Gearing Up: A Primer (part 1)

“Arm yourself, because no one else here will save you.”
-Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name”

THE BASICS

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a blog series for those of you out there in Windy City Curling Land that are looking to invest in your own equipment. Fall is fast approaching, and so too is Curling season. Being a new curling club, a lot of us – understandably – are beginners to the sport ourselves. As we continue to grow and get better as players, one of the things I’m asked, or hear others asking about, is gear. With questions ranging from the simple (“How much should I expect to pay for…?”) to the more complex (“What is a performance brush head, and how is it better or worse than something else?”), I’ve been scouring the internet and asking fellow club members for answers to just about every gear-related question I could think of.

I’m going to be breaking this blog series into various parts for ease of future reference (shoes, brooms, buying online versus in-person, brands of note, and even how to do-it-yourself). This first foray into the fray will consist of answering the absolute basics.

“Do I need to buy my own gear?”

Short Answer: technically, ‘No.’ You absolutely do not.

Windy City Curling has loaner gear at the club, ready for anyone to borrow. From brooms to sliders to stabilizers, everything you could need to enjoy your night on the ice is there for you to borrow.

“So then why buy gear?”

There are many answers to this question.

Starting simple: A lot of beginners like owning their own gear for emotional reasons. When you make the financial investment into your own equipment, you make an emotional investment as well. A lot of people claim it makes them feel like a ‘true’ curler.  And there is something to be said for that. A big component of curling, or any sport for that matter, is the mental game.  Feeling confident and capable in your own abilities, strangely enough, breeds confidence and capability. One of the things that helps generate this is familiarity with the gear you use. We may not be suiting up in modern-day armor like pro football players, but donning your pair of curling shoes and arming yourself with your curling brush – as someone on Reddit posted – “…feels like visiting an old friend every single week.” This emotional connection shouldn’t be discredited.

But beyond the emotional rationale, there is a practical reasoning as well:  Picture it. Two sheets of curling ice, both EXACTLY identical, right down to each individual pebble droplet. You have your skip calling the exact same shot twice in a row. Nothing changes between shots (assume, for this example, the ice is magic and resets itself to the same conditions every single time). You slide out for your draw – same stone, same hack, same everything. The only variable that changes here is you. If your line, weight, or curl differ even slightly between the two shots – you will see a noticeable difference in the end result. This is where consistency comes into play and gives the sport of Curling that minute level of finesse and grace you often hear about when watching the elites perform on TV.

This is one of the reasons getting your own gear is extremely helpful. While yes, you can – and are always welcome – to borrow the Windy City Curling gear for the night, if you are actively trying to improve your game and get better, you need to eliminate as many varying variables from the consistency equation as possible. If every single week you’re grabbing a different broom, or using a different slider – those changes will slow the progression of fine-tuning your consistency. As WCC member Rebecca (who recently bought her own shoes) told me, I did not feel safe with the slip on slider because it flopped around. I like my shoes better because I know they’ll stay on my feet. I think they have definitely helped my game.”

I myself experienced this. While using slip-on loaner sliders was a great way to get my feet wet and start out, it wasn’t until I bought my own pair of shoes that I felt like my shooting truly started to improve. I could slide further with less strength required. I found I could make minor mid-slide adjustments if my weight felt off. And I found a sense of balance that allowed me to focus more on the broom at the other end of the sheet, rather than on what my body was doing down on my end. In short: I was able to start finding a level of finesse that simply wasn’t possible before.

“So you’re saying I should buy shoes first, right?”

Not exactly. While everyone I spoke to agreed universally that having a pair of competition-level shoes (which means a standard 3/16″ slider or thicker; which I’ll get into later) almost instantly improves their delivery consistency, there was some differing opinions on which piece of gear to get first: shoes or a broom (assuming you can only afford one or the other).

For beginners who want to focus primarily on shooting, yes – get your own shoes. In fact, most people suggested buying a pair of curling shoes first. The sooner you get a thick Teflon slider on your foot that is built into the shoe so that it won’t wobble, shift, or move around around on you, the sooner you will feel improvement in your shooting. And since you have to shoot two stones every end no matter what position you play, shoes are something you will need to invest in at some point in time.

(AUTHOR’S SIDE NOTE: From this moment forward in this blog series, I am making the assumption that if you’re reading this, you want to improve upon your game to a competition-ready level.)

The only downside to buying shoes is that they are the more expensive piece of gear to acquire. Some places online do offer end-of-season sales and whatnot so that you can fine a pair of shoes for cheaper (as I was lucky enough to do), but if you can’t find a sale, then you’re looking at least $150 for a quality pair that will last you a season or two. The higher-end brands with fancier options can run as much as $320 for a pair; no small chunk of change, to be sure. Still, the primary focus of the sport is scoring points by putting stones in play, and every player does that by sliding them there. Shoes for the intermediate curler and above are practically a prerequisite.

“Okay, but I sweep six stones an end, and only deliver two…”

If you start out in our club playing a lot of front-end (Lead or Second), then perhaps you might want to consider getting a broom first. And there a lot of pros for this: With all that sweeping you’re going to be doing, finding a light-weight quality broom with a modern high-tech brush pad on it will make you a better sweeper. If nothing else, it’ll save your arm strength. As you advance your shooting skills, having the same broom tucked under your arm as you practice your slide creates that familiar level of consistency I mentioned above. And, in a fun side-note, of shoes and brooms, I noticed a lot more people felt the aforementioned emotional attachment to their broom, much in the same way a knight feels connected to his or her sword. And yes, some people even named their broom. (Which is awesome.)

Brooms also tend to – comparatively – run much cheaper. I’ve seen brooms as low as $55, and as high as $180. The nicer thing about owning your own broom is that, down the road, if you ever decide to hang up your curling shoes permanently and get out of the sport (a sad thought I’m not going to dwell on), it is easier to re-sell a broom than a worn pair of shoes. So they have that going for them, too.

“So I’m getting my own gear – is it really going to make that much of a difference in my game?”

Short answer: Yes.

And I’ll get more into the reasons of ‘How’ and ‘Why’ in Part 2 of this primer…

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who, in an effort to find the “perfect” pair of curling shoes and the “best” brush out there, has created enough spreadsheets to know no such magic exists. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

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