Photos © Brian Stechschulte
On a recent Friday night, as Beer Revolution was just starting to defuse the work week tension, a handful of patrons were preparing to face-off in a epic match. They talked a little trash, emptied a few pints, and then traveled to downtown Oakland where they spent two hours on a sheet of ice sliding rocks and swinging brooms to score points. Team Beer Revolution squared off against Team Mosswood. The winner would be crowned champion of the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club’s (SFBACC) Friday night league.
After work league sports are an American tradition. They divert our attention from crappy jobs, help us revisit our glorious youth, and might be considered exercise. If you don’t make a post game visit to the bar sponsoring your team.
Bar sponsorship of softball league teams is fairly ubiquitous. For curling it’s comparatively obscure. Americans are slowly gravitating to the game thanks to the Winter Olympics and outreach by curling clubs, but it’s pretty low on the sporting food chain. The SFBACC has been around since 1958 and regularly hosts learn to curl nights.
Curling’s first historical reference dates back to Scotland in 1541, when the game was played on frozen ponds. Game play is fairly straightforward. Four players constitute a team, who take turns sliding eight granite stones down a sheet of ice toward a circular target. Accumulating the most stones near the center of the target scores points.
Sounds simple right? Well, there’s a lot of strategy and technique. Stones can be placed as guards in front of the target to prevent opponents from scoring. They can be delivered with a slight rotation, or “curl,” so they curve around guards, and players use brooms to reduce ice friction so the shot travels further then it normally would.
The complexity of the game is what attracted John Heylin, who learned to play during the SFBACC’s Friday night practice sessions. After he honed his skills for a few weeks, fellow-curling newbs Melissa Buck and Amy Cohen approached him about forming a team. Heylin agreed and they rounded out the group with Sean Owens, who also started playing at the same time.
From left to right: Sean Owens, Amy Cohen, John Heylin & Melissa Buck
Once the group was formed, the next task was a team name and sponsorship. The Trappist bar in Oakland already sponsored one team, so Heylin, an avid craft beer fan and fellow contributor to this website, thought another bar or brewery might be interested. That’s when nearby Beer Revolution came to mind.
Heylin was a regular customer and decided to approach Beer Revolution co-owner Rebecca Boyles. He said, “She loved the idea of sponsoring a curling team and I don’t think it’s because she’s Canadian, but because it’s such a weird sport for the Bay Area and it seemed like a silly thing to do.”
Boyles allowed the team to modify the Beer Revolution logo, which includes a hand holding a curling stone instead of a beer. It appears on the team’s monogrammed black hooded sweatshirts. She also threw them a fundraiser at the bar to help pay league fees. Each team pays around a $1000 per 10 game season.
The team has now played together for several seasons at the Oakland Ice Center, in the city’s downtown corridor. Two weeks ago they were in the championship match. After a typical warm up session at Beer Revolution, they proceeded to dominate Team Mosswood. The final score was 7 to 1.
You might think such a lopsided score would yield animosity, but the Friday night league is pretty loose and lighthearted. Any disappointment is diluted by two of the most important league rules enforced after a match. The first rule is the winners buy the losers their first beer, and the second rule requires the losers to buy the next round.
If you would like to learn more about curling or participate in one the SFBACC’s learn to curl sessions (there’s one scheduled this coming weekend), head over to their website or contact John Heylin at jheylin (at) gmail.com