On the Magic Age
What I thought I knew as a teenage curler
I’m a big fan of Shea Serrano. For those unfamiliar, he’s a writer who gained notoriety first at the failed-but-beautiful Grantland before moving on to The Ringer, which he has called home for several years now. He is also an author who has written 4 New York Times Bestsellers, and they’re some of my favourite books. Starting with The Rap Yearbook, where he named and wrote an essay about the best rap album of each year from its inception as a genre to the publishing of the book, he then moved on to his “(And Other Things)” project, where he wrote about basketball, movies, and hip-hop. In his “(And Other Things)” books, he often starts chapters with a posed question, for which he then writes an essay setting about to answer said question.
In the latest of these books, Hip Hop (And Other Things), one of the questions asked is “What is Your Magic Age Mixtape?” Serrano posits the theory that music just hits you a bit harder during your “magic age”, which covers the 6 years from age 13-19 in which you were a teenager. He set out to determine what the best hip-hop songs were in a number of different categories from his own magic age (which happened to be 1994-2000), and then made a mixtape of those songs. Some of the categories were things like, “Pick a Song That Filled Your Body With Electricity” and “Pick a Song That Made You Feel Like You Were Way More Grown Than You Actually Were”. It’s a great chapter in a series of great chapters. I love these books immensely.
It also got me thinking (since I am a sicko about this sport), what would this exercise look like for curling? I actually began curling at the start of my Magic Age (1998), as my parents didn’t curl and I got into it through an elementary school program. I tried it for the first time in the early part of 1998, when I was 12, and then played in my first league in the 1998-99 season and never looked back.
Some of you reading this are probably still teenagers, or maybe you just recently graduated out of the Magic Age. So this might not be as fun for you as it will be for other curlers of a different vintage. But I’d love to hear about your Magic Age too. Here we go.
Name: John Cullen
Magic Age: 1998-2005
Home Club: Peace Arch Curling Club, White Rock, BC, Canada
(I don’t have a photo of me curling from this time period for some reason but I do have this photo of me, US Olympic Coach Sean Beighton, and my boy Matt Tolley at curling camp, circa 2004. Curling camp: it’s a real thing.)
Pick the Curler You Most Idolized Your Game After:
I figure we start easy. Everyone had one, and I think it’s funny how sometimes those curlers’ games don’t always resemble our own. Mine was Jon Mead. I played third for most of my junior career (Lead Culture didn’t become a part of my life until I got into men’s). I wasn’t a tuck thrower, I wasn’t from Manitoba, but there was just something about the way Jon carried himself that I loved (and obviously he made a million shots). When I got older and got to play against him, he was as kind as I hoped he would be and it’s cool how most curling stories of getting to play people you idolized go like that.
Pick the Broom You Thought You’d Be Using Forever:
Certainly one of the funniest parts about watching old curling clips now is watching sweepers do things we know now are absolutely making the shot worse, relative to the team’s intention. This happened with broom technology too. In the late 90s and early 00s, you didn’t have to look too far to find teams and players using broom tech they thought was gonna last forever, swearing up and down the 10-inch Brownie head was going to revolutionize the game. For me? It was the Hammer XL. I already thought the Hammer was the best broom you could have, and then the head could swivel? You kidding me? Damn I loved my XL. Changed the head once every two years, it sounded like old fingernails down a dirty chalkboard when you slid with it, but I was convinced I’d never use anything else. Also, very little gives me greater joy than the fact you can’t find a picture of an XL by googling it, and this picture is from the actual Killam website (the company that sold them). Nothing more “curling” than the advertising photo of the broom being taken in the owner’s computer room.
Pick a Shot You Had Never Seen Before That Blew Your Mind:
This doesn’t seem possible because you think you’ve seen every curling shot, but as the years go on, we learn the possibilities are infinite. Mine? The peel-weight tick. Youngsters may not know this and my elders may correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Wayne Middaugh was the first to play the tick shot, and he had lead Scott Bailey throw a 100 mph heater to just shade the rock and tick it over to the boards. It was absolutely stupid in hindsight, but in execution, it looked unreal (if it was made. Which almost never happened). I also (very stupidly) assumed this is how we’d have to throw ticks forever.
Pick the Curling Book/Instructional Video You Worshipped the Teachings Of:
Hey look, back before the internet, they actually used to make curling VHS tapes, and the one I was obsessed with was one made by Linda Moore, former TSN commentator. I cannot for the life of me remember the name, but I remember in the video, she put forth the theory of the Control Zone, whereby if you were able to control the top of the 12-foot and the 8-foot with your stones, you’d have a lot of success. I mean hell, she wasn’t wrong then and still isn’t wrong now, but our team got REAL obsessed with the Control Zone for way longer than we should have. (she looks awesome as hell in this photo, I wonder if she thought she’d use this hair broom forever)
Pick the Adult Curler You Had a Crush On:
Kelley Law. Especially being from BC, it goes without saying.
