Do-it-yourself curling rink makes rock stars

Emily Russo Miller
Karl Bausler launches a homemade curling stone during a game on Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)
Michael Penn
Nolan Davis launches himself and a stone during a curling game on Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)
Michael Penn
Brant Oliphant sprinkles water on the curling ice he and others built on Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)
Michael Penn
Local granite rocks with pipe handles gather during a game of curling on Auke Lake in Juneau, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)
Michael Penn

JUNEAU -- Who needs granite stones approved by the World Curling Federation when you can use rocks from the beach? Who needs an indoor ice curling sheet when you can make a rink on a frozen lake? Who needs a perfect circular "house" for a target when you have a beer can?

This is curling, Juneau style.

A group of friends who would normally be out skiing and snowboarding if not for a recent stretch of snowless weather built a miniature curling rink on Auke Lake. It proved to be quite the attraction.

"I've never seen curling here before, and I've been here since '79," said 44-year-old Matthew Callahan, one of the spectators who joined a recent game at the lake.

Newbie curlers young and old tried their hand at sliding the black-and-white speckled stones down the ice. They slid on their bellies, butts, thighs and sides -- any technique to get the heavy 25- to 40-pound stones all the way across the rink toward the beer can.

"It's like bowling, and it's like shuffleboard," 10-year-old Aiden Aichner observed. "And I'm not good at neither!"

Pushing the stones down the 50-foot rink (an official curling ice sheet is 146 to 150 feet long) is harder than it looks, said Caleb Wylie, a 35-year-old IT tech.

"Yeah, the balance thing is a little tough to start out with," he said. "The whole sliding on the ice thing and trying not to injure yourself."

Katie Bausler used the "hike" method, facing away from the target and sliding the stone between her legs as if she were hiking a football. Her husband, Karl Bausler, was all about finesse, and his technique garnered murmurs of approval from the crowd, which was about 20 strong at times. Nolan Davis put his whole body into it -- gracefully sliding on his stomach with the stone until he pushed it away from his body at the last minute.

"I'm going to be a little sore tomorrow," Davis said.

Friends Davis, Brant Oliphant and Wyatt Fournier began planning as they searched for a new wintertime recreational activity. Their usual sports, skiing and snowboarding, seemed out of the question since Juneau hadn't seen precipitation for 13 straight days.

"Right now Eaglecrest (Ski Area) is not that great and the backcountry is kind of sketchy," Davis said earlier this month as the Rolling Stones fittingly played on a stereo in the background. "If the snow was good, we probably wouldn't be out here."

The three shoveled snow off the lake ice, which was about 2 feet thick, and used an auger to drill a small hole. They then used a generator and a garden hose to pump fresh lake water over the ice, making it smooth.

"You have to get it smooth enough to get the stones to slide, 'cause they wouldn't slide on this," Oliphant said, pointing to a patch of bumpy ice.

Oliphant -- the "mad inventive genius" of the group -- had the idea to build the rink, Davis said. He made the curling stones with help from his wife. He went out to Lena Beach, shoveled some round granite rocks out of the snow, then weighed them to ensure they were heavy enough. Later, he drilled a hole through them and attached pipe fittings to serve as handles. Concrete anchors hold the stones and handles together.

They're not quite regulation -- the World Curling Federation requires professional curlers to use granite from just two places in the world: Ailsa Craig, an island off Scotland, and Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales.

Still, the Lena stones did the trick. It took about five days after they were complete to make the ice curling-worthy. The core group of friends enjoyed the fruits of their labor by curling at the lake from about 5 to 9 p.m. on a recent Monday and Wednesday.

"It's a lot of fun," first-time curler David Svobodny said. "There's not a lot of great snow, so it gets everyone out, and it's a Wednesday and we got 12 people out here to play a game."

Meghan Lindquist went to the lake to watch a game on a Monday and came back Wednesday to try it for herself.

"I've watched it on the Olympics but I don't see a lot of broom action in this curling," the 39-year-old said jokingly, referring to the sweepers who clear a path for the stone as it slides on the ice. The sweeping reduces friction under the stone and decreases the amount of "curl."

"That's what cracks me up about watching it on TV, is the guys with the brooms," she said.

The group of friends at the lake have been informally calling themselves the Auke Lake Curling Club. Oliphant, who had never curled before, said he hopes this may spark interest in getting a curling club started in Juneau.

Anchorage, Barrow and Fairbanks all have active curling clubs but the sport never caught on in Juneau. There was interest in 2003 when Treadwell Ice Arena was built, and the target circles were even painted on the arena's ice. Manager Lauren Anderson said she doesn't know why it never happened, since she didn't live in Juneau at that time, but added that Treadwell is not set up for curling.

"The ice surface needs to be prepped differently than you would for hockey or any other skating activity," she said.

Plus, she added, "We just don't have the equipment. You need stones and the brooms and the proper footwear."

Sandy Miller, 34, said he would consider joining a club.

"This kind of curling club? Yes. Like an organized curling club? Probably not," he noted.

Casey Debenham has curled in Fairbanks and said "of course" he would join a club.

"It's pretty nice that it's like homemade curling," he added of the Auke Lake club, "that they took the time to build their own curling stones and build their own rink. It's pretty awesome."

Oliphant, a 34-year-old state worker, said he's enjoyed having people -- many of whom had never touched a curling stone before -- come by the lake to play.

" 'Field of Dreams,' " he said, referring to the 1989 movie. "Build it and they will come."

They left the stones on the lake in the daytime so anyone who wanted to play could give it a whirl. They planned to retrieve the stones before the ice became unsafe so they didn't sink.

"We'll have some brave soul come out here and grab them," he said.

Oliphant said it's been fun while it lasted.

"It's going to snow," he said earlier this month.


Juneau Empire