Shuffleboard on Ice: Local Stories of the Curling-Obsessed

Feb 23, 2018

In the wee hours of the morning tomorrow, the U.S. Men’s Curling team will play for the gold medal against Sweden. The sport has been the darling of this Winter Olympics. It’s a quirky game some people call shuffleboard on ice and it’s taking up a lot of space on social media. Curling does not have historical roots in Arizona. But there are some cold weather transplants who have a deep connection to the game. In this audio postcard, we hear from a curling enthusiast trying to bring a piece of the sport to the southwest, a former competitor and a member of Olympic curling royalty. 

Mike Whalen at his homemade Curling rink near Flagstaff. The warm winter has made it hard for him to keep ice.
Credit Justin Regan

Hi, my name is Michael Gordon. I originally grew up in Superior Wisconsin.

There’s definitely a lot of family lineage when it comes to Curling. So just off hand I have five family members who were also Olympic athletes and I think that’s very, very cool. But I got Tim, Great Uncle Bill, Grandfather Ray, aka Bud Summerville. And also my father John Gordon was also an Olympic athlete.

I really enjoyed seeing my Father. We were there to support him. We were hooting and hollering, waving the USA flags. Just to be in that arena to see it first hand is something that I will never forget.

Mike Gordon has several family members who have been Olympic Curlers.
Credit Justin Regan

I wish I could be in the Olympics. But I also am very realistic to this now that I’m in my 40’s. This is a young man’s sport. I would definitely love to pass this on to my kids. As they get a little bit older I definitely think that’s something that is an option.

When I step on the ice I feel this passion. I feel like I have my whole family behind me. Supporting me. And obviously that very first step I want to make sure I don’t fall on my butt.

Hi, my name is Matthew Rudig. I’ve been curling since I was 12 years old. I would say I was a competitive curler from the age of 17 to about 30.

Curling is one of those sports that you can pick up and you can learn to slide that rock down the ice and have some success but you can never master. It takes a lifetime and even the best curlers in the world are always trying to get better. I think the guys are now working out every day. And then practice by throwing 70, 80 rocks a day.

Matt Rudig with one of his Curling trophies.
Credit Justin Regan

The fondest stories and fondest memories I have over the years is just all the people I met because of Curling. I’ve played against some of the best curlers in the world at some time or another. They’re just everyday folks that you can have a beer with. I’m slowly adapting to South Korea time to watch the Curling and go team USA.

My name is Michael Whalen. I’m originally from North Dakota. I came here almost 20 years ago.

I got into making things out of concrete a while back.  And then it came to me once. Probably watching the Olympics again or something on the Curling thing and thought I could do that. And I thought I could make a Curling stone out of the left over concrete. Because I grew up with Curling. Good memories from it and that’s why I want to do it here because of all the good memories I have from it.

Curling is kinda like the Spam of meat. It’s the one that they joke about. We laugh about it all the time. I think it’s a funny sport. It’s a funny little thing that we do and yeah you gotta laugh about it.   

And I got a full set of Curling stones. And having space out in the county I have space to put a hundred foot Curling rink outside.

We’re standing on what is supposedly my Curling sheet of ice. Lined with plastic broomed up on the side to hold water down in it. And so I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor and had somebody with a level. Haven’t had that continuous cold to be able to get it thick enough to be able to pull this off.

Mike Whalen at his workshop. He's made a set of curling stones out of leftover concrete from other projects.
Credit Justin Regan

My dream is to pull off the first annual bonspiel in Northern Arizona. I will have that happen. It may not be this season. Once I get it open I’ll have anyone who wants to come out here and try Curling and for however long I can make the ice last. And just laugh. We’ll have some lights going I’ll have a bonfire going and just to come out and just see for yourself how fun this sport can be.

This audio postcard was produced by KNAU’s Justin Regan.