A curler has two primary pieces of equipment: a brush, and a pair of curling shoes. In golf, multi-million advertising dollars are spent each year by golf shoe manufacturers such as Footjoy (recently sold to interests in South Korea) to convince golfers that one golf shoe matters over another. I would argue that in curling, a shoe – particularly what type of slider is used – matters considerably more. Unfortunately, in both golf and curling it is difficult to buy shoes on the “try before you buy” plan. Hence in this article I’ll try to document the range of options for curling shoes.
Proper curling footwear offers a considerable advantage over slip-on sliders, tape, or other temporary means of enabling a slide delivery. A proper curling shoe will assist with balance, reduce the amount of effort required to throw hit weight, permit more consistency by allowing a longer and more stable slide with each throw, and permit better grip, and hence more confident footwork, when brushing.
By and large, today there are two predominate styles of sliders on curling shoes: full-foot and disc. Both have their advocates, though discs have become increasingly popular in the past decade. Both full-foot and disc sliders are available in 3 types of materials (listed from slowest to fastest):
- “red brick”, a red, striped, hard plastic that is glued to the sole of the slider shoe;
- “Teflon”, a white plastic that is somewhat softer than red brick (and scratches more easily); and
- stainless steel.
In this article I’ll provide descriptions of some of the options available from the three predominate curling shoe manufacturers/distributors in Canada (Asham, Goldline, Balance Plus) and discuss the tradeoffs of one style over another.
All three of Canada’s leading manufacturers continue to make full-foot sliders for at least some shoes in their lineup, and this style is available in all three types (red brick, Teflon, stainless steel) although stainless steel is prohibitively expensive.
The photograph at left shows an all-leather Asham shoe with a full-foot red brick slider. Red brick sliders were very popular, at least in Western Canada, 20 years ago and I personally used a full-foot, red brick slider until fairly recently. In terms of speed, red brick is comparable to a medium-thickness Teflon slider (5/32 of an inch) but is not as fast as thicker Teflon sliders or those made from stainless steel. One disadvantage of red brick sliders is that they can suffer from excessive drag because of the multitude of edges on the bottom of the shoe, particularly the case when the curling sheet has frost. This problem was one of the reasons I switched from red brick to 1/4 inch Teflon a few years ago.
With Teflon, the thicker the slider the faster the shoe. By “fast”, I mean the longer one can glide down the sheet during delivery with the same amount of leg drive out of the hack. Teflon is commonly available in three thicknesses: 3/32, 5/32, and 1/4 inch.
One style of slider that I have not included in the images above is made by Balance Plus, that features a full-foot Teflon slider with a “doughnut” under the ball of the foot. One Balance Plus model that features this slider is the Balance Plus 300. Balance Plus was the first manufacturer to offer this design in 1996 – you can read about Balance Plus and the Balance Plus slider here. The “doughnut” can be quite beneficial for assisting with balance during the delivery. This is particularly true if the curler has the tendency to lift their slide-foot heel off the ice during the slide. Many recreational curlers, and even world champions (watch Kevin Martin’s slide foot the next time you see him on TV) tend to do that. For curlers like these, the Balance Plus doughnut can make a significant difference in stability. I have never used Balance Plus shoes myself, but I know several curlers who swear by their design.
Finally, another option is the full-foot perimeter slider, which is offered on some Goldline shoe models. The idea behind the perimeter slider is to offer the tactile feel under the ball of the foot (a similar idea to the Balance Plus doughnut) yet still have a continuous Teflon surface surrounding the complete sole of the curling shoe. My son Andrew uses this style – his shoes are from Goldline – and likes them very much.
There are three main advantages of disc-type sliders over full-foot sliders. Firstly, the two-disc system is much more suitable to curlers who continue to use the “tuck” delivery, rather than slide using the CCA-approved and taught “flat-foot” delivery. Secondly, disc sliders are typically interchangeable, meaning that they can be replaced when necessary due to damage, or when the curler wants to try a different slider type yet retain the same pair of shoes. Disc sliders usually attach to the sole of the shoe with Velcro. Since a good-quality leather pair of curling shoes can cost between $200 and $300, being able to easily exchange your set of discs is an advantage. Thirdly, discs are usually over-size, extending over the edges of the sole of the shoe, hence providing a larger, more stable platform on which to slide.
Discs are available in all three types: red brick, Teflon, and stainless steel.
As with full-foot sliders, the faster the discs, the greater the cost. A current (May 2011) price list (prices in Canadian dollars) from Rick Folk’s curling store, Folk’s Curling Corner in Kelowna, BC, illustrates the difference in cost between the slider options for Asham shoes with discs. The discs are listed in order of slowest-to-fastest, and you’ll note that the faster the slider, the greater the cost. Also note that these prices are the per-disc cost; you need two discs on each shoe (two gripper discs on your hack foot, two slider discs on your slide foot):
- Gripper disc $15.00
- Red Brick: $25.00
- 3/32-inch white Teflon $30.00
- 5/32-inch white Teflon: $35.00
- 1/4-inch white Teflon: $40.00
- 1/4-inch white Teflon ring: $45.00
- Stainless steel: $80.00
- Stainless steel ring: $90.00
Recently, Asham has offered Teflon disc “ring” sliders. My son Ryan uses Asham “Slam” shoes with this style of slider, and he thinks the 1/4 inch disc ring improves his delivery. My own shoes use a “flat” 1/4 inch disc. One difference with disc-style sliders is that the gripper that slips over the bottom of the slider must be contoured to accommodate the extra width of the shoe due to the over-sized slider discs – an “ordinary” slip-on rubber gripper won’t fit properly.
Discs are of two sizes: a larger disc under the ball of the foot, and a smaller one under the heel. Potentially, you could mix-and-match discs of different types and/or thicknesses, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless you can try out the combination on the ice.
Balance Plus offers disc-style shoes as well: one of their models is the Balance Plus 500. With this shoe, Balance Plus offers ring-style Teflon sliders on both the ball of the foot and on the heel. I have not tried these shoes, so I cannot offer any personal experience regarding the advantages of such a design.
You may have noticed that the right shoe in many of the pictures have a coated toe, commonly termed a “toe dip”. All the members of my family are right-handed, so in all cases the right shoe has the gripper on the sole and is worn on the trailing leg during delivery. With modern synthetic shoes, the exterior is coated so that it reduces the drag caused by the trailing leg. Leather shoes, because of the suppleness of the leather, tends to cause additional drag. One can counteract this by “dipping” the toe of your gripper shoe with a black, plastic resin, available from all of the manufacturers (we got our “toe-dip kit” from Goldline). The resin is applied sparingly with a Popsicle stick to the toe of the shoe, previously roughened with emery cloth to ensure good adhesion. When dry, the plastic resin is still somewhat flexible but harder than the leather it is bonded to, and hence reduces drag during delivery.
Balance Plus offers toe-dipped leather shoes (a “trailing toe coating”) done at the factory.
What shoe you choose depends not only on the slider but other factors such as fit and availability. I would not hesitate to recommend disc sliders because of their flexibility. I would strongly recommend a 1/4 inch slider for all curlers, including Little Rockers and Bantams, since they can benefit from the increased speed as much as adults – though obviously at increased cost. I would discourage the use of stainless steel – the marginal advantage of stainless over 1/4 inch Teflon is, in my view, not worth the doubling in cost.
Summer is a great time to find curling shoes for junior curlers, since retailers are usually willing to discount their existing stock in order to make room for new fall inventory.