In this Jan. 2 photo, Rich Savoyski, left, and Kara Zwickey furiously sweep in front of their teams' curling stone to bring it into the red-outlined house to score a goal at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer.(Anna Frost/The Homer News)

In this Jan. 2 photo, Rich Savoyski, left, and Kara Zwickey furiously sweep in front of their teams' curling stone to bring it into the red-outlined house to score a goal at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer.(Anna Frost/The Homer News)

Curling: Harder than it looks – but lots of fun

The key to curling success is two-fold: put more weight on the broom than the stone and, most importantly, trust the stone will not pull you across the ice like Fred Flintstone in a bowling alley.

That, and don’t take yourself or the game too seriously.

Though requiring confidence and concentration, the game of curling is easy to pick up in an evening. For those in or near Homer, this athletic experience is only a trip away to the Kevin Bell Arena.

Curling, a popular Canadian winter sport, has slowly sprouted roots in Homer since the ice rink hosted the Arctic Winter Games in 2006. Homer Curling then appeared in the winter of 2014 and is now in its second season.

A group of lower Kenai Peninsula residents ranging from 20-somethings to 60-somethings gather every Saturday night to learn and practice the game of curling. Led by club coordinator and Ninilchik resident Argent Kvasnikoff, the group starts meetings by teaching newcomers the basics behind throwing stones and then plays a friendly match, which takes about two hours.

The friendly members of Homer Curling make the atmosphere a relaxed one. Though the focus of the event is the game, the emphasis on socializing makes sure all who wish to join are welcome.

The refrain from the returning members is curling is harder than it looks, but fun to learn.

Sheryl Baechler, a Homer resident for the last 30 years, and her husband have been coming to the curling club since January 2015. She had never curled before, but saw it during the last winter Olympics and wanted to learn. After hearing an ad for the club on the radio about a year later, she began attending the meetings regularly.

“You can come and be a novice and still enjoy it and have fun. … It takes some skill, but it doesn’t take a lot of athletic anything, strength or agility. It’s doable,” Baechler said.

William Schaffer, who has curled for five weeks with the group, also said that the group is a fun place to meet new people. However, he emphasized the difficulty of learning to throw the stone in the right way.

“It’s very difficult because it’s all balance and thrust with your feet to get the stone. You need to know how hard to throw it, and it’s not easy to figure that out a lot of times,” Schaffer said. “But it’s a lot of fun. And it’s difficult, ten times more difficult than I thought it was going to be.”

As curlers set up to throw a stone, a 44-pound granite cylinder with a handle, they crouch down with one foot on a wooden block, the other foot flat on the ice. Bracing their weight against a broom with one hand, the other grasps the stone. Moving the stone back and forth a couple times for momentum, they shift their hips up, and push off with their full body’s strength. After sliding forward as far as they can, the stone is released with a forward thrust.

If all goes well, it ends up in the house — the red circle at the other end — to score a point for their team.

Each team is comprised of four people, with two teams competing against each other in a game. Depending on the turnout each week, the curling group has one or two games going at once. Between 12 to 20 people show up on an average Saturday, said Kvasnikoff. Teams sometimes have a fifth player in order to include everyone, as the curling club only has enough stones for two games at once.

Kvasnikoff started curling while attending college in Vancouver. Though he had heard about the club in Homer, he did not start coming to the meetings until this winter. When the former coordinator suddenly moved, Kvasnikoff took on the role.

“I’m really a big fan and I hope that it can become something that is a more permanent part of the area,” Kvasnikoff said.

Expansion weighs on the minds of both Kvasnikoff and Dean Kildaw, manager of the ice rink. Kildaw, a Canadian native, originally procured the curling equipment to add to the range of winter sports the arena offers.

After receiving grants, he purchased one set of used refurbished curling stones out of the Canadian province of Manitoba for $3,750. The second set came from a curling club in Alberta for $2,500. Both sets were a great deal, as a single set of new stones usually costs several thousands of dollars, Kildaw said.

“We’d like to see it grow so that they can raise the funds to buy a third set of stones. You could put five sheets on ice, curling ice, on the rink. Right now there’s three, and they only use one or two depending how many people show up so we want to grow the program and make it, to bring more back to the rink and to the organization,” Kildaw said.

Once the equipment was available, Elizabeth Diament and Joel Vos founded the club, according to Vos. Those involved hope to see it continue to grow and become a more prominent part of the community sports scene in Homer.

“Curling’s huge in Canada, especially in the agriculture, rural Western parts of Canada. It’s a real big deal. Every little town has an ice rink with a curling club,” Kildaw said.

“It’s a social thing. It’s sort of like organized adult hockey. Part of it is playing the game and part of it’s a social thing — a place to go and you can bring your friends and meet new people from walks of life that you’d never encounter in your circle.”

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

Where: Kevin Bell Arena, 3150 Homer Spit Road

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays; ends around 10:30 p.m.

Fees: Free for first-time participants, and $15 per person afterward. $10 for members of the Homer Hockey Association.

Who: All ages welcome to join. Open to families.

The game: Members from each team take turns throwing the stones across the rink into the red circle, called the house, to score points. Teammates use brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone as it travels to speed it up to help the stone make it into the house. Eight stones are thrown per team per round. At the close of each round, called an end, points are scored. Homer Curling usually plays eight ends per game.

Gear: Wear clean shoes and warm clothes. All necessary equipment provided by Homer Curling, though those who have their own shoes or brooms are welcome to bring them.

Contact: Homer Curling Facebook page. Any questions can be sent via private message to Homer Curling, whose administrators are quick to respond.

Website: kevinbellarena.org/curling-2

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