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The Origins of Curling

Sochi is underway! Brush up on your winter sports lingo and learn some things you probably didn't know about the sport of curling.

by Cailin O'Neil Posted on 10 February 2014

From now until the last fireworks light up Sochi’s sky on February 23, G Adventures will offer up the best original and curated content from around the web. Want to follow along? We'll share our take on Sochi 2014 through through the @gadventures handle, on Facebook—and right here on the Looptail. Check out all of our Winter Games–related articles here. This is your planet—see it at play.


Today in Sochi, 20 teams from 14 countries will be competing in the grand old Scottish game of curling. A sport dominated by the northerly countries, curling does boast a somewhat surprising amount of international appeal. But what is this game that looks like a colder version of shuffleboard all about?

The game of curling originated in medieval Scotland with the first known documentation of a game occurring in 1541. Back then, it was played on frozen ponds with river stones and later became popular in many countries around the world, evolving into the sport we know today. (Curling didn’t become an official winter sport the Olympics until 1998, even though there were early demonstrations of the sport played at several Olympics as early as the 1924 Games in Chamonix, France.

The game is played by two teams of four players a side, and each team throws eight rocks. The players on each team take turns sliding their rock down a sheet of ice toward a target (also called the “house”), and the team that puts their rocks closest to the center – after all rocks have been played without the other teams rocks getting in the way – score points. Typically, games last ten ends of play until there is a winner.

There are many different variables at play that make modern curling challenging. However, skill plays a larger role in the modern game as curlers have greater control over their rocks. In the beginning, a great deal of a competitor’s success came down to luck.

A curler must have great balance and the skill to throw the rock with just enough power to make it to the other end of the rink. Players wear shoes with soles that slide easily on the ice, and modern rocks have handles to make them easier to control. Depending on how the handle is turned at the time of release, the rock can curve to the right or left. Two teammates armed with brooms act as sweepers who clean the ice in front of the rock as it slides the length of the rink. Sweeping warms the ice in front of the rock, creating less resistance and allowing the rock to slide more smoothly down the rink.

The rocks that the game is played with were originally flat-bottomed river stones, however today they are regulated and must be of a uniform weight and size. There are only two places in the world that have the approved rare and dense granite allowed to make curling rocks: Wales and, naturally, Scotland.

Curling today is still played in Scotland and extremely popular in Canada and around the world, including such unexpected places like southern New Zealand, which was settled by the Scots.

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.