Cut out of the woods on a quiet edge of Durham sits a long, slender building with a low roof and an expansive parking lot. It’s unassuming in stature and location, with nothing announcing its purpose, a building that hundreds of cars pass every day without even noticing.
Inside, however, is a bustling club, a bar and lounge, kitchen area, locker rooms, dining tables, and, beyond a wall-length window, a sheet of ice half a football field in length and nearly as wide. They call that the “ice shed.”
Friends mill about, chatting as they stretch and ready their game equipment. A few pour pregame beers while one man is furiously at work in the kitchen, preparing snacks for the afternoon. There is a familial lightness in the building. The passion of these people is palpable, as videos of professionals play on several of the club’s large video monitors.
Barely an hour earlier, I was out on the wide sheet, utilizing an extraordinary amount of core strength to balance myself as I slid down the ice, one hand on a plastic stabilizer built to help newbies maintain their balance, the other on the large yellow handle of my curling stone.
About halfway down the sheet was Kerry Radigan, the club’s gregarious vice president and an enthusiastic curler, yelling instructions on how to get the stone to travel the path we wanted.
Radigan, a marketing professional who works in Raleigh, patiently explained every element of the sport to me, from pebbling the ice (that is, coating it with lightly sprayed water that then forms little mounds of ice down the sheet as it freezes) to the purpose of sweeping (to eliminate those pebbles in a path that will aid your stone into the house, or the big red and blue target toward which you aim). She covered scoring, how the arc, or curl, of the stone is dependent on which direction you release the handle, and the best way to give your stone enough speed to travel the length of the sheet. She described a game that is based on an honor code, as there are no judges even at the highest levels, and one that trades in both a strong sense of community around the world and an idealized version of sportsmanship.
“There’s no cheering if your opponent misses,” Radigan says. “There’s no heckling. No negativity.”
Rather, opponents laud each others’ play with cheers of “good ice” and, in one of the sport’s more amusing and well-known traditions, the winning team always buys the losing team’s first round of post-match beers.
The Triangle Curling Club has been active since the mid-nineties, yet these gleaming environs are much newer.
“This building was built three years ago,” Radigan tells me over a beer back in the clubhouse. “One of our members purchased the land, and all the other members chipped in donations.”
Citing the national support system on which the sport is built, Radigan adds that donations also came their way from other curling clubs around the country. Operating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the club relies on members’ devotion to both club and sport in order to keep itself running.
“There is no set volunteer requirement when people sign up,” Radigan says. “But everyone chips in all the time.”
She motions toward the ice shed, where three club members pebble the ice in advance of the evening’s games. She highlights the massive HD screens that hang on the walls, displaying advanced metrics thanks to a club member who is also an expert coder. She directs me again to the fellow in the kitchen, pointing him out as the one who always makes the best snacks.
“Everyone brings something to the table,” she says.
The Triangle Curling Club’s sense of frozen co-op is at the core of their community, and while many of them are competitors on the ice, they form a tight unit off of it.
“We all came together to watch the gold medal match,” Radigan says, referring to the U.S. men’s team’s major upset in last month’s Olympics.
As the games took place in South Korea, the marquee match kicked off in the middle of the night. “But that didn’t matter,” Radigan says. “We were all here till like four a.m., drinking nervously. When they won, this place exploded.”
And just as most sports success stories breed interest on a local level, the Triangle Curling Club has seen a surge in popularity in the wake of the Pyeongchang Games.
“We’ve had seventy-five new members sign up after the Olympics,” says Radigan—a 30 percent increase in membership.
Most clubs around the country are composed of less-than-experts, novices, intermediates, and everything in between. Though each can likely cite one or two players who curl above the rest.
“I’ve only been doing this for three years,” Radigan says. “We have members who’ve been on the cover of U.S. Curling News and we have people who have never done this before.”
In talking about the sport, Radigan rattles off names and accolades of the world’s top curlers and how they relate to passionate amateurs, including the members of her club. She describes matches, showdowns, and luminous curlers in much the same way people talk about the NFL or the New York Yankees. Her excitement for the game and the community that surrounds it is contagious and no doubt instrumental to the growth of our local club. I try to keep up, but her elation takes over as she describes rapid-fire one particular tournament, or bonspiel, in upstate New York, using names and terms I’d never heard.
Eventually, the focus returns to the beers in our hands, and Radigan tells me that they try to keep locally brewed beers on tap.
“But you have to have the Canadian staples in the fridge,” she says, pointing to bottles and cans of Molson and Labatt. “This is a curling club, after all.”
As we finish our beers, there is one final thing I need Radigan to clear up for me.
“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to the massive papier-mache curling stone sitting atop the clubhouse kitchen’s cabinets.
“Oh that,” she says with a laugh. “That was our ‘float’ in Raleigh’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It dragged behind a truck, like it was sliding down the ice.” Like everything else here, it was created and contributed by one of the club’s members.
She pauses with a smile.
“But now it lives here with us.”