008, is out on the ice year-round; fielding up to eight or nine teams each season. Teams are mixed age, with participants ranging from preteens up to people in their 80s. Sometimes parents play on teams with their children, and people who use wheelchairs curl on teams with those who don’t. The club plays at the Long Island Sports Hub in Syosset, at a rink more often used for hockey.
The club offers lessons every few months to the curling curious, and it hosts learn-to-curl birthday parties and even bachelor parties.
John Paccione, the president of the club, has been playing for 10 years, and he said the game has a “strategic and analytical side that’s different from other sports.” Teams will try to place their stones in such a way as to block the path to their opponents’ house, “making the other team throw difficult shots.”
In high-level play, half an hour of “thinking time” is allotted to each team to allow them to plot their strategies.
“It’s a chess game on ice,” said Joyce Ann Hines, a member of the Windsor team, who has been curling for close to 50 years. Her husband, Colin Hines, is the “skip,” or captain, responsible for devising the strategy.
The LICC has played against teams in Westchester County and Connecticut and as far away as Scotland, where curling was invented in the early 16th century. The granite stones used in curling are still quarried from the Ailsa Craig, an uninhabited island 10 miles off Scotland.
The Cairdeas Cup tournament held Friday and Saturday was the third matchup against the club from Windsor, where curling is extremely popular. “Every community has a rink strictly for curling,” said Rick Kitchin, one of the club’s lead organizers. “It’s a religion in Canada.”
Some of the curlers at the international competition on Saturday expressed a kind of reverence for the sport.
Paccione noted “the polite and respectful way curlers treat one another,” which some may say also differs from other sports (including certain other sports played on the ice). In fact, it’s traditional in curling, after the points are added up, for the winning team to buy the losing team a drink.
Harmon, who won a women’s club championship with her other team, in Westchester County, said what she most appreciates about the game is that “it’s a true team effort and a community.” She said has met close friends and her fiance through curling. In the winter months, she said, “our life is pretty much curling.”