Downtime: The fabric of curling

A group from the Virginia Council of CEOs during one of the club's "Learn to Curl" group events. Photo courtesy Scot McRoberts.

Travis Hamilton, center, with a group from the Virginia Council of CEOs during one of the Curling Club of Virginia’s “Learn to Curl” sessions. Photo courtesy Scot McRoberts.

It was furniture and upholstery that brought Travis Hamilton to Richmond, but it was Richmond, surprisingly, that brought him back to his favorite sport: the “chess on ice” game otherwise known as curling.

The owner and founder of U-Fab, a Richmond-based upholstery and home décor chain of stores, Hamilton picked up curling in middle school in his hometown in Manitoba, Canada, where he and every other student literally grew up on ice.

When they weren’t playing hockey, there was curling, said Hamilton, who later moved on from the sport in favor of others such as golf. His job with furniture brand EQ3 brought him to Richmond 10 years ago, but it was a phone call from 1,500 miles away that set him on the path to rediscovering his love for curling four years ago.

Travis Hamilton

Travis Hamilton

“My mom was watching the Canadian national championships, and they talked about how there was a new curling club that had just started in Richmond, Virginia,” Hamilton recalled. “So she called me and was like, ‘You should go check it out!’”

That club was the now-six-year-old Curling Club of Virginia, which Hamilton joined in 2012 and now curls with weekly, at either Richmond Ice Zone off Midlothian Turnpike or Potomac Curling Club, a dedicated curling facility in Laurel, Maryland.

“We won the East Coast championship for arena clubs this year; we’ve won a few Bonspiels (weekend-long tournaments) this year,” he said. “We’re pretty good, considering we don’t have a dedicated facility in our backyard – considering the guys we’re playing against sometimes curl three or four times a week and we’re lucky if we can curl once a week.”

The club totals about 30 to 35 members, who Hamilton said range in age from teens to senior citizens, as well as in backgrounds, from fellow Canadians to Virginia natives.

“We have two brothers who are 15 and 17 who play, up to people well into their 60s that play. So it’s a pretty wide group,” he said. “It’s kind of like golf that way, where anybody can attempt it.”

To that end, the club offers “Learn to Curl” group events that several local corporations have already taken as a different form of teambuilding. Capital One, MeadWestvaco (before it became WestRock) and the Virginia Council of CEOs are among the groups that have taken to the ice with the club, spending a few hours learning the basics of the sport and getting to try their skates at a game.

“Instead of going bowling for teambuilding, they do curling,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, left, playing in the GNCC Mixed Championships with teammate Mark Robinson. Photo courtesy Travis Hamilton.

Hamilton, left, playing in the GNCC Mixed Championships with teammate Mark Robinson. Photo courtesy Travis Hamilton.

Considered one of the world’s oldest team sports, curling involves teams of four who work as a group to slide granite stones, also called rocks, into place atop a scoring area made up of concentric circles at either end of the play area. Players take turns pushing, or “throwing,” the stones while teammates use brushes to help “sweep” the ice and get stones into position.

Comparable to bocce and shuffleboard, curling is nicknamed “chess on ice,” as Hamilton noted it’s as much about strategy as skill.

“There’s a little more nuance, and there’s more skill involved, because there’s a lot more control over the rocks, as far as the ability to make them turn and move with the handles,” he said. “People say it’s chess combined with shuffleboard.”

That group dynamic is what Hamilton said he enjoys most about the game, and what keeps groups and businesses signing up for the club’s teambuilding sessions.

“It’s kind of like anything else: it’s a lot about the people; it’s the camaraderie,” he said. “But for the actual game, it’s a great game of strategy. There’s a skill element, obviously, but there’s also a huge part of it that’s just strategy and gamesmanship, as far as rock placement, shot calling, and then overall game strategy. I really enjoy that part of it.”

Asked how he fares, Hamilton shrugged, squinted and smiled.

“I’m pretty good,” he confessed. “I carve it out once a week.

“Instead of golfing, I curl.”

Hamilton isn’t the only local businessperson with an affinity for the ice. BizSense profiled Angela Edwards in February for her love of figure skating.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in our recurring series called Downtime, focusing on how businesspeople in Richmond spend their time when they’re out of the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town have an exciting or unique pastime, drop us a line at [email protected].

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