Pick the Curler at Your Home Club You Thought Were Way Better Than They Were:
I hope all of you can exactly picture the person this is for you in your mind. When I was dreaming up these different components of the Magic Age and I thought of this one, it brought me an absurd amount of joy to remember a guy named Tom. He was an accountant and looked like one, with an unkempt mop of hair and glasses that never seemed to be fully in place on the bridge of his nose. He wore a hockey jersey and old Bauer shoes to curl in, and he wore two batting gloves that he never took off, even to throw. He could throw huge weight and he had this very dramatic delivery where he would slide tuck, almost fully perpendicular to the rock, and when he let go of it, he would make this absolutely bananas sweep of his hand upwards, as if he was disgusted that the rock had ever dared touch his gloved hand at all. I don’t intend to swear all that much in these newsletters, but there’s no other way to say it: it looked fucking awesome. He usually made men’s league playoffs, winning the club once or twice. I remember asking a teammate of his why Tom never went in playdowns and he said he just didn’t seem to care to dedicate any more time to it. Once I got old enough and started going to men’s playdowns myself, I realized the reason Tom never went in playdowns is that he would’ve gotten ran out of the building. But for about two years I thought he was among the greatest curlers on earth and I love him for it.
Pick the Most Devastating Loss That You Still Can’t Handle Talking About:
One day I’ll probably write an entire essay about this game, but considering it happened 23 years ago, it is a little bit too soon still. It was my third year of curling and my second in BC with my first “official” junior team. We were playing in juvenile zone playdowns for the right to go to provincials, and we made the final despite having really no expectations of getting there. We were playing against two brothers whose family was married to the sport and had been playing since they were old enough to push a rock down the ice. Our entire team had about 5 years of combined experience, including two first-year players. Anyway, we were winning 8-2 with two ends left. They got 4, stole 2, stole 1. I’d rather not talk about it. It’s honestly a miracle I kept playing, but maybe explains why I never won anything. I should’ve understood this omen for what it was.
Pick the Popular/Pro Curler You Didn’t Identify With, Even Though Everyone Else Did:
I can’t really explain why, but it’s Kerry Burtnyk. Look, I know he’s one of the best to ever do it. I know lots of people who say that he’s just one of the best dudes ever. But he always came across as very stern on TV and teenage me had no time for it, even with his amazing comeback story and everything. Sometimes when you’re a teen, you can’t explain things, and this is one of those ones I just simply don’t have a good explanation for. Sorry, Kerry. I did say you’d be on the All-Time First Name Mixed Doubles Team though, so please forgive me.
Pick a Moment That Allowed You To Make a Very Bold Claim:
This is the only prompt I stole outright from Shea, as I love the idea of a song making you feel smarter, or like you could say something with much more confidence and I think it’s easy to have those moments in curling too. Mine was beating Team Japan, badly. I can’t remember the year, it was probably 2000ish, and Japan had started to embrace curling in a huge way after the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Fuji Miki (father of Bryan, the 2000 World Champion) was coaching a junior team from Japan and brought them over to Canada for a little tour. He set up a fun night where we played a few games against them and then had dinner with them afterwards. I wish I could remember who the players were, but man, what I can remember is that we killed them. It was not close. It was probably all of their first or second years curling and I’m sure there was no competition in Japan either. I remember thinking, “wow, the world is just never gonna catch up to Canada”, frequently sharing the story of how this team came all the way from Japan and we destroyed them. Anyway, flash forward a few years and Yusuke Morozumi regularly whomped me in men’s play and I never did better than 2nd in my own province so…well played, Japan. Well played.
Pick the Curling Fashion You Thought Would Last Forever:
Pace Setter jackets. I know I know, who am I? Curl Ontario? But in all seriousness, I thought you couldn’t make a better jacket on earth than the British Columbia Pace Setter jacket. The waving provincial flag on the back? The way the named arced around that flag? The way they absolutely could not find one that would fit Jay Peachey? I loved them so much. I wanted one so, so bad. I didn’t give a damn about the Purple Heart, I wanted the blue and white Pace Setter. I thought we had curling fashion 100% figured out in 2001. Thank goodness Dynasty and Runback and Foxglide and everyone else came along to help prove me wrong. Maybe I can still get a BC Pace Setter on eBay.
That’s my Magic Era. What’s yours? Feel free to tell me below in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter at @cullenoncurling. You may have noticed that I changed the name of my blog and my Twitter in recent days. “Cullen the Curler” sounded like a strange name for a newsletter, and I don’t curl anymore, so even though it was made to mimic my “@cullenthecomic” main Twitter handle, I figured it was time for a change. I like it a lot better. I hope you do too. I hope you subscribe as well. You’ll get to enjoy each newsletter hot off of the presses (that’s not a thing with an electronic newsletter, but you get it), delivered right to your email, as soon as it’s written. You won’t miss a single thing.
Thanks for reading.