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The Thinker and The Chucker: An outdoor curling tale

By Mike Reynolds on February 13, 2013

From February 8 to 10, 48 of the world’s best outdoor curlers (or at least 48 men who knew the event was taking place and were crazy enough to sign up), gathered at the Dalhousie Lake Curling Club for the 21st playing of the unofficial World Outdoor Curling Championships.

Calling The Lake a curling club is akin to calling your driveway the Daytona International Speedway. What it is, however, is a warmish building, an hour and change from Ottawa by car,  that sits in front of a frozen body of water. And the snow is removed from that frozen body of water in three long lines on the second weekend in February every year.

What started as a six man event 21 years ago continues to gain momentum with a field as large as ever gathering at The Lake. While there are plenty of reasons why you should not curl outside in February (ice surfaces that change overnight, -25 degree temperatures, coyote infested forests and a lack of running water and electricity being chief among them) there are more reasons why this event succeeds.

The food is one primary draw. Each three hour block is sponsored by some artery clogging delicacy or another. Shepherd’s pie, beef brisket, steak, chilli, ballpark franks, bagelwiches, venison sausages and spicy pickled eggs are just a few of the treats that can be found at any one time.

The drinks are another part of the experience. A gas powered margarita-making-machine kicks off the event and while it’s to each their own in terms of what you bring up to consume, craft beers made their way into the array this year. Big Rig and Kichesippi were my personal blend of choice.

But mostly, it’s about getting a group of 48 guys who would otherwise never gather together, building three sheets of ice that couldn’t be more different from one another, and then letting that group go at it on a sunny Saturday filled, from sunup to sundown, with curling games. That’s what keeps us coming.

The teams, drawn at random using a deck of playing cards, are made up of two kinds of ‘athletes.’ On one side you have the ‘experienced curlers.’ Those guys that spends two or three days a week on indoor ice, where strategy means something and the ice conditions vary little.

“Should we throw the in turn or the out turn? Or should we hit and roll on top of theirs? We might leave them a little tap but then we’ll have our own rock to run back on our next shot.”

On the other side you have the ‘inexperienced curlers.’ The guys who spend their winter days on skidoos and at ice fishing shacks miles away from the indoor game.

“Should we haul this rock down the ice? Or should we really haul it down the ice?”

In almost 100 per cent of cases, the team with the fewest thinkers and the most chuckers comes out on top. This year’s event was once again dominated by the chuckers.

By Sunday afternoon, the skidoos, tents, wood stoves and cans had been removed from the lake, the only signs that curling had taken place being the long sheets of exposed ice. Inside the clubhouse, the winners were congratulated and plans were underway to make sure next year’s event is equally successful. For the most part, next year’s operation will remain the same. We’ll have the same ice crew, same number of curlers and the same clubhouse.

Although next year, there will be chicken wings.