By Mike Harris – Ventura Country Star
Monday, August 3, 2009

Unlike surfing and skateboarding, curling is not a sport closely associated with or immensely popular in Southern California.

The Simi Valley-based SoCal Curling Club hopes to rectify that.

The club hosts semi-regular Learn-to-Curl workshops at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley in an effort to introduce people to the sport and recruit players for its competitive league. Its most recent workshop took place Saturday night.

About 20 beginners, bundled up even though it was the middle of summer, paid $20 each to hit the ice and get their first taste of curling — an Olympic sport — under the patient tutelage of instructors Charlie Engen, Carrie Cresante and Ryan Reiter.

The mood was jovial, and there were a fair share of spills as the novices — men and women, teens and seniors — tried curling for the first time.

“This is for anyone to come and discover the world of curling,” said Engen, an unemployed software programmer from Simi Valley.

Believed to have been invented in late medieval Scotland, curling is a sport in which two teams of four players each take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones toward a target at the other end of the rink. Players sweep the ice in front of the moving stone to control its course and speed.

Engen said TV coverage of the Winter Olympics has made curling one of the fastest- growing sports in the U.S.

“It’s very big in Canada. It’s very big in Wisconsin. It’s very big on the East Coast. In Southern California, it’s a bit of an anomaly,” he said.

Like many at the workshop, Cresante was introduced to curling by watching the Winter Olympics.

“I saw it on the last Olympics and I was fascinated with the game,” said Cresante, an attorney from Westlake Village.

What does she like about it?

Like her chosen profession, “it’s a very strategic game,” she said.

Reiter too cites the strategy as his favorite aspect of the sport.

“It looks very simple, but I love the fact that it leaves very little room for mistake,” said Reiter, who lettered in curling at his high school in Columbia County, Wis.

“It’s very meticulous, as I am,” added Reiter, of Oxnard, who works at Christian radio station KDAR-FM.

Bruce Matthews, a radiologist from Camarillo who came to the workshop with his wife, Mary, also was introduced to curling by watching the Olympics.

“Saw it on TV and really thought it would be fun to do, saw the workshop advertised in the paper and said, ‘here’s an opportunity,’ ” he said.

What brought Linda Fisher-Helton of Camarillo to the workshop with her husband, Brett Helton?

“I don’t have any athletic ability,” Fisher-Helton, the community relations manager of the Area Housing Authority of Ventura County, said with a laugh. “I saw it on the Olympics and said, ‘I bet I can do that.’ So let’s find out.”

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