The Curling playing surface (“sheet”) is 14’6” – 16’6″ wide and 138’ feet long, set up to accommodate play in both directions. The 12’ “target” at each end (the “house”) is the scoring area.
Water is sprayed on the ice surface to create tiny bumps of ice bumps over which the stones slide. This is called pebbling.
Teams usually consist of four players. The position are: the “Lead” (throws the team’s first two stones), the “Second” (throws the team’s third and fourth stones), the “Third” or “Vice-Skip” (throws the team’s fifth and sixth stones, and handles scoring decisions) and the “Skipper” (calls the game strategy and throws the last two stones). Two of the players who are not throwing a stone usually sweep for the play who is throwing.
A game is composed of 8 – 10 “ends” (similar to baseball innings or bowling frames). The teams alternate turns throwing stones. The player throwing ordinarily has one shoe with an extremely slippery sole (a “slider”) to allow the player to slide behind the stone in order to perfect the aim and force of the throw before releasing. Two of the players who are not throwing a stone usually sweep. The third player who is not throwing (the “skip” or “vice-skip”) holds a broom to mark where the throwing player should aim (but not where the stone should stop as discussed below). When all 16 rocks have been delivered, the score for that end is determined. Having the last stone to throw (the “Hammer”) is a tremendous strategic advantage. The Team that starts the game with Hammer usually is determined by a coin toss, thereafter, whichever team did not score in the previous end has the hammer in the next end.
The sport is called “curling” because players rotate the stone as they throw it. The rotation of stone cause the stone to curve (“curl”) in strategic directions. Where the player aims at the start of throw is not where the stone actually comes to a stop so a team can curl their stone around behind an opponent’s stone. Sweeping in front of the stone is critical because it makes the stone travel farther (as much as 15’) and curl less by:
- Polishing ice surface in front of the stone.
- Removing frost and debris from the ice (especially in outdoor curling).
- Momentarily warming the ice to create a thin film of water that lubricates the ice.
Good sweeping requires strong team communication and split second judgment. (In competitive rather than social games, it also requires a great deal of physical work). Ice conditions have dramatic differences and even change during a game. The conditions affect how far stones travel and how much they curl. Skippers therefore must have keen judgment and observation skills determine account for all these factors when calling each shot.
The goal is to place the most stones in the center of the house while knocking out opposing team stones. Rocks that are not in the house (further from the center than the outer edge of the 12 foot ring) do not score even if no opponent’s rock is closer. Strategy is as important as skill, making it a game of “chess on ice” with sportsmanship as its foundation. After each team throws all of its eight stones, the score for the “end” (similar to an inning) is tallied and the next end is started until eight or 10 ends are completed.