For those who like camaraderie and strategy in their sports, the Triangle Curling Club is the coolest place to stack the brooms this summer.
The club has been around since 1995, and called Wake Forest's Polar Ice House home for the past eight years. But last month, TCC opened the first dedicated curling facility in the Southeastern U.S. with a kickoff "bonspiel"—or curling tournament—featuring 34 teams, some local and others from as far away as Minnesota and Canada.
The three-year, nearly $1.5 million construction project was privately financed. Inside the outwardly nondescript 14,500-square-foot warehouse on So Hi Drive in Durham, a mixture of glycol and water courses through 206 cooling pipes encased in 5 inches of concrete flooring. This maintains the ice, divided into four curling sheets, at about 24 degrees Fahrenheit, while the air temperature fluctuates between 30 and 50 degrees depending on the time of year.
TCC is part athletic league, part tight-knit social club. Opponents clad in everything from regular winter wear to Scottish-inspired apparel wish each other "good curling" prior to a game. Once play begins, the sport's combination of athleticism, strategy—it is called "chess on ice" for a reason—and precision are evident in the two-hour contests.
A Winter Olympics staple, curling dates back to 16th-century Scotland. Two four-player teams take turns sliding eight heavy, polished rocks down nearly 150-foot-long ice sheets toward a circular target, the "house." Players use brooms to sweep the ice along the path of the stone to make it travel faster and curl less, and the team with the rock closest to the "button" of the house wins points for that round, or "end." A typical game comprises eight ends.
TCC has about 80 paid members who take part in various leagues that meet weekly. Most days feature so-called "open leagues" where people can join as individuals, and league coordinators form balanced teams. Tuesday night is the "competitive league" for experienced curlers, who form their own teams. Saturday is a novice league, which combines instruction and game play, and there are "Learning to Curl" classes on some Friday evenings.
I gingerly follow around TCC President Chris Jaun as he sweeps the ice before the Tuesday evening league. "Curling is a very social sport," says Jaun, a software engineer at IBM. "For a lot of people in this club, this is their primary circle of friends, their best friends. So we kind of did it together. We all wanted this."
One "skip" says that when he and his wife decided to move east from Las Vegas eight months ago, they chose the Triangle in large part because he discovered the dedicated curling facility was being constructed. A young lady describes how she met her fiancé through TCC while traveling together to a bonspiel—they're getting married this week. New members, or the simply curious, can join TCC's summer season before its conclusion in mid-July. The facility then closes until the traditional curling season, which runs from late September through early April. All TCC leagues are mixed gender. Jaun believes the inclusive aspect of curling is a large part of its appeal.
"It's a sport you can play your whole life," Jaun says. "It's a sport a parent and child can play on the same team. A husband and wife can play on the same team. An able-bodied person and wheelchair curler can play on the same team. Everyone can be integrated in the same game, and that's one of the great things about it."
Photos by Alex Boerner