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The 2018 Winter Olympics have begun — which means the world will be watching the top athletes compete in winter sports they may rarely get to see.

One of those sports is curling, a sport that puzzles many Americans but is quite popular just across the border in Canada.

Curling can be compared to a version of shuffleboard on ice. It involves players sliding stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area.

The rules are somewhat complex, but once you get the hang of it, watching curling becomes a lot more enjoyable. You may even be tempted to give it a shot — there are a couple of places you can play here in Buffalo and plenty more nearby in Canada.

How Curling Works

According to Wikipedia, in curling, two teams, each with four players, take turns sliding heavy stones across an ice “sheet.” The players on each team attempt to move the stones toward a circular target marked on the ice referred to as the “house.”

The center of the house is known as the “button.” The object of the game is to get your team’s stones closer to the button than the other team gets theirs.

The ice sheet is covered with tiny droplets of water that become ice and cause the stones to “curl,” or deviate from a straight path, as they move across the sheet. These water droplets are known as “pebble.”

The curler is the player tasked with moving the stone across the ice toward the house. They can create a curved path for the rock by causing the stone to slowly turn as it slides.

Two sweepers with brooms also move with the rock as it slides down the sheet, using the brooms to change the state of the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping a rock makes it curl less and decreases the friction that slows the rock down.

Much like innings in a baseball game, a curling “game” is made up of eight or ten “ends.” In each “end,” both teams send eight stones down the sheet — two for each player. The end is completed when both teams have thrown all of their stones.

The objective is to accumulate the highest score for a game. Once all 16 stones have been sent down, the team with the stone that’s closest to the target (center of the house) effectively “wins” the end. Only this team will earn any points for this end. It gets a point for each of its stones that are in the house and closer to the button than the other team’s closest stone.

Since the team that won the end always has at least one stone that’s closer to the button than their opponent, the team always scores at least one point, and could score up to eight points, according to Mental Floss.

If neither team manages to get a stone in the house during an end, it’s known as a “blank end,” and no points are scored. Olympic curling matches last for 10 ends unless there is a tie. If that’s the case it goes to extra-ends, which is curling’s equivalent of overtime.

Where to Curl in Buffalo

Sound interesting? You’re in luck — our cold, long winters provide plenty of opportunities to participate in this unique sport. Better yet, get a group together and plan a fun outing at one of these local spots.

According to its website, Buffalo Riverworks is the only place in Western New York offering Olympic regulation curling. RiverWorks offers league play during the winter months, where teams of four can face off using authentic curling equipment. It’s open to anyone — you’ll only need to watch a short instructional video to participate.

Buffalo Riverworks curling
Buffalo Riverworks is the only place in WNY to participate in Olympic regulation curling.

Canalside is another great place to take part in the curling experience. The Ice at Canalside has two curling lanes available to reserve during open skate hours. You can reserve a spot on their website.

If you want to learn more about curling or are looking for people to play with, you should definitely check out the Buffalo Curling Club. The Buffalo Curling Club consists of nearly 300 members from three counties in Western New York. The club recently opened its brand new facility at 91 Buffalo China Road. They offer Learn-To-Curl clinics for new players, as well as leagues for more experienced curlers and ice rentals for groups who want to get together and play.

Curling in Canada

Curling became an official Olympic sport in 1998, and Canada has dominated in every Winter Olympics since, with men’s teams winning gold in 2006, 2010, and 2014. This year’s men’s and women’s teams are also among the favorites to win gold in Pyeongchang.

Unsurprisingly given the country’s success at the sport, crossing the border to Canada provides many more opportunities to participate in curling.

curling nova scotia canada 1897
Curling has a long history in Canada. This photo of people curling was taken in 1897 in Nova Scotia, Canada. [Wikipedia]
The Niagara Falls Curling Club in Niagara Falls, CA is available for ice rentals and hosts men’s and women’s league games every week. They offer a variety of membership options depending on age and level of involvement. They also offer junior leagues for kids and teens.

The Welland Curling Club is another great option for curling in Canada. Just 38 minutes from Buffalo, they also offer Learn to Curl programs, men’s and women’s leagues, as well as trial memberships if you’re not sure you want to commit to playing regularly yet.

If you’re willing to drive a little further, you can head to Toronto for even more curling action. The city has several curling centers, which help train athletes from across the province in this popular sport.

It never hurts to get out of the house and try something new, especially during the long winter months. Check out one of the nearby curling clubs in Buffalo or Canada to learn how to curl, and be sure to root on the USA curling team at this year’s Olympics.

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