PICTURES

Fancy sliding 20kg granite stones on ice? Singaporeans get into the sport of curling

The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The Equatorial Curling Club holds curling sessions at The Rink in JCube at night. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Clubs are bringing lesser known ice activities such as curling and broomball to the heartland

It is 10.15pm on a quiet Wednesday evening and business is winding down at JCube in Jurong. Most food outlets have shut for the night and the rink is emptying out, save for a few straggling figure skaters who have just ended class.

But for 25-year-old civil servant Somerton Sio and five other members of the Equatorial Curling Club, the night has just started.

"We usually come at this time because the rink is used for skating and ice hockey earlier in the day. It's the only slot we get," explains Mr Sio, the club's president.

He has driven all the way from Changi, where he works. Another member, housewife Theresa Foo, 61, has travelled from her home in Novena.

"Normally, at this time, I'd be at home, either reading or getting ready to sleep," she says.

They turn their attention to arranging sixteen 20kg granite stones on the ice and hauling out brooms kept in the rink locker.

Such equipment is used for curling, a winter sport that requires players to slide stones across the ice and get them as close as possible to a target while also knocking their opponent's away from it.

Curling is one of two lesser known winter sports that are slowly picking up followers here. The other is broomball, an ice game originating from Canada that involves two teams of six squaring off to score a ball slightly smaller than a soccer ball into opposing goal posts using broom-shaped sticks. It is similar to floorball and field hockey.

Curling has steadily gained traction across Asia. At this year's Sochi Winter Olympics, China's men's curling team came within a whisker of a bronze medal, narrowly pipped by the Swedes. South Korea has invested more into training its curling teams, eyeing potential medals as it gears up to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In tropical Singapore, curling and broomball remain a recreational sport played by a handful of groups.

Broomball was recently introduced by JCube's The Rink to give consumers more variety. Some 96 players participated in The Rink's "Ice Challenge" event a few weeks back.

Noting how it is played on special high-friction shoes instead of skates, a spokesman for JCube says: "We hope to encourage those nervous about ice skating to take part in on-ice activities."

Similarly, curling does not require skates. To take a shot, a player slides across the ice with an attachable Teflon sole and releases a stone in the direction of a circle.

But Mr Sio and his fellow member's efforts to coach this Life! reporter soon wind up with me splayed out on the ice and chuckling sheepishly.

An actual game is far more interesting and involves much back and forth as two teams, led by the "skips" or leaders, strategise how to volley the stones around or into one another's.

The most unintentionally comical part is how "sweepers" dash alongside the stone and maniacally brush the ice in front of it in a bid to make it slide farther.

"It's a sport that's more about strategy and finesse. It's very playable for most people as it doesn't require as much physical exertion as other competitive sports," says Mr Sio, who picked up curling while studying in the United States.

But for now, the club struggles with poor attendance as sessions are held late at night to keep rink rental costs low. It sees at most 16 people showing up for one session and practice is sometimes cancelled due to no-shows.

A minimum of eight people are required for the game.

"Sometimes we hibernate for a few months if response is poor," Mr Sio adds.

To skirt these problems, Mr Dalon Goh and his team from the Singapore Curling Academy, another club where people can learn the game, have devised "fun curling".

It is a modified version of the sport with simpler rules that can be played in smaller areas and on synthetic surfaces such as fake ice.

"We know people aren't too familiar with it so we want to make the game easy, bring it to them, then slowly raise the quality of play," says Mr Goh, 50.

He roped in three friends and took a year of no-pay leave from his job as a salesman for an industrial project to get fun curling off the ground.

The group has been running a pilot at the Jurong Green Community Club since June.

Results have been encouraging, with more than 100 participants so far, and there are plans to launch five more fun curling groups islandwide, Mr Goh says.

He adds: "Whether it's the elderly, young kids or the disabled, we hope they can join in and get some exercise of the body and mind."

jianxuan@sph.com.sg