By Barb and Tom Wilk
One of the most interesting elements of curling is sweeping. Effective, compact sweeping can make a stone travel 2 to 3 feet farther on slow ice, and 10 to 12 feet farther on fast ice. In addition to helping the stone move farther, accurate sweeping can help it resist the curl—“holding its line”—when the skip wants it to curl a little later than originally planned. Always remember, the one thing that sweeping cannot do is make the stone go faster. That is a physics lesson for another day!
There are a couple of schools of thought as to why sweeping works. One is that the friction melts the pebbles on the ice enough to create an almost microscopic layer of water that allows the stone to hydroplane. Another belief is that the broom polishes the pebbles, reducing the resistance the stone encounters as it glides down the ice. No matter how you slice it, sweeping can affect the stone like no other action can.
We talk about effective, compact sweeping. Effective sweeping requires the correct hand, foot and body positions. Hands should be one third from the broom head and one third from the top of the handle. Feet should be parallel to the stone, walking towards the house. Body is over the stone, leaning all of your weight onto the broom. Compact sweeping means short, hard strokes—remember, the surface of the bottom of the stone that touches the ice is only about 4 inches in diameter—keep your sweeping to that distance.
As two people are generally sweeping (more on multiple sweepers to follow), communication is key. The person who sweeps closest to the stone needs to keep their eyes on the stone to make sure not to touch it or “burn” it. This takes the stone out of play. While this does, on occasion happen, it’s never a happy moment. The person who sweeps in the front needs to make sure not to swing his or her broom back into the other sweeper’s broom and be aware of other upcoming stones on the ice. He or she is kind of a look out for traffic and just how close they are in relationship to the house.
Deciding when to sweep can be your skip’s decision. Some skips yell “sweep, yes, oui “(only if you’re curling in Montreal or if your ship is a certain insurance loving piggy). If you’re curling with a skip for the first time—ASK! Especially if you have a bunch of games going on at the same time. Five or six screaming skips, while highly amusing, can also be incredibly confusing if you don’t know the work yours uses.
Deciding when to sweep can also be the sweepers’ call. You and your partner are positioned directly over the stone and can judge its weight, especially upon its release, way down the ice from your screaming skip. When in doubt, sweep. Your skip can always call you off. Just be ready at all times to resume or stop sweeping.
A note on who can or cannot sweep. One the ice between the tee lines that bisect each house, everyone can sweep their stones. Sometimes the guy who is delivering the stone even helps out. And you can also sweep any of your other stones that have already been delivered if they’re hit by another of your stones. However, once your stone passes across the tee line in the far house, only one sweeper can work. It can be any member of your team—just had to be one only. And last by certainly not least, just to make it more interesting, once an opponent’s stone crosses the tee line, your skip can try to sweep that stone through the house.
Whew! Lots to remember. It will make sweeping up leaves in the Fall looks like a walk in the park!