Ice quality is a major concern to all curlers. Arena ice presents its own set of unique characteristics. The keenness or heaviness of the ice is due to many factors such as the temperatures of the both the rink and the ice, the humidity in the air, the temperature of the rocks, the amount and quality of the pebbling. Whatever the reason, it is a challenge to throw a rock consistently with the correct weight in heavy ice conditions. In this column, I will outline some techniques that might help you.
Heavy weight throws are needed in several situations. The ability to throw the ‘big weight’ is an excellent weapon to have in your curling arsenal. When your skip calls a takeout shot, you need enough weight to knock your opponent’s rock out of the house. Shots to peel off a guard or to execute a double takeout require even more weight. And of course, if the ice is really heavy, such as at the start of the game, you need to be able to generate extra velocity on your shot just to have it make the house.
If anyone has had a chance to watch top flight curling in person or on television, you have seen how effortlessly they seem to slide out from the hack. Even with takeout shots, they barely push out from the hack, hold onto the rock till just before the hog line, and can still generate the higher weight. Some of this is possible due to the excellent quality of the ice. However, the other part of this is the technique they have perfected to throw heavy weigh, yet maintain accuracy on the broom. This is a technique that everyone can learn.
Mainly, you want to avoid the dreaded “arm push”. All the force in the basic curling delivery is generated from your legs while pushing off from the hack. When the ice is heavy, the tendency for many people is to give the rock an extra push from your arm. While this will generate more speed on the rock, it is next to impossible for your shots to consistently hit the broom. Unless your body is sliding directly towards the broom, and your push is directed straight to the broom, your shot will be off the broom. Known as ‘cross firing’, your shot has more chance to hit the blue line than to be close to the target your skip gave you.
One of the first techniques to throw a heavier rock is to release sooner during your delivery. Your body is moving the fastest just after you push off from the hack. Your body actually acts as a brake on the rock speed. So the sooner you release the rock, the more speed it will have. While a slide to the hog line looks impressive, it doesn’t help if your shot stops half way down the ice. If the ice is heavy, let go of the rock sooner.
A second delivery technique for more weight is to move your sliding foot further back from the hack. By this, I mean that as you start your delivery, move your sliding foot two to three feet behind the hack. Then as you slide forward, this extra distance will generate much more momentum. This will translate into more weight for your shot.
The third method for heavier weight is to push off from the hack with more force. Granted, this can be easier said than done. If you can push off the hack with more power, it will translate into more speed for your rock. Make sure you foot is anchored securely in the hack before you start the delivery. The hack is anchored in the ice, so it should not become loose.
There are also a couple of more advanced techniques that can be used. If you are a beginner, don’t try these until feel comfortable with the balance in your delivery. Both of these methods require that you can control the delivery without fear of falling.
If you are having trouble generating more weight, purchase curling shoes. The attached slider makes a major difference. If you have curling shoes, try using a faster slider. Generally, there are three types of sliders. The slowest is the white Teflon slider. The next fastest is the orange ceramic slider known as the ‘brick slider’. This is the type of slider that I have used for the past 20 years. The fastest slider type is the silver chrome slider.
A faster slider translates into more speed from the same leg push, and thus more speed for your rock. The drawback is that your delivery will be more difficult to control with a faster slider. However, with practice, a faster slider can be mastered. Some shoes now come with detachable sliders, allowing you to switch sliders as you desire.
The other method is one that is not part of the recommended USCA curling delivery. This is to use a back swing as part of your delivery. As mentioned above with moving the sliding foot back further, swinging the rock generates momentum. Just as with an underhand pitch, the further back you swing the rock, the more velocity it will have when you release.
The technique is very close to that of the delivery that we teach. As you start your delivery, you raise your hips and move your sliding foot back. At the same time, lift the rock and swing it back. Then push forward and swing the rock ahead as you go into your slide. The momentum of the swing generates much more speed for the slide.
As many of you have noticed, I use a back swing as part of my delivery. Many years ago, when I learned to curl in the wilds of Saskatchewan, the curling rink had natural ice. The speed of the ice really depended on the weather, and heavy ice was common. Everyone was taught to throw with a back swing. Besides being too old to learn a new delivery ( you know what they say about old dogs ), I have found a big back swing useful in heavy ice situations.
As with the faster slider, the disadvantage of the back swing is control of your delivery. As the back swing generates more force, it can also throw off your balance. As with other techniques, it takes practice and repetition. Start with a very small lift, and gradually increase the swing till you get the desired speed. The swing delivery is not a commonly taught technique, but it can be useful to combat heavy ice conditions.
Overall, arena curling can be a challenge to get the correct weight. However, by mastering techniques such as I have described, you can become proficient at throwing the heavy weight. You will hit the broom more often, and it will allow you to throw consistent weight on your take out shots.