FREMONT — A few things to know about competitive curling: The granite stones weigh a ton, the guys with the brooms scamper about three miles during the match, and the sport — while not exactly sweeping the nation — is starting to catch on, especially in the Bay Area.
Look at the television ratings. Curling was the highest-rated Olympic sport on U.S. cable television last week, according to ad-buying firm Magna Global.
Visit San Jose's ice rink on Tuesdays, Oakland's rink on Wednesdays or Fremont's rink on Thursdays. You'll find more brooms than the inside of a janitor's closet.
Since the U.S. men's curling team took bronze at the 2006 Olympics, the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club has more than doubled in size from 40 to 100 active curlers — enough for two year-round recreational leagues in San Jose and Oakland and a summer league in Fremont.
"It's not a jock sport. It's an intellectual, nerdy sport," said club President Brent Halpenny. "That's why I think it's taken off in the Bay Area. You have a lot of engineers trying to figure out the physics of the shot."
In May, several leading curlers will come to Fremont for the club's annual tournament.
Curling, which is essentially shuffleboard on ice, returned to the Olympics in 1998, delighting Canadian fans and American comedians.
The latter fixated on the strange spectacle of a sport that appeared to combine a household chore with a pub game.
What would the Olympics think of next: Dusting and darts?
But curling is hard work. All four team members must take turns racing down two-thirds the length of a hockey rink with brooms, sweeping the ice in front of the 42-pound sliding slab of granite, called a stone.
The more they sweep, the more ice they melt and the farther the stone travels.
Much like lawn bowling, the goal is to land the stone closest to the target, and to knock away the opponent's best placed stones.
The Scots invented the game five centuries ago and are still the sole makers of the granite stones. But it's the Canadians who have carried the sport's torch into modernity.
Take Halpenny, for instance. He curled for Carpenter High School in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, a frosty eight-hour drive northwest of the provincial capital, Regina.
"I lived at the end of the highway," he said. "We had a general store, a pub, a school, a dance hall and a curling rink."
Halpenny, who is married to an American and moved to Fremont seven years ago, says curling has helped him feel at home in the Bay Area.
"Every game, I'm playing and meeting four new people," he said, noting that curling protocol requires that the winners buy drinks for the losers. "If you curl every week, that's 200 people a year."
And it's not just a way for Bay Area Canadian ex-pats to get together, he said. Most club members are American and most are new to the sport, said Halpenny, who's the only member of the club's incoming leadership committee who was curling before 2006.
Halpenny credits NBC's production of the 2006 Olympics curling competition, which included outfitting curlers with microphones, for the sport's increased popularity. Since those games, curling clubs have surfaced in San Diego, Hollywood, Orange County and even Vacaville, he said.
But not everyone is a willing convert. Halpenny's 13-year-old daughter has been trying with no success to get her friends out on the ice.
"It's easy," she says. "You don't even know how to skate. You just have to know how to walk."
The club offers lessons during league play, which is year-round in San Jose and Oakland and starts up in Fremont in April. For more information, call 510-472-0168 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.