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January 23rd, 2013 REBECCA JACOBSON | Featured Stories
 

Winter Guide 2013: Stone Cold

A WW correspondent learns to keep her beer off the curling rink.

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The Evergreen Curling Club posts three rules by the rink. First, shake hands. Second, if you win, clean the ice. And third, winners buy the first round of drinks.

That final rule pretty well encapsulates the spirit of Oregon’s only curling club, which is not quite a drinking team with a curling problem but sometimes comes close. Evergreen has members who curl several times a week, but camaraderie trumps competition, and there’s always reason for a drink. 

“We have some non-drinking curlers,” says Craig Webster, a curler of nine years. 

“They’re still fun to hang out with,” adds Joe Petsche, a 32-year-old software programmer who joined the club five years ago.

For anyone who’s missed the Winter Olympics recently, curling is the shuffleboard-like sport in which players slide heavy granite stones across a sheet of ice toward a target area. Two sweepers, armed with brooms, polish the ice to affect the stone’s course. Curlers are quick to point out that no one wears skates, and that it’s a mixed-gender sport for all ages. Members range in age from 11 to 80, and of Evergreen’s 110 members, about 30 percent are women. An Evergreen women’s team is heading to club nationals in March.

In early December, the Evergreen club opened a devoted curling facility in Beaverton, quickly securing a limited liquor license (the fridge is stacked with bottles of Widmer and Ninkasi). Prior to that, curling twice a week at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink, the members imbibed with greater secrecy. “At Lloyd Center, you were not allowed to have alcoholic beverages,” says Steve Talley, 73. 

Petsche interjects, “This has to be off the record!” But Webster brushes Petsche aside. “You brought in some beer,” he says. “But it was not something that was openly consumed.”

“We were in the dark,” Petsche says. “The mall was closed. And we were very responsible about packing it out. We weren’t going to leave any glass bottles behind.”

Members say their drinking habits are in line with those of curlers around the world, and they don’t bring alcohol on the ice. Arnie Iwanick did nonetheless show off a broom he bought in Scotland in 1981. The handle twists open to reveal an empty, metal-lined shaft—perfect for filling with four shots of alcohol. 

“You put in no less than 25-year-old Scotch,” Iwanick says. Based on the clean smell, though—Iwanick lets me sniff—he abides by the no-alcohol-on-the-
ice rule.

On the ice, Evergreen curlers take their sport seriously but with mercifully little sense of self-importance. These are players, after all, who attend costumed tournaments—Petsche recalls a ’60s-themed match in Seattle where curlers wore Afro wigs, short shorts and capes. In 2007, the Evergreen club held a re-enactment of an 1847 curling match at Fort Vancouver, where competitors donned top hats, kilts and military jackets with epaulets.

When I visited the Evergreen club to take a curling lesson ($20) in December, members wore more subdued athletic attire. But the act itself looked just as silly as it does on Olympic broadcasts, and with just as much yelling. The sport recalls bowling, except that curlers stretch into yogalike stances (think half-pigeon pose) as they release the 42-pound granite stone. I regretted not wearing stretchier pants. 

But Petsche and Eric Toews, who together instructed the 20-odd group of wannabe curlers, stressed the sport’s everyman accessibility. They were right; the mechanics are a little awkward at first, but it turns out that heaving a massive rock across a sheet of ice is easier (and more satisfying) than whacking a dimpled orb into a miniscule hole or swinging at a little stitched ball. I reared up in the starting hacks, placing my left foot on a shoe-shaped piece of Teflon. This would help me slide across the ice, Petsche said. It would also, I learned, make the already slick ice feel diabolical. I stayed mostly upright.

The sweeping motion was easier, and the over-the-sole ice grippers helped keep me vertical. But I quickly learned the point was not to sweep as zealously as possible, but rather to pay attention to the speed and direction of the stone and then make a judgment call on how best to guide the stone into position. Petsche explained the finer points of the stone’s velocity and arc, noting that it should make two full rotations on its journey across the ice. He talked about friction and drag and other things I never studied in school. “You have to have a certain nerd factor to get into curling,” he added.

Scientific calculations aside, curling is a social sport, and the Evergreen club excels at this part of the game. Talley, Webster and Petsche explain the practice of broomstacking, which is like a timeout, except with alcohol: During a match, all curlers pile their brooms at one end of the ice and exit the rink for a drink. 

“What typically happens is the team that’s behind is trying to break the momentum of the team that’s ahead,” Webster says.

“You’re not just trying to get them drunk?” I ask.

He nods and chuckles. “Well, there’s a little of that too.”


GO: The Evergreen Curling Club is at 10950 SW 5th St., Suite 155, Beaverton. evergreencurling.com.

 
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