Beyond Pyeongchang: Charleston Curling is here

Jenna Lief
March 28, 2018
Curling Club founder Amanda Smith, from left, joins fellow members Jody Latham, Controller's Office-Bursar, and Jilian Filan, MUHA Decision Support Services, as they show off their curling brooms.
Curling Club founder Amanda Smith, from left, joins fellow members Jody Latham, Controller's Office-Bursar, and Jilian Filan, MUHA Decision Support Services, as they show off their curling brooms.

Charleston Curling Club was in full swing just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics, thanks to Amanda Smith, MUSC budget director. In operation for more than a year, it is the first curling club in the Lowcountry area, giving many who previously lacked the opportunity the chance to play regularly and with a team.   

Having followed the sport for years, but without any means to play in Charleston, Smith spent hours researching the sport and staying on Facebook late into the night, commenting on curling posts and connecting with curling enthusiasts. She came across the Charlotte Curling Club and its Learn to Curl training in late 2016, and she quickly signed herself and her husband up.

Upon making the drive and attending the session, Smith said they fell in love with the sport, so much so, they decided to bring it to Charleston and start their own club.

While in Charlotte, North Carolina, they spoke to the founder of the club, Ronda Harlow, and its president Steve McKee, whom Smith described as encouraging, wonderful and supportive of the idea.

Harlow and McKee kept in touch with the Smiths in the weeks to follow, informing them about operational issues and organizations to become a part of. They even sent out a message to all the club presidents in the Southeast, informing them of this up-and-coming club.

Shortly thereafter, Smith received a text from the head of the Orlando club, asking if they needed a set of stones. Given that stones are $750 each, and imported from Scotland, it would certainly be a generous gift.

“The offer of donating stones was not something I was going to let sit for more than a day or two,” she said.

They drove to Florida the next day and were handed the set of stones by the Florida club treasurer. Called foundation stones, they are passed along to help new clubs begin operating, and Smith will pass them on to the next club that needs them. With this equipment now in hand, Smith recruited new members, a few of whom also work at MUSC. Soon, they were on their way. The club, which is now up to 24 members, plays Sunday mornings at the Carolina Ice Palace.

In building her club, Smith not only learned the necessary processes to do so, but she said she also discovered the “welcomeness and inclusion within the sport.” From the get-go, she explained, curlers from multiple states extended open arms, inviting them into the curling world, even helping them get started.

Members participate in pickup games and league play in Charleston and compete in bonspiels, or tournaments, around the country. After only a year in operation, Smith and members of the Charleston club have competed in six bonspiels, traveling to Charlotte, Raleigh/ Durham, Wilmington, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Daytona Beach, Florida, and even as far away as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They plan to expand their travels in the coming year.

As new curlers, Smith said that playing those teams has been rewarding to her and her teammates. “There is nothing better than playing people who are better than you,” she added. Additionally, she said, there is no age limitation, so she has learned from curlers who are both young and old. 

Along with it being a great learning experience for Smith, her entrance into the curling world has greatly expanded her social circle. Because the sport, while competitive, is a game where respect for your opponents is emphasized, making friends with other teams is a part of the ethos. After games, there is a tradition called broomstacking, where the winner buys the loser a first round of drinks, and then the loser reciprocates, which Smith said would be hard to do if you’ve just been really nasty on the ice. She smiled. “These are my friends. People that you play with in a bonspiel are your friends.”

While most clubs take the summer off, the Charleston Curling Club has access to its ice rink year-round. This creates an opportunity for its members to practice and continue to grow in their talents, which they hope will enhance their skills and competitive edge in the future. Smith said they will be hosting their first Charleston bonspiel this July and look forward to clubs like Charlotte participating. She is excited for what’s to come, especially considering that a year ago, no one knew what was possible. When she considers the support they received from clubs along the East Coast, Smith is grateful.

“The amazing thing is we’ve been able to pay it forward. Jacksonville has opened up a club, and I just drove down to West Palm Beach and taught a Learn to Curl,” she said. “That’s the beauty of a quickly expanding sport in a really inclusive community.”

The Charleston club offers learn to curl sessions for anyone wishing to receive instruction. Smith said it is best to connect with the club is via its Facebook page. Most Sundays, they can be found on the rink in North Charleston and welcome new members of all levels of experience with open arms, just like the welcome she received a year ago.