Vancouver Jews rock the house in Shuffleboard on Ice

Curling "can be very exciting, but it doesn't have the high drama of hockey or downhill skiing."

March 3, 2010 03:22
3 minute read.
11-year-old Shmuel Hart explains about curling.

curling kid canada 311. (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger )


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VANCOUVER ­ - Curling is a bit like hockey in that you're sliding an object across the ice. It's also like bocce, because you're trying to position those objects, or rocks, as close to the center target as possible and knock out the competitions. It's also like golf in the way you take time to properly line up your shot and consider the angles, and curve, you want to give to the ball, or rocks. And it's like baseball in that it consists of 10 ends (versus nine innings) where each side takes a turn and if there a tie, extra ends are added until one team has won.

But to me, an admitted novice who associates curlers with hairstyling, the game reminds me of nothing so much as shuffleboard, a popular recreational pursuit for New York Jews who have relocated to Florida in which brooms are used to slide wood or plastic pucks toward the target at the end of the wood board. Except that curling is played on ice.

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"It's sort of like shuffleboard," allowed Alex Hart, a curling enthusiast who is himself Jewish, "but it's got a lot more finesse." The long-time Vancouver resident then pointed out one of the major differences between curling and shuffleboard was that the latter is "usually played on a cruise ship and such."

Indeed, it's hard to install meters of ice and a bevy of 16-20 kilogram rocks in a cruise ship, plus there's less demand. "This reminds me more of billiards than shuffleboard," he continued. "You have to get the angles so precise."

That was a helpful image for me, as I tried to master the complicated rules and considerable strategy of this rampantly popular Canadian pastime ­ the art of gliding one's rocks into the "house," or concentric circle target, and pinging others out is all about hitting the side of the granite stones at exactly the right point.

But it did nothing to resolve the question of whether curling is actually a sport, let alone deserving of inclusion in the Olympic pantheon.

"It does have this image as staid and kind of boring, of  is it really a sport?" admitted Hart, who at first attempted to argue its Olympic worthiness on the basis of years of inclusion as such.

His 11-year-old son Shmuel, who was helping his father give me my first lesson in curling rules and strategy and who curls himself, acknowledged that it was not physically strenuous.

But he pointed out, "It's still hard. You have to slide out to throw the rocks. It's very hard to keep your balance." Also, "It's very slippery."

Curlers do stretch their legs in nearly 180-degree splits as they release the rocks, and their teammates need a certain amount of arm muscle to sweep the ice ­ thereby creating friction to melt the ice slightly and help the rock travel further.

Alex Hart, who also highlighted these points, added, "It can be very exciting, but it doesn't have the high drama of hockey or downhill skiing."

Shmuel countered, "It's not exciting."

Still, that hasn't kept Shmuel from his weekly practices -- which he began at age seven ­ even though he had to switch clubs when the one he had been going to moved the practices to Shabbat.

Among other factors, Shabbat observance would seem to be a major obstacle in Shmuel working to compete at the Olympic level, since so many of the competitions are on Saturday.

In the meantime, Shmuel and his family have been content to watch the Olympic curling on TV and in person, as they live near the Vancouver venue holding the matches.

That has lead to some divided loyalties in the family, with Kathryn Selby, Alex's wife, backing the team from Great Britain as the members hail from her native Scotland . In fact, Alex jokingly attributed Shmuel's interest in curling to his wife's Scottish roots, since that's where curling is believed to have begun.

The comparison made me feel vindicated. England , just over Hadrian's wall, with a few degrees warmer temperature, is the apparent birthplace of shuffleboard.

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