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Curling 101

Ok, so you’d like to learn about curling! Here’s a fantastic 2 minute video from Curling Canada to give you the low-down. After that, we’ll go through the basics!

The Playing Surface

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.

101-playing surface

Water is sprayed on the ice surface to create tiny bumps of ice bumps over which the stones slide. This is called pebbling.

The Team or Rink

Teams usually consist of four players.  The position are:

  • Lead – throws the team’s first two stones
  • Second – throws the team’s third and fourth stones
  • Third or Vice – throws the team’s fifth and sixth stones, and handles scoring decisions
  • Skip – calls the game strategy and throws the last two stones. 

Game Play

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.

Why Sweep?

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.  Skips 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.

Curling Stone (Rock)

Regulation curling stones (or “rock”) are made are made out of polished granite.  They are about 4.5” in high (excluding the handle), have about a 36” circumference, and weigh between 38 and 44 pounds.  The handle is attached with bolt running vertically through the center.  The bottom of the stone is concave so only a narrow band of stone, about 6 mm wide, actually touches the ice.

Good Sportsmanship

At least as much as in any other sport, good sportsmanship and civility is an integral part of curling. Each game begins and ends with a sincere handshake and stated wishes of “good curling.”  Celebrating an error by the opposing team, fully acceptable in some sports, is frowned upon in curling and it is good form to congratulate an opponent on a good shot.  Even at the highest levels of play, a player is expected to call their rule violations by notifying the opposing team skipper if they burned a stone.  When it becomes clear that a team cannot possibly win the game, the losing teams customarily concedes the match as honorable act that does carry the stigma of “quitting.”   In social play, winning team members traditionally buy losing team members a drink and get to know each other after the game as part of what is called “broom stacking.”