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Eric Peterson, Published February 16 2011

Peterson: Forum staffers have rock-y starts with sport of curling

When you watch curling on television, it all looks so simple. A person gracefully lunges forward and glides across the ice. They effortlessly release and direct the rock toward the other end of the ice sheet. Most shots have perfect pace and pinpoint accuracy.

Easy enough, right? Push off, lunge and let the rock go. Turns out, it’s not that easy.

Last week a few of my Forum colleagues and I went to the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club to learn the basics. I had never curled before.

However, I didn’t go in overconfident. In my talks with local curlers, they all warned me it was not as easy as the elite players make it look.

Also, I had recently seen video of WDAY-TV sports director Dom Izzo trying to throw a rock. On one of his tries, he ended up eating ice shavings. If that was going to be my fate, it wasn’t going to be because I was overconfident.

When I arrived at the curling club, I was greeted by board member Terry Dimmer, 59, who has been curling for five years. He would serve as my first curling instructor. Forum copy editor Tom Mix and online editor Rob Beer were also there to learn the basics.

Dimmer gave us a brief overview of the rules and then demonstrated to us basic technique on how to push out of the hack (foothold), glide on the ice and then release the rock.

“That looks really dangerous,” I told Dimmer.

I then volunteered Mix to go first so he could be the guinea pig.

“I want to see it one more time,” Mix said.

Dimmer obliged. After that, however, it was time to quit stalling and get serious.

Mix gently ambled onto the ice and made his way to the hack. He gathered himself and surged forward – probably less than 10 feet – and never released the rock. It wasn’t pretty and Mix was hesitant to throw a second rock.

“Why is this so hard?” Beer asked as Mix settled back into the hack.

“I think I’m going to fall over when I try this,” I commented.

“I fell over the first time and ripped the crotch out of my pants,” Dimmer said in an attempt to make us feel at ease.

Moments later, Mix made his second attempt, which was less successful than the first. Mix slid about 10 feet before he crumpled to the ice as he lost his balance. While it wasn’t very nice, I laughed.

“I don’t even want to do this,” I said, but realized there was no turning back.

Since they didn’t have any size 13 curling shoes, I put a slider on the bottom of my left tennis shoe.

As I got ready to throw my first stone, one thought flooded my mind: “Don’t fall.” Laughing loudly at Mix moments earlier for falling to the ice probably wasn’t the best for my karma.

So I gathered myself in the hack, tried to compose my thoughts and then exploded up the ice. At least in my mind it was an explosion (watching the video later it didn’t look as impressive as it felt). I channeled my inner “Ric Flair” as I glided forward and for some reason the word “Woo!” came out of my mouth. I guess that was my way of celebrating what I deemed a success. I didn’t fall over and almost glided to the “hog” line, which is 21 feet from the hack. While I didn’t release the rock, that was not important to me at that point. Staying upright was the key.

On my second attempt, I didn’t fall and this time I even released the rock. Sweet progress. The stone glided about halfway up the 146-foot ice sheet so it was far from perfect.

Dimmer told us the ice hadn’t been pebbled (when warm water droplets are sprayed onto the ice sheet to make the rock slide easier). So I was going to blame my lack of proficiency on that – poor ice conditions.

For the next hour or so, Dimmer did his best to mold us into better curlers. We even mixed in some sweeping.

Ben Karkela, a Forum part-timer, showed up later to throw a few rocks. Karkela, who said he curled once 10 years ago, was the most graceful of all of us. By the end of my first curling experience, I learned one truism that a longtime curler told me about the sport:

“It’s easy to learn, but hard to master.”

Yes, indeed.

Even though my curling skills were raw at best, we all walked off the ice with a smile on our face. Being horrible didn’t prevent us from having fun.

And while Pete Fenson – an Olympic bronze medalist – won’t have worry about me competing at his level any time soon, if ever, curling may be worth pursuing.

Any teams in need of an alternate?

Eric Peterson, Tom Mix, Ben Karkala and Rob Beer of The Forum get a crash-course on curling.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com