Curling saved my life. Sounds like an outrageous statement to make, but in 1999, the year I first threw a curling stone, I was in my thirties and a dozen years into my existence as a music entrepreneur and musician in Vancouver. I was so deep into the independent music scene that one day I realized everyone I ever came into contact with was also in the music industry, and that’s all we ever talked about: the band they were in, the album they were making, the shows they were going to, the tours being planned, the records and CDs they were buying … I had no idea about current events, about politics, about ANYTHING, really, other than music.
I tried curling as a bit of a hipster absurdist lark. To my surprise, I fell in love with not only the great roaring game itself—its compelling strategies and all the yelling, so liberating for a quiet person—but also its social aspect. You are supposed to have a round with your opponents after a game, so every week I would sit at a table with four new people. I became friends with writers, posties, physical therapists, policemen, engineers, heavy machine operators, you name it.
Generally, these curlers were cut from the same non-jock cloth as myself. Unlike conventional macho team sports, curling is more esoteric and subtle; it may appeal to the outsider, the geek, the nerd, the socially awkward, the people who may too have been bullied in earlier years.
So, while “it saved my life” is a bit dramatic, I became a far more well-rounded individual thanks to curling.
I continued with my work in music, and became a competitive recreational curler, playing two or three nights a week, plus weekend bonspiels (tournaments). I found myself travelling for curling more than I toured as a musician. I entered provincial competitions and came within a game of reaching the BC Mixed Curling Championships. I volunteered in various roles over a number of years at my rink, Marpole Curling Club, which helped me get intimate with the business of curling.
Life’s detours brought me back to my childhood home of the Comox Valley in 2016. I embarked on several new ventures, including becoming an ice technician at the Comox Valley Curling Centre (CVCC). I later became assistant manager, then general manager, which to this day I am fortunate to be.
Curling has always garnered strong TV ratings in Canada, where few can resist the charms of a skip yelling “Hurry hard!” at their frantic sweepers. And anyone who has tried sliding a 44-pound hunk of expensive Scottish granite down a sheet of ice will no doubt testify to the addictive fun and challenge of the sport. So why are curling facilities across the country seeing a steady decline in participation?
True, many seniors are aging out of the sport, but where are the younger people to equalize the numbers? Is curling elitist? Unfriendly to beginners? Too complicated to get into, or too long a commitment?
These questions prompted us to change the culture of the CVCC to make the place fun and inclusive. Instead of a full six-month season, we created beginner-friendly leagues of shorter duration, so the commitment is less intimidating.
We also did something about the beer. As a craft-beer fan, I was dismayed to see there was nothing I would actually drink at the CVCC. It was mostly big-brewery bottles and two taps of beer for people who don’t like beer. So we installed eight new taps of daily rotating BC craft beer, and birthed the Gladstone Friday Fun League in 2017. This league features six-week rounds; people can enter as singles or pairs, and we help put them together on a team and provide all the equipment and a bit of instruction to get them going. Most importantly, it’s open gender and welcomes curlers of all ages and skill levels, including beginners… and it’s taken off massively. It grew from one time slot with 12 teams to three sold-out Friday evening time slots with 36 teams and a waiting list.
Soon the concept of FUN curling began to snowball. The Medicine Shoppe Comox Sunday Fun Family League began to address the demand for beginner-friendly curling. Next, Waypoint Insurance, Ace Brewing, Island Honda, the Waverley Hotel, Sure Copy, Courtenay Kia, and Jet FM all sponsored leagues, a previously unheard-of concept. We’ve just introduced the Church St. Taphouse Saturday Social League as another landing spot for newbies, and in January 2023, the CVCC will launch the Icebreaker Welcome League. This is a drop-in program where new Canadians, the Pride LGBTQ+ community, and everyone and anyone can try curling for a purple bill, no strings attached.
With these new initiatives, the CVCC’s membership has grown from just over 400 in 2016 to 786 members currently. That makes us the fifth-largest curling facility in British Columbia, dwarfing the numbers of much larger cities.
We know curling is a fantastic sport to play, and if we create a safe, welcoming environment that makes it EASY to participate, the sport and the CVCC will continue to flourish. Curling is for everyone!