Curling: Curlers seek their own patch of ice

They have all the stones, sliders, grippers, brooms and hacks they need to play but are searching for a purpose-built place to call their own.

The Auckland Curling Club, desperately trying to cope with the backlash of their sport's new-found popularity, is looking for a new place away from the busy Paradice Ice Rink.

The club was keen to set up shop with a four or five sheet "curling only" rink/facility which would allow their sport to cash in on the boom that followed the national senior team's efforts last year and subsequent (none-too-successful) Winter Olympics appearance.

The club has already courted the North Shore and Manukau City Councils and plans meetings with Auckland and Waitakere, Unitec and the Auckland Regional Physical Activity and Sport Strategy in the hope of finding some land.

"We are looking to erect a building of approximately 60m by 30m - each sheet of curling ice is 44.5m by 4.75m - with a concrete floor," said Auckland secretary and national youth development officer (North Island) Liz Matthews.

"There is nothing wrong with Paradice ice for skating on - it is just not curling ice and it takes at least half an hour to set up for curling [for top-class ice it would need a week] each time.

"Once the skaters get off we have to do a light flood to fill in the gouges left by skates," said Matthews. "We then have to carry out the 64 20kg stones, drill in the hacks to deliver from and pebble [spray fine water droplets on to the ice so the stones will actually curl] the ice.

"As our stones can't stay on the ice at all times, we have to chill them in a chiller. Otherwise when they are taken on to the ice, they would just melt into it thus making delivery more difficult."

Extensive television coverage of the Olympics brought new meaning to words like "house, sweeping and brushing" and sparked greater interest in a sport previously regarded by many as lawn bowls on ice.

The only dedicated curling rinks are in Naseby and Dunedin but the Auckland club, formed in November 1996, is the largest.

The real boom has come in school events, with 36 teams now playing in the schools/under-21 competitions. This has led to a restriction of just three pool games per team this winter.

"We have now outgrown our present two nights a week slot at Paradice and face competition from ice hockey as we look to expand," said Matthews. "I have been approached by primary and intermediate schools to develop a curling programme but can't accommodate them."

There has also been corporate interest but again lack of ice time has led to six such requests being rejected.

The World Curling Federation was likely to chip in with US$25,000 per sheet on an interest-free loan basis with nothing to be repaid for the first two years of the 10-year term.

"We intend to approach interested parties [councils] without seeking financial assistance other than being given the land on a peppercorn lease basis," said Matthews.

"We would even be interested in an existing building which could be converted to suit our needs."

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