During the last winter Olympics, almost 1,000 people came to a two-day open house at the Granite Curling Club in North Seattle. Before the club even opened the first morning, the parking lot was full of people excited to check out a sport that most had only ever heard of.
As the only dedicated curling ice on the West Coast, the club draws a wide variety of interests, including teams traveling hundreds of miles to play in tournaments. Naturally, that interest spikes during an Olympics year, said Tom FitzGerald, a club member and media spokesperson.
Local interest may be higher still this year, thanks to local Kentridge High School graduate Nicole Joraanstad making the U.S women’s curling squad.
It was because of the Olympics that Roy and Lynda Woo dropped by the club with their three children on a Thursday morning. Curling was the only Olympic event for which they could get tickets, and the Kent family wanted to learn more about the game before they saw the top competitors in the world face off. FitzGerald happily obliged, going over the basics of the game, while teams in the Thursday morning league played on the sheets (playing surface) at the club.
“We wanted to get some understanding of the game,” said Roy.
In curling, much like shuffleboard, players attempt to get “stones,” or “rocks,” into the colorful target-like circles known as the “house” located at each end of the sheet. With teams of four, the strategies for blocking, earning points and winning the game are endless, but the technique is basically the same for everyone.
The technique was one of the things that drew FitzGerald to the sport — who currently plays on a team with his wife and two children. He said it was something they could do together.
FitzGerald said back when he walked into the Granite Curling Club – basically off the street and interested in learning more – most who played at the club were related, because that’s how people got involved. Then once it became an Olympic sport, that crowd diversified, extending to people who had no familial connection to the game.
Miranda Heaslip, a member of the Hollywood Curling Club in Los Angeles, got re-hooked on curling after spending time visiting family in Canada. Originally from the Toronto area, and in Seattle for the Mountain Pacific regional tournament, Heaslip has been focusing on curling for the last year and a half, after playing as a kid.
“I’ve just been doing it ever since,” she said of the sport. “I’m still loving it. I have a great coach and great training.” She said after she first started curling again, she has spent a couple of hours a week at her club, which practices on hockey ice, in addition to playing in a league. After she had her technique down and essentially re-learned the game, she said she pretty much only played during the league nights.
“As long as you’re consistent and there every week, you’ll get what you need,” she said. “We take it seriously, but have a lot of fun.”
The Granite Curling Club obviously has its share of fun on a weekly, if not daily, basis. FitzGerald said that usually league teams pitch in and bring food for lunch or dinners, mixing and mingling long after their games have finished.
The club, which opened in 1961, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, but this year is special too, as the club is likely to be open longer due to the close proximity of the Olympics. FitzGerald said curling clubs typically are open from November to April, but this year they are looking to stay open through June for a summer league.
Since its opening, the club has had another prestigious title, grooming national champions. In the last 50 years, the curlers at Granite Curling have been responsible for bringing home 35 national championships. The club’s junior teams have also had a great deal of success, including the junior boys team, which won the National Junior Championship in January, and the senior women’s team, which took the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship. The junior boys will head to Switzerland in March for the World Junior Curling Championships, and the women will travel to Russia in April for the World Senior Championship.
For more information about the club, curling and local leagues, visit www.curlingseattle.org.