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Friday, February 12, 2016

Broomageddon - Return to hair!

I have not written on this for a while. And so much has happened I do not even know where to start.
My thinking has evolved a lot on this issue. If I go back to my first blog on this subject – I feel like I was writing it before having seen the light. I can’t say I remember a period of such rapid evolution in a sport. In the space of six months – we have ALL changed the way we sweep, the tools we sweep with, and how we communicate on the ice (I now have to remember the names of the guys sweeping for me!). For a lifelong curler, this is a lot to absorb! And if you have been away from the game for a while – this will be a big shock.

I played an exhibition game with last week with Jean Gagnon, who has played lead at a number of Briers not too long ago, but was not playing competitively this year. He has not drunk the directional-sweeping Kool-Aid yet. It was a totally bizarre experience. A rock was over-curling – and I said “YES – but not you Jean”!  He looked at me like I was insane. Stop sweeping! You are making it curl!

I feel like my eyes have been opened on this one. I wonder how many times in my curling career I have over-curled and crashed a guard while my lead sweeper pounded a rock on the “wrong” side to make it curl. I wish I had known then what I know now. Since the beginning of the season I have seen things. I have learned things. I have practiced with the different techniques – the different fabrics. We played a provincial against teams using hair and/or icepads. I have seen virtually everybody come to the realisation that you can make a rock curl by sweeping it (a certain way).
One-sweeper and directional sweeping are here to stay. I think at least some of this is simply the result of a better understanding of the underlying physics of the game – which has caused us to challenge the established thinking.

The genie is out of the bottle, there is no going back. The biggest learning for me in this has been that you can make a rock curl sweeping “with the curl”, EVEN WITH A NORMAL, ACROSS THE FACE TECHNIQUE. Watch the video that Team Gushue put out his week to prove the point that hair brushes are as bad as the banned Icepads.  Walker is not sweeping illegally. He is just sweeping. We practiced it and saw similar results. When you sweep with the curl – you can make a rock curl. A lot.

As far as what type of broom you use – here is the deal:

The more abrasive the broom – the better (for directional sweeping at least). Abraisive brooms might be crappy at making a rock go further, but they sure as hell can move it around the ice. The Banned Icepad, a hairbroom, a new performance pad, the new LEGAL icepad, can all have the same impact with varying degrees of effectiveness. The newer the product – the better it works. Even sweeping a handful of rocks with a pad seems to minimize the effectiveness of the broom as a directional tool.

Hair brushes have added a new wrinkle to the debate. hair brushes work as directional sweeping tools. With hair- the shorter the bristles, the better it works (which is why most teams are using the Asham brush with short hair in the middle. But also depends on the type of hair – and the mix of synthetic materials. Not sure if newer hair brushes work better - but hair has made a comeback! Its like a 70's porn movie on the ice now.

So where do we go from here?

I think we will need to agree on a few points for competitive play:

1)      We will never be able to effectively control technique. I think this is a flawed solution to the problem. If we go this route, we will need umpires, officials, and tons of pain-in-the-ass judging to ensure that the guy sweeping is moving across the face of the stone. I really hope it never comes to this. This solution sounds simple on paper – but would result in curling becoming more of a “judged” sport, where an official would need to interpret a sweepers motion to see if he is crossing the path – and at what angle. Will we need protractors?
2)      We will need regulation on fabric. I am not sure how to test – but clearly there are a number of products that have too great an influence on the stone – hair brushes being one of them.  Some guidelines on what kind of fabric is acceptable will have to come from the WCG/CA/WCT. Will we have to go to one fabric? I think he are heading that way. The more abrasive the pad – the more effective it is. The physics of the technique is the same regardless of what tool you are using – but the results can vary significantly based on the material. We need to draw a line.
3)      The other option is to let it all go. Sweep with whatever you want, as long as it does not damage the ice. This will not happen. “Damaging the ice” is subject to a wide degree of interpretation – as any sweeping likely damages the ice at some level. Plus it will leave us in a situation where the skill of the game will be reduced to who can make a rock best do magic tricks. The game loses all credibility if it comes to this. I think I might have to switch to Mixed Doubles!
I realize that I am contradicting what I wrote about this just a few months ago. But as I mentioned earlier, I have seen things. I see where this is headed, and clearly we need to fix it quickly for the good of the game.

I know everyone is getting sick and tired of this. Curlers just want to curl. I heard some nasty stories coming out of pretty much every provincial playdown of accusations, name-calling and dumb rulings. And we are now in a situation that if you are not directional sweeping – you are not winning. It’s like steroid use in cycling.

Reasonable solutions are needed – and they are needed fast. I hope the powers that be can wrap their heads around this one and come up with something that settles the storm and sets everyone on a level playing field.


People are asking when I will blog about provincials. My therapist says I am making good progress – and I might be able to talk about it someday!


  1. One of the reasons hair brooms went out of fashion was that they continually leave hair debris (bits of hairs, full-size hairs, stuff picked up by the hairs) throughout a game. Regardless of technique and how effective they may or may not be in directing the curl of a stone, hair brooms turn what can be a highly tuned game of skill and strategy into a game of chance, depending largely on which team's rocks suffer the least number of picks! With the so-called "directional" (which never were) and other fabric pads, sweepers can more easily remove from their broom heads any debris picked up between throws and the pads themselves do not deteriorate and leave debris of their own. My rule would be: a team may choose to use hair brooms, but they would be penalized with the loss of a stone for any opponent's rock that happens to pick, if it results in a missed shot.

    1. Not terribly practical.
      A well-maintained hair broom does not shed. Debris can come from any number of sources: old grippers, linty sweaters, bad carpets. Seems arbitrary to assume that all picks are hair.