Brooms Continue to Evolve: by Richard Brower
The game of curling has had some significant changes in sweeping equipment since I first starting curling in 1981 and, even without the fuss this season over directional sweeping and what changes need to be made, it appears to me brushes are about to undergo another change.
I was going to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario when I started curling in a university league on Sunday nights at the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club. I remember feeling rather inept using the rental brooms, which were those old Rink Rat type ones that were shaped like a corn broom but had some sort of foam inside and a cloth cover. I had no training on using my arms and wrists properly to employ the corn broom sweeping technique, and I’m sure I looked rather clumsy going down the ice sweeping between my legs. Not as interesting though as the curler I used to watch at the Vancouver Curling Club in the 1990s who used to just lift it straight up and slam it down on the ice. He reminded me of “Bam Bam” from the Flintstones.
By 1985 I was living in Richmond and keen on taking up curling on a more regular and serious basis. The first brush I ever bought that year at the old Richmond CC had a wooden shaft and head with hog hair bristles. The head was fixed at a 90 degree angle to the shaft. Heavy and quaint by today’s standards, but a hell of a lot easier to use than those cloth brooms I had used in Kingston.
It was probably 1990 or so when the Hammer broom came out. I was on the board of directors at the Williams Lake Curling Club and I remember a sales rep from the company, based on Vancouver Island, dropped by to show us this new invention. I was suitably impressed with the fact that there was a synthetic covered pad on the Hammer, instead of horse or hog hair bristles, and that the head hinged on the shaft to allow you to keep the pad flat on the ice as you swept.
The next big invention, in my mind, came when Andre Ferland developed the Performance brush with the oval shaped-head and pad that has been the standard for most curling manufacturers for some time now. Besides the oval shape, the fact that the head could swivel on the shaft to any position you wanted was revolutionary.
Shafts started changing too with the switch from wood to fibreglass, and in more recent years carbon fibre and composite shafts. The weight of the brooms has come down drastically because of these new shafts.
The development about five years ago of the Hardline broom was game changing in that the plastic insert between the cover and the pad created a firmer and easier surface to sweep with. The head was simpler and lighter than the Performance head nearly everyone else was using as well, making an overall lighter broom. I may be wrong, but I suspect the Performance-type oval head that is so common now may be on its way out.
I came to this conclusion when Andrew Brett, our friendly and helpful Goldline sales rep, came to visit me in the pro shop at Vancouver Curling Club in early May. He showed me a new brush head they had developed that, like the Hardline head, was smaller, simpler and lighter. It had a smaller, thinner version of Goldline’s popular Norway pad that attached to the head with plastic slats rather than the current bolts in use. The head is designed with a flexing plastic part that will fit snugly inside a shaft without the need to screw it in place. You just pull it off and push it back in as needed.
Manufacturers are focusing on smaller, lighter heads, I believe, because this is where the weight trimming on the overall broom is easiest to achieve now that we have carbon fibre shafts. The smaller heads are just as or more effective for sweeping when compared to the Performance type head and the heads and pads are cheaper to replace. Balance Plus has also recently developed a smaller head for their LiteSpeed broom.
We’re planning on having the new Goldline broom with the smaller head in stock next season, along with the Hardline broom and the Balance Plus LiteSpeed broom. It will be interesting to see how many curlers decide to buy brooms with these new lighter heads or take the oval heads off the shafts they currently have and replace it with new lighter ones. I wonder how much further broom technology can advance from what I started out with in the 1980s. What’s next?