Contact us

The Art of Coarse Curling

It's been a while since my last blog post, but I have been really busy at work and in my free time too. Work has involved numerous trips from Riyadh to Dammam and I have taken the train (SRO railway), flown twice using both Saudia and Flynas airlines, and had to drive twice on the Riyadh – Dammam highway. This last option is my least favourite, as the quality of the road isn’t great and the driving standards of the other motorists are variable, to say the least. In the UK I wouldn’t even consider flying 400km (250 miles – that’s London to Durham or Oxenholme) but there are only 6 or so trains per day on this line and they are often fully booked. With my job role as part of the rail regulator team I can arrange a driving cab pass, but I don’t want to abuse privilege and do this when I am only travelling to get from A to B. 

Anyway, onto things of higher importance. I hope you have been able to catch some of the curling on the TV as the Winter Olympics unfold. There have been some really exciting games, and in my opinion the standard has improved noticeably this year. With medals going to countries away from the traditional areas, to Korea and Japan for example, the sport is certainly broadening its appeal. And, who would have expected Canada to go back empty-handed from both the Mens and Womens competitions? OK, they won the new discipline of Mixed-Doubles, and it was great to see that variant in and taking off. Here in Saudi we are at the other end of the curling spectrum, but at least we are now on the ice. Over the last year I have described our journey from having a concept, the trip to Qatar, getting an organisation set up, being accepted by the WCF, and ordering and receiving stones. Well, now we are active.

The historic day was Saturday 17th February and we had our very first games, a mini bonspiel with four teams taking part. We are playing on a small sheet in the “Families” area of the Royal Mall in Riyadh. This affords us private space where men, ladies and children can mix in a safe area. We have two sets of stones, one normal full-size set and a “junior” set. These are ¾ the diameter of normal stones and are about half the weight, so still pretty substantial. These are used for coaching beginners and are ideal for kids to use. We have ice time on Saturdays and can use the facility from 09.00 until 15.00.

There are some very non-standard issues that we have to deal with, and the first of these is the ice sheet.  It is rectangular with rounded corners (like an ice-hockey sheet) but smaller in size and not big enough for full length curling. So, to maximise the length we are playing diagonally across the sheet, which feels a bit weird. This also limits us to a single game in play at a time (a mental risk assessment made me think having a second game on the other diagonal would not be a good idea!). We are also playing one-direction curling, to maximise the sheet length. We don’t have access to the substrata of the ice, so have not managed to paint a house (target) yet. What we have done is scratch concentric circles on the ice and for visibility from the other end we are using a “dolly” (skittle) which can be lifted if a stone gets too near. This in effect means we are using the traditional methods used by our ancestors on the frozen lochs and ponds of Scotland. They used scratched circles and dollies too. In fact, the dollies we are using I inherited from my father so are the genuine thing! The next non-standard issue is the ice. We arrange for the facility owners to flood it on a Friday evening once the skaters have come off, so that takes off much of the impurities. When we get it on a Saturday morning it has a reasonably smooth surface, and all we have to do Is shave off the bumps and foreign bodies (they don’t have a Zamboni to do this) and then pebble the ice. We have a two-foot ice scraper and a seven-foot mop so that bit is reasonably easy.  

IMG-20180217-WA0008 002jpg

The next thing to contend with is the hacks. We don’t have any proper ones – yet. Our budget was blown when we ordered the stones and other kit, so we are making do with a couple of wooden door-wedges which we fix into the ice using two-inch screws. Pilot holes have to be drilled first, we found that running the screws straight into the ice just cracked it. This is one advantage in playing single-ended curling, you don’t have to un-drill your hacks after every end! The final challenge is the ice itself – it isn’t flat. The five or six feet nearest the barriers is slightly lower – by over an inch from the central plateau, this is a feature caused by lazy flooding, and whilst it isn’t an issue for the skaters, it does mean that stones approaching the house have to be going at just the right speed to be able to stop and not then run three feet further than intended and out the back. We found that the solution to this problem is to not pebble the slope, and this adds a modicum of friction, but makes the surface tricky to walk or slide on if you are wearing a slippy sole.

The ice sheet has one final, and possibly unique feature. The lighting is quite dim and the walls of the room are painted black so visibility isn’t great. The lighting system is designed to give a cavernous party atmosphere for skaters and is linked to a music system (which we isolate) and the lights should change to the beat of the music. They give the place a red, blue, green or yellow hue with random white spotlights. It reminds me of a Santa’s Grotto. We found out very early that whenever a stone hits another the resulting sound triggers a change of lighting and the whole ambience alters! It can be particularly interesting if a take-out stone goes into a crowded house and rummels up a number of stones. We might have to warn epilepsy sufferers that this isn’t the location for them! Whilst on the subject of sound, we have been asked to try and keep the noise down from 12.00 until 12.15 during the Dhuhr prayer time.

We have a scoreboard as well. This is a simple affair, a whiteboard bought at a local hardware shop (as was the drill, measure and extendable multi-use stick (used for circle scratching and six-foot measures etc)). The board has had black electrical insulation tape attached to show up to two match scores. A different use for the extendable stick is to dig the stones out of the ice before play. This unusual activity is necessary because the stones live away from the ice and are placed there on the Friday night by the staff for us. Overnight they cool down, with heat transferring to the ice around them and melting it and the stones settle lower and by the time we get there on the Saturday morning can be up to an inch down from where they started and are frozen in. Once removed, there are 32 mini craters at the edge of the sheet and these are a veritable trip hazard for the unwary. We have 20 brushes and the same number of slippy sole siders, and this concludes our kit.

I am currently back in the UK and at home, so I will spend some shed-time and make up some proper hacks. I also have a few orders from Saudi curlers for personal kit, including delivery sticks to buy and transport back. So, there you are – coarse curling. We have to start somewhere! But the most important thing is that people are really enjoying playing the sport, and we can’t buy that.

IMG-20180217-WA0007 002jpg

Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212