Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Curling in the Park

It all started back in February with one of the many similar enquiries I get through the ECA website Contact page – “I live in West Wiltshire and I am looking for a local curling team please.”

My response to this was my usual standard one of: “Afraid there is no local curling team or club in Wiltshire. The only curling rink in England is at Tunbridge Wells in Kent”. (followed by weblink).

But the reply that came back was different and totally unexpected!!

“I am arranging an Olympic Play Day and I have hired in an ice outdoor Curling rink and I am looking for someone who can run workshops on the day and it’s not something I have ever played.”

This was beginning to get interesting – raised so many questions. Was it going to be like one of the skating rinks that spring up around the country just before Christmas? What equipment would we need to gather together? Who could I get to go down and lend them a hand?

So my reply was fairly straightforward:

“Well we may be able to help as you will obviously need some equipment as well. What date are you doing this?”

And back came a further surprise:

"The date is the 26th May in Trowbridge in Wiltshire and the idea is to inspire the community into different sports. I have attached the curling rink I have hired for the day which comes with the equipment as well, so I would be looking for people to engage the community and teach them how to play."

And there was a website link included in the message. There I found out what it was all about:

Our synthetic rinks are manufactured from a strong 100% ultra density polyethylene which will not warp, crack, splinter or corrode. The rink floor is made up of 18mm thick 1-meter square slabs, which connect together using the latest tongue and grove technology. Within each 1-meter section a 1-meter tongue is inserted to form a connection between the two slabs to stop the slabs moving apart and to create a smooth, seamless surface with no joints or ridges. Due to the versatility of our mobile ice rinks we can build them any size or shape to fit even the most demanding venue.

Of course most of their website talks about the use for skating but there was one little bit about curling:

Curling is a sport that except for the lucky few is only available to view via your television. At ice magic we have a custom made curling arena which is fantastic for all events including team building and exhibitions to give your guests the opportunity to try something new.

And there is also a picture of it in use as part of an Aquafresh toothpaste promotion:

This was looking interesting, if a bit curious - was that a giant toothbrush? And what were the little yellow things looking like ice hockey pucks?

The only way to find out was to get down there on the 26th May and see for myself - so along with President Alison Arthur (who lives just 40 minutes from Trowbridge), James Gibb and Charles Murphy and his partner, Linda, I turned up to Trowbridge Park on a baking hot Saturday to find the men from Ice-Magic setting up the skating rink before tackling the smaller task of fitting the panels together for the curling rink - and when they had finished it looked a bit less spectacular than the Aquafresh promotion in the picture above, but still quite realistic.

You will immediately notice that if the panels are 1 metre square then the rings are just over 1 metre in diameter and so not quite the full size of the real thing and it was only 6 metres from the 'hack' to the house. And so what about the stones - well they were quite ingenious - full size, made of plastic, weighing about 5-7 kilos and with three metal feet as the following pictures show:

There were only 6 - 3 of each colour, but as the above picture shows that was all about you could probably get into the house without covering every square inch.

So was that it then - did it work and was it realistic? There was one final ingredient to be added to the mix - a spray of glycol on the surface of the 'ice' to make it slippy and yes it did work and we had lots of delighted children challenging their parents and their siblings.

There were no hacks but a rubber mesh mat was laid at the throwing end and we taught people to throw in the old crampit style

Major problem was that we got lots of people literally throwing the stones on to the ice from a height of a couple of feet rather than sliding it along from the edge of the plastic - good job it was not real ice as the cracks would have been quite impressive!!

Here are a couple more pictures from the day.

So was it worth it - well many people had a lot of fun and if we have managed to get one person interested in asking at their local ice rink then maybe in 2 years time around about Olympic time we will get a rise in interest in the Wiltshire area. One mother said she was going to talk to Bristol Ice Rink as her two sons had enjoyed it so much so we shall see what happens.

As far as the ice rink people were concerned it is definitely 'work in progress' as they would like to increase the realism in some way - maybe by adding a pebble to the plastic. The stones did curl, but very late in their travel and quite abruptly, but it was possible to get around behind a guard and show people the way that stones curl on ice. At the moment they have not really had much interest, but I notice that the paragraph about curling has appeared on their website since I first looked at it and so maybe they will be getting more clients in the future. The rink can of course be as long as you want just by adding more squares of plastic and they will need to test to see what length is most suitable for different markets.

Aquafresh had been the instigators of the idea - but I still have no idea what the small yellow 'pucks' are in the picture - I forgot to ask!!

So at the end of a long day in the sun we all went our own separate ways and I headed off to Scotland - but that is another story, not much to do with curling but may well appear her in the near future............