*&^%$#@!!! picked rocks.
Few things are more discouraging to a curler than watching a rock pick up a piece of debris and veer wildly off line or grind to a stop. It’s especially disheartening when it results in a missed shot at a critical moment of the game. If it’s your team’s rock, it feels unfair — particularly if it looked as though the shot would be made. If it’s your opponent’s rock and you’re a curler who understands the true spirit of the game, it’s disappointing to know that your success was not entirely the result of your own performance.
There is no way that picks will be completely eliminated. Some are called flat spot picks — they occur when a patch of ice loses its pebble and causes rocks to react differently. Flat spots tend to appear as a game wears on and while they can’t be avoided completely, we can reduce their frequency by taking care to keep our knees and hands off the ice as much as possible. I know that I’m guilty of putting a knee down after I throw sometimes — usually because my knee is screaming — but I try to pick it up as quickly as possible.
At our club, I expect that most picks are caused by debris. Our ice crew does an incredible job making very playable ice in a building that has a truly unique set of challenges. That’s why I think it’s incumbent upon us to make every effort to keep the surface as clean as possible.
First, consider your brush head. When we were putting the ice in at the start of the year, my lowly rank meant that I spent time cleaning brush heads. Not only were the club brooms very dirty but I noticed that many member brushes looked as though they needed some attention. When the fabric head brushes were first introduced, many of us thought that it would be the end of picks — no more horse or hog hair to get between the running surface of the stone and the ice. But fabric brushes demand even greater attention than hair brushes because they accumulate more debris. You should clean yours just about every time you use it to sweep a rock. Rubbing it with your hand certainly works but the best way to clean it is with a nail brush — the club does provide some at the ends of each sheet. (I like to move them to the side benches during a game.) What’s more convenient is to keep a small brush of your own in your pocket. That way you can take it out as you’re walking back down the sheet and clean your brush while the other team throws its next stone. It only takes a few seconds but it will make a world of difference and also extend the life of your fabric head.
Second, think about your shoes. Most of us wear a gripper over our slider when we sweep. That gripper protects the slider when you’re off the ice surface but it — and your gripper shoe — are also picking up debris as you walk around the warm room, go behind the bar to get a beer, stop in the bathroom, head down to the basement or hunt for paper towels in the kitchen. Yes, you can clean your shoes on the board by the door to the ice shed. But it makes more sense to keep the bottoms of your shoes protected whenever you’re off the ice. I wear two of my old grippers — grippers do wear out and should be replaced — when I’m in the warm room, taking them off when I get into the ice shed and putting on a gripper I use only on the ice. Hospital shoe covers work well off the ice, too. Sure, there are going to be times when we’re all going to rush from the ice to the warm room without bothering to cover our shoes — the Smutty Nose is back on the tap! — but it’s pretty simple to them covered most of the time.
Reducing picks is like just about everything at a curling club — a group effort that requires everyone to pitch in. Let’s all try to do what we can to help out.
— Dean Gemmell