160 years of curling in Minnesota

Curlers in action at the new Chaska Curling Center // Photo by Jocelyn Mogren

Curlers in action at the St. Paul Curling Club // Photo by Jocelyn Mogren

Two-time U.S. Olympic curler and former junior high chemistry teacher Jeff Isaacson, 32, has a new gig: teaching curling. Last April, he became manager of the new Chaska Curling Center, which began its first season of league play just after the New Year.

Interest in the new curling club is overwhelming, Isaacson says. When the Chaska club began accepting team applications in November for league play, spots filled up quickly; after accepting 162 full teams (four to six people), the club turned away another 10 teams before deciding they could no longer accept applications. This has surely disappointed some Metro Area curlers hungry for ice time, considering their nearest alternatives are clubs in Savage or St. Paul.

“We expected around 150–200 people to become members, but instead we already have 900,” Isaacson says. “There was a big demand. People were waiting for something in the West Metro for a long time.”

The son of a competitive curler, Isaacson isn’t too surprised by the enthusiasm. He grew up watching his dad compete in the small-town clubs near Virginia and Eveleth in Minnesota’s Iron Range. Around there, Isaacson says, curling was—and remains—a popular social activity “that accommodates all types of people, all ages and skill levels.”

That popularity sustains curling clubs throughout Minnesota—26 in all, which is second in the U.S. only to Wisconsin’s 27. Isaacson attributes this widespread interest in curling to Olympic exposure. “People see curling on TV and get drawn in because it looks simple and accessible,” he says.

Chaska Curling Center // Photo by Jocelyn Mogren

St. Paul Curling Club // Photo by Jocelyn Mogren

In truth, the game has changed little since curling was developed in 16th century Scotland, and it does appear decidedly simple. Teams of four, each called a “rink,” compete for points. The object is to shove your stone, a 42-pound chunk of polished granite that roars on the ice like rush-hour traffic, down a 150-foot-long ice sheet, getting it as close as possible to a big circular target, or “house.”

As the stone slides, two sweepers shuffle alongside it with brooms, brushing the ice in its path with enough fury to scrape frost off a windshield. A final team member, the skip, shouts at the sweepers to keep brushing or back off, depending on whether they want the stone to speed up, slow down or “curl” in a new direction. A team earns points when its stones land closer to the center of the target than those of their opponent’s.

Related event: Try curling at GetKnit’s Curling & Craft Beer on Feb. 12

“When people try it, they enjoy the complexity, the strategy, the learning curve,” Isaacson continues. “There are new situations every time you play.”

Regional pride likely spurs interest, too, as Minnesota is typically well-represented on U.S. Curling teams; six Minnesotans rounded out U.S. rosters during the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. Curling as an Olympic sport, however, has a short history. Though occasionally a “demonstration sport” in Olympics past, it only became a full medal sport prior to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. But Minnesotans, historically hip to anything remotely fun to do with ice, were crazy for curling long before then.

Next page: Curling’s Minnesota roots run deep

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About Brendan Kennealy

Brendan Kennealy is a writing and PR professional who lives and works in St. Paul. Find him on Twitter here: @extrapalemale.

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