Of Curling and Quinoa

By Eric Crampton 08/03/2014


The funny thing is that curling, even with money at stake, is formidably immune to most of the ugliness that modernity imposes on sport—the frantic marketing, the soul-killing training, the illicit performance-enhancers, the odiousness of billionaire ownership. Curling is unruinable. It will never be invaded by monsters with overdeveloped right arms. It will never suffer the equivalent of a dunk contest. It will never feature a bench-clearing brawl. Cities will never throw tax dollars at unsightly mega-curling clubs crammed with gift shops and restaurants . . . probably.

That is why metropolitan hipsters are now attracted to curling as a semi-ironic amusement, enjoyed in the incomplete, detached way one consumes quinoa. Curling stones have an attractive clank of rustic authenticity. But to actual rustics like me who grew up with curling, as an Andean peasant grows up with quinoa, it is disconcerting to see an element of one’s Canadianness turned into an affectation.

We have a triad of distinctively Canadian sports: Canadian football, hockey and curling. Football, from its origins to the present, has remained a collegiate game, a game of the ruling class. College kids invented gridiron football; McGill undergrads taught Americans what a “touchdown” was. Today, football is, notoriously, the shortest path to becoming a partner in a law firm, with golf a close second. Peter Lougheed and Rob Ford were football players, rich kids who, in different ways, leveraged the social connectivity of the game.

Hockey is the most popular sport in the triad because it is the game of the Canadian middle class, a game that requires a family to have something of a surplus and, ideally, to live near a town of some size. The typical sponsor for a minor hockey team has always been some kind of small business—a plumber, a restaurant, a trucking company. There are still plenty of kids in families too broke to afford hockey. In Canada, it is the first way one might learn that one is poor.

This is where curling fits in: It is a farmer’s game, a peasant tradition. There are still many villages in the West that cannot afford hockey rinks, but that faithfully lay down two curling sheets in a long, narrow shack every fall. In those towns, an agriculture society’s community investment in two sets of stones will serve all for decades. Where hockey requires every child to have skates and pads and sticks, the traditional equipment for curling amounts to two ordinary household brooms for every four players.

If you cannot use the term “Bonspiel thaw” correctly in a sentence, you’re a hipster Johnny-come-lately.

I wonder whether there’d be sufficient interest for a Kiwi Bloggers’ Bonspiel down in Nasby sometime this winter. They have 4 sheets and do hire the place out for corporate events. It would likely make for a better blogosphere. Only downside is that they have their own bar, with no BYO. If you can’t bring your own whisky…