Gearing Up: A Primer (part 2)

Continuing on from where I last left off in my “Gearing Up” blog series, in this second part of the basic primer, I discuss and offer up opinions on how science and technology has progressed and equalized the sport of Curling through its gear.

MARS AND VENUS COME DOWN TO EARTH

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

Short answer: Yes.

(AUTHOR’S SIDE NOTE: 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.)

Forgive me for the turn this blog is going to take, but I must “go there” if I am to make my awesome point (and I do have one) and bring things full circle.

Fifty years ago, in the days of corn brooms, it made sense to separate the genders in terms of forming teams (old-school notion of gender-roles aside). Why do I say this? Because (and here we go) male physiques were more capable of building strength to really beat the Hell out of the ice with a corn broom to affect the path of a stone. That is not me ragging on women, I swear. That is, quite simply, physiological differences. If you take the best power lifting woman in the world and put her up against the world’s best power lifting male, he would be able to hoist up more weight. Does this mean all women are weaker and not capable of being stronger than men? HELL NO. In fact, if you took the world’s best female MMA fighter and put her in a cage match against, say, me – I’ll see you in three months when I wake up from my coma.

Now before every woman out there beats me with a corn broom to prove her strength – let me make my point: This was fifty years ago. As in, not the case present-day. One of the awesome things that I LOVE about the sport of curling is that the advances of technology in the equipment we play with almost-completely equalize the sport. By integrating Teflon sliders onto the shoes, using carbon fiber broom shafts, and even advancing the brush pads to include insulating space-age mylar – brute force and accurate strength alone no longer make a difference. The sport’s “meta” has shifted from muscle to mind, and there are any number of scientific journal studies out there I could cite that state the same thing: men and women may be physiologically different, but mentally we are equal. The power of the mind favors no gender. Which means the ‘olden days’ belief of gender inequality are now just that: olden days. Archaic. Gone. Done. No more. Etcetera.

“How?”

Simple. Before adding Telfon to the shoes, the amount of leg strength required to get a stone down the sheet for a big-weight takeout was pretty hefty. In fact, there’s an old school belief that, because of this, women “can’t hit.”  In the words of Gabrielle Coleman in her e-book, Break Through Beginner Curling, “Bullsh!t.” Thanks to slider, and to studies done on human body mechanics, women can now shoot (and especially hit) just as fine, if not better, than men. Case in point: Canadian gold-medalist Jennifer Jones is known for her amazing hitting skills.

“Okay, that’s shooting. What about sweeping?”

For the longest time, this is where men had a arm-up on women (so to speak), but that isn’t the case these days. Thanks to the awesome magic of technology, higher-end brooms make women (and weaker-armed males, such as myself, lol) just as competition-ready as beefy-forearmed men. Think of it this way: High Definition TVs are getting more and more “Hi Def” (if the ads are to be believed) with more and more pixels built in to each new generation’s screen that comes out. And yet, we are approaching a point in advancement where the pixels are so small, that the change in adding even more of them is no longer discernible to the naked human eye. Sure, a next generation HD television technically will be even more advanced than a current one, but if you place them side by side and look at the same picture, you won’t be able to tell which is which.

Now imagine those pixels are brush pads. How long does it take a stone to pass over any given pebble droplet with two brooms in front of it? Not very long. It used to be that a sweeper really had to scrub that pebble as he or she passed it to truly polish it down enough to build up a noticeable effect on a stone over the length of any given shot. However, with modern-day (and appropriately-named) EQ pads, short for ‘Equalizer,’ and Norway brush pads (Goldline’s version of the same thing), mylar is now integrated into the fabric on the end of a broom to insulate the fabric and retain warmth generated by friction. This means that, overall, it takes much less friction in one’s sweeping to achieve the optimal effect of polishing any given bump of pebble to a desirable smoothness. This helps all sweepers, and removes the amount of strength required to be effective – making the sport of curling not only more gender-equal, but beginner-friendly. (Advancements in making lighter weight carbon fiber brush shafts only help ease the burden of sweeping, too.)

“Great. Science and technology are awesome. So what does this mean?”

It means that, thanks to technological advancements, every one is more or less on the same footing. So much so, that there is a push to add the discipline of Mixed Doubles Curling to the 2018 Winter Olympics roster. If this happens, Curling will be only the THIRD Olympic sport, and the FIRST Winter Olympic sport – EVER – to allow both men and women to compete with and against each other simultaneously. (The other two being Equestrian sports and Badminton.)

“So what does this have to do with gearing up for Curling?”

Everything! The base-line equality exists in the equipment.

If you are of a physique where you will not be modeling on the cover of Health & Fitness anytime soon (as I will not), finding the right gear is crucial to your continued success in this sport and to help you be the best curler you can be. Will having the top-of-the-line gear instantly make you a gold medal contender? No, of course not. And I will never claim that it will. This is still a sport after all, and physical prowess is required.

“So then why bother buying gear?”

As I have said, getting better at curling requires repetition and consistency. Lots of it. Tons of it, even. In order to maximize your progression, you need to eliminate as many variables that detract from achieving maximum consistency as possible. Using the same quality broom and shoes every time you step out onto the ice is a major way to do that.

Now, while there are many brands out there, there aren’t a TON of options in gear. That is why I’m doing this series: to wade through the options, opinions, and advertisements, and to field some common and not-so-common questions in an effort to help fellow beginners navigate through the potentially slippery ground of getting gear. I may not be able to cover every base, but I certainly will try to touch upon as many of these bases as I can, and condense them into a simple and easy-to-use guide.

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who has done so much research on Curling gear that he never wants to hear about gender disparity in Curling ever again. Like, ever. However, he does want to hear from you. So drop a comment below. Or follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

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