Two local boys participate in a youth event at the Columbus Curling Club.

Photo courtesy Carol Lynne O'Neil

When Jen Paine first moved to Columbus in 2006, the Canadian native made an immediate web search for a curling club. She found exactly what she was looking in the Columbus Curling Club, located at 2999 Silver Drive in Columbus.

  Curling had been a big component of her life ever since she tried it in high school and she was glad she didn’t have to give up her passion when she moved to Columbus.
  “I was pleasantly surprised there was something here. I hadn’t expected there to be,” Paine said. “In the early years of the club, (the level of play) wasn’t that good but the competition is getting quite good now. Several years ago we put in place an Instructional League to teach new members basic curling skills. I’ve noticed that has made a huge difference in the level of play.”
  Paine (whose position on the team is the skip), and three friends, Val Dolence (second), Erica Chambers (vice) and Christie Geller (lead) recently placed first in the Great Lakes Curling Association Regional Playdowns Feb. 6-8 in Midlands, Mich. The four beat Midlands 9-4 to clinch a spot for the USA Curling Club National Championships March 7-14 in Fargo, N.D.
  It’ll be the second trip to the national championships for Team Paine. The traditional hotbeds of curling are located in the ice belt of states like Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. However Paine and her teammates learned they could hold their own in a national tournament.
  “One of the things we learned last year was we could compete at a higher level than we thought we could,” Paine said. “We’re much more competitive than we thought we’d be going into the championship.”
  Ohio is a part of a growth spurt the sport has experienced. According to Town and Country Magazine, 38 states held “bonspiels,” a curling tournament, on both indoor and outdoor sheets in 2010. Recently Denver and, as unbelievable as it sounds, Tempe, Ariz. and Hollywood, Calif., established clubs in the last four years.
  One of the biggest factors in growing the sport has been the decision to include curling in the Olympics. Curling was an exhibition sport as early as 1924 but it wasn’t officially added to the roster of Olympics until the 1998 Nagano Games.
  The Columbus Curling Club experienced a sharp spike in interest after the 2014 Sochi Games.
  “Every Olympic year we stop our leagues for a week and just run clinics,” Paine said. “We get close to 1,000 people trying it out. Our member grows by about 20 percent the following year. We don’t retain all of those people but we do have big growth years (every time there’s an Olympics).”
  Jason Connelly was one of those people who watched curling on television and thought “Hey I could do that.”
  “I saw it on the Olympics and thought ‘Hey, that looks fun,’” said Connelly, who is now on the board of directors for the Columbus Curling Club. “I immediately Googled it and out popped the name of the Columbus Curling Club. I remember my immediate reaction was ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a curling club here in Columbus? When can I get there?’”
  Those who try the sport quickly find out however that curling is not simply shuffleboard on ice.
  “You don’t have to be super buff to play it but people don’t realize how big of a workout curling is,” club member Dick Olah said. “You’re taking a 40-pound stone, sliding it down 120 feet long sheet of ice and aiming for a target that is rightly the size of a dinner plate.”
  “I personally like the strategy involved with it,” Paine added. “It’s a bit like chess. You’re always thinking ‘If I do this, what does that leave the other team the opportunity to do?’ You’re always thinking a shot or two ahead.”
  Columbus’ ties to curling aren’t directly related to an Olympic year. In 1999, ice rink director Graham Campbell started Newark Curling Club in Newark. In 2002, Columbus transplants Hal McGrady and Stuart Cohen, together with members of the Newark Curling Club, founded Columbus Curling Club. The club benefited when a club in Winchester, Mass. ceased operations and Columbus inherited three sets of its “stones” or “rocks.”
  Two years later, the club conducted an introductory clinic conducted at the Worthington Ice Center in the spring of 2004. In 2007, the club moved into its current Silver Drive location, transforming an empty warehouse into two sheets of regulation ice.
  For many just finding the location of the Columbus Curling Club might pose the biggest challenge. A GPS search will direct one to a Bunk & Loft building. A sign on a side entrance near the back of the building is the only clue of the club’s whereabouts.
  The club is deceptively large on the inside. It features a small bar and meeting area right next to two large sheets. At either end of the sheet is a “house,” a collection of concentric circles consisting of a 12-foot ring, an 8-foot ring, a 4-foot ring and a red button. Scoring is determined by who slides their rocks or “stones” closest to the center of the circles.
  One of the unique features of the Columbus facility is a set of eight cup holders near one of the ends, one for each member of a match to hold their beverages during play.
  “I think the thing that drew me to curling was all the things associated with it,” said Rick Olson, a long-time member of the club. “The camaraderie, the beer drinking and all the other things are part of the sport. It’s such a social sport.”
  The club has a set of rules to keep matches friendly. Each competition begins and ends with the two competing teams shaking hands and saying “Good curling.” Competitors are expected to congratulate opponents when they make a good shot and there’s no cheering when an opposing team delivers a poor one.
  “Curling is such a niche sport that there’s a real community here,” Connelly said. “Everybody seems to have the same attitude towards it. Regardless of the amount of skill or ability, we’re all there to enjoy ourselves.
  “Winter, especially in a place like Columbus, can be cold and icy and there aren’t a lot of activities I look forward to.