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The Coolest New Sport In Hawaii

The first curling match in Hawaii started as a charity fundraiser, but the interest it created is so high it could blossom into something bigger

You’ve probably seen curling during the Olympics and thought, “I could do that.” Well, some of Hawaii’s top community leaders recently discovered that it’s not as easy as it looks.

American Savings Bank and the newly formed Hawaii Curling Club have brought the quirky sport to Hawaii as a unique signature fundraiser, with the inaugural event held earlier this month at Ice Palace benefiting Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children and USA Curling.

With some coaching by 2010 U.S. Olympic team members Tracy Sachtjen and John “Nilla” Benton, 16 teams of six participated in the state’s first Charity Curling Classic, raising about $60,000.

A group of fourth- and fifth-graders also had the opportunity to meet the Olympians and try curling through ASB’s Bank for Education Ohana schools program.

According to ASB president/CEO Rich Wacker, the idea came about during a dinner one night with some friends, including business leaders Chris Dey and Peter Tomozawa.

“We were talking about trying to get people to really want to come out to fundraisers,” he recalls. “We didn’t want something where people came and, as soon as they could leave, they left. We wanted something where people would enjoy the event and participate for a good cause.

“I had talked about (curling) jokingly in the past, and at that dinner, Peter was really enthusiastic about the idea, and Chris actually knew people at USA Curling who could help us make it come together.”

As expected, the fundraiser was a hit. But what they weren’t prepared for was the amount of interest from people, groups and companies, as well as curling clubs on the Mainland, wanting to use their equipment or team up for curling clinics and events.

“There was such a nice buzz after the event, but I think we’re still in development of exactly how the club is going to move forward,” says Wacker. “At a minimum, we’re going to be doing the annual event as a signature fundraiser.”

ASB purchased the necessary equipment for curling, which Wacker notes is not an insignificant investment. In addition, there is the rental of Ice Palace, including the day before for technical setup of the game, such as prepping of the ice (it’s not the same as the ice skaters use) and painting of the lines and targets.

In the sport, players slide special curling stones weighing 42 pounds across a sheet of ice toward a target area, preceded by two sweepers with special brooms.

But is it as easy as it looks?

“No. I think we have a lot of good images of people toppling from side to side,” says Wacker. “Over the course of the evening, people started to show some interesting capabilities, and a lot of people had really nice form once they got their slides down a couple of times.

“Flexibility is important, because you really are stretching yourself out to get down and get the slide right, and then the sweeping really gets your heart pumping. So, as you’re sweeping, you’re trying to melt the ice just a little bit in front of the stone so it’ll travel a little bit farther. It’s definitely a sport you can enjoy as an amateur, but you can understand that it would take a lot of practice to be a competitor at a professional level.”

Kudos to ASB for creating a fun way to raise money for a deserving cause, which Wacker says will continue to be their priority. So, what’s next? The ASB Curling School?

Most likely not, but don’t be surprised to see more curling events on the island. And who knows, maybe even an Olympic curler from Hawaii? Stranger things have happened – remember the Jamaican bobsled team?

“Canada curling clubs are interested in having something here, and I’ve gotten calls and emails from the Hollywood Curling Club, which is run by a woman originally from Hawaii, interested in doing something when she comes home to visit,” notes ASB director of community and government relations Aulii Graf. “It’s kind of gone off the charts. We take this as a sign of the success of the event, and that it’s going to get bigger than we anticipated.”

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