How the curling community helped Los Angeles get its first-ever dedicated curling facility
By Jolene Latimer
For many curling clubs, growing the sport is as simple as hosting more learn-to-curls and bonspiels. But what do you do if your club doesn’t have that central thing you need to curl? What if your club doesn’t have its own ice?
That was the problem members of the Hollywood Curling Club set out to solve more than ten years ago when they decided it was time for their fledgling club to graduate from arena ice to dedicated ice.
It was a goal that would take them through the streets of Los Angeles, to many dead ends and broken dreams. Yet, as they signed the first lease for a dedicated curling facility in Los Angeles this April, they have proven that with determination and the support of the curling community, you can get your Hollywood ending after all.
“It got in my head that this needs to happen and I really wanted to make this happen for our club and for our region,” said Matt Gamboa, vice president of marketing for the Southern California Curling Center. “I’m from L.A., I love the city, I love the area and I want to have curling here. I don’t want to have to move to Minnesota to have that.”
Gamboa started curling in 2008. At the time, he was working in a deli and trying to find his way into the film industry. He always expected to make movies for a living but curling changed that.
“The sport has brought me so much,” Gamboa said. “Every time I talk about it, it feels cliché. I feel corny talking about how it changed my life, but it really has.” He wanted to give other people the opportunity to connect with an active community the way he had.
He soon realised in order to continue to grow the sport in L.A. they would need dedicated ice.
Dedicated curling ice changes everything
“It’s tough to bring people in when you don’t have a consistent facility,” said Olympic gold medallist Tyler George. “When you get to this dedicated ice, that’s where everything changes. Now, the membership explodes,” he added.
His teammate John Shuster described the difference between arena ice and dedicated ice succinctly: “Where the ice curls for real and you don’t have to reinstall the hacks in the ice every time you want to throw rocks.” It makes a big difference to have ice you can count on.
The quest for dedicated ice in L.A. was a complicated undertaking, and it was clear it would take a large team to get the job done. That team became bigger than just the curlers in Los Angeles. Athletes like Shuster and George jumped on board to actively support the Hollywood curling dreams.
Shuster became acquainted with the Hollywood Curling Club prior to the Vancouver Olympic Games during a media summit in L.A. Curious about the curling community there, he contacted the Hollywood Curling Club and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I found a group of ten to 15 people that were extremely excited about curling and about introducing curling to the L.A. area. These people were relatively new to the sport themselves but were a group of people who were very motivated to build curling,” Shuster said. Over food and drinks, Shuster bonded with the group, remaining friends throughout the years. A contingent of Hollywood Curling Club members even stayed in an AirBnB with his wife during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“It was really a friendship that started from an open house and grew into them supporting all the curling teams I’ve ever been on,” he said.
Getting the curling community involved
The club needed to raise the funds necessary to afford a building and Shuster, George and curlers around the world contributed. One strategy was the now-legendary Hollywood Summer Blockbuster Bonspiel that has attracted curlers from the United States, Canada and even Norway and Sweden.
“I loved the idea of coming out there to help.” said George, “And as a curler, going to California for any reason that’s curling related is a bonus for us.”
He first connected with the Hollywood Curling Club prior to joining Team Shuster. “It was before I had a little more standing in the curling world, but I thought anything I could do would be great,” he said. “I was seeing an opportunity to join with them and help the sport get growing at a grassroots level and help grow memberships.”
He was soon enamoured with the members. “There’s something different about this particular group of people. ” he said, “They’re so passionate about trying to bring the sport to their area of the country.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by many who encounter the Hollywood Curling Club. “I think sometimes we as curlers forget how difficult it is to build something and get people excited about it,” said Colin Hodgson, “Especially in a market that’s not a curling market. You don’t think palm trees, L.A., the Lakers and curling.”
Hodgson, from Canada, bought a membership to Hollywood Curling Club and became a small sponsor of their annual bonspiel.
“I think what they’re doing is a big service to curling. Not only American curling but I think curling throughout the planet. I think they’re legitimizing it through different avenues that no one has ever done in the sport,” said Hodgson.
The club recruited Shuster, George and Hodgson to participate in their rent-a-ringer auction. Not only did that help raise money for the Hollywood Curling Club’s dedicated ice project, but the goodwill flowed both ways. Members of the Hollywood Curling Club started an annual trip to the House of Hearts Celebrity Bonspiel that Team Shuster hosts in Duluth to raise money for charity.
The club also actively looked for other ways to raise their profile in their quest to get dedicated ice. They sponsored Team Shuster when they appeared on NBC’s “Curling Night in America.”
“I have always tried to bring in the L.A. area into that conversation about how curling is expanding in the country. In hopes that that reaches out and can somehow benefit them,” said Shuster.
As Team Shuster’s profile began to grow, they continued to direct attention to the Hollywood Curling Club. “That’s the platform you get when you accomplish something like we did at the Olympics. You can help the sport,” said George.
Persistence pays off
Yet all the support in the world would have amounted to nothing if the Hollywood Curling Club members wouldn’t have been so persistent. Gamboa embodies the club ethos.
While still trying to work in the film industry, Gamboa devoted his spare time to searching for a building, a pastime that took increasingly more of his schedule. “There’s barely any vacant land,” said Gamboa. “Anything that is vacant, we’re competing with higher and better uses. In L.A., if you can do housing, they’ll build housing on there.”
Eventually he realised his passion for the dedicated ice project had eclipsed his film pursuits. He enrolled in a Master’s in city planning and real estate development at the University of Glasgow to arm himself with the knowledge he would need to come back to L.A. and find a building for the curling club.
After graduating, Gamboa continued his search. “We had to do a lot of calculating and putting our best plan together,” said Gamboa.
He’d often be pulling land records, reading market reports and snaking through L.A. traffic in hopes of spotting new buildings. He was turned down repeatedly by many landlords who didn’t understand how he’d create a curling rink in L.A., or why he’d want to.
“You just have to keep taking your shot. It takes a lot of luck and the effort is what makes it happen and that’s something that’s never been in short supply with the people of Hollywood curling,” George said.
Eventually the hard work and luck collided. Gamboa was able to negotiate a more affordable lease in an industrial area and the club will subsidise operating costs by sharing space with a cold storage facility.
“I think we got lucky but it’s kind of like this phrase I heard once, ‘Luck is the intersection of preparedness and opportunity,’” said Gamboa.
It’s thanks to that mixture of hard work, determination and magic that Los Angeles curling is about to get a major boost.
“It is the turning point for the growth of your sport in a particular area when you get to dedicated ice,” said George.
However, just because they’ve found a building, doesn’t mean the worldwide team rooting for curling in L.A. is over. In fact, the team-work has really just begun.
“I can’t wait to get out there and help them promote now that they have a facility of their own,” said George. “That familial atmosphere that makes curling as great as it is really comes out when the dedicated ice is available.”
For information to help you build a modern curling facility download the newly released guide.