VIDEO: How curling's newest broom heads can affect a rock

(Don Landry photo)
(Don Landry photo)

The video does exist!

Throughout this past week, as curling's controversy over what are being called "directional fabric" broom heads boiled over - and then boiled over again (and then again, for good measure), many curling fans have been clamouring for video evidence that illustrates just what those heads can do to a rock's trajectory.

Now, manufacturer BalancePlus has released test video that shows just that, although with directional fabric broom heads that took the advancement to a new level.

(Note: It should be made abundantly clear that the videos below show tests of a broom head that has a much more aggressive nature than the directional fabrics that have been discussed, recently, and that have previously been used on tour. A respected curling insider who has viewed them told me that the directional fabric brooms that have been used on tour are not nearly as effective as what is being shown in the video, though they do affect rocks in the same manner. Just in a much more subtle way.)

The video shows rocks being manipulated by what was being called the "Blackhead" or "Black Diamond" broom head, the same as those that were used last weekend by some BalancePlus teams at a Toronto bonspiel.

The first video shows a rock curling entirely in the opposite direction, based on the turn put on it at the delivery end. The second shows a rock being held on a very straight line, with very little curl, on a freeze. It's a shot that would generally need the shooter to aim fairly wide and then allow the rock to curl towards the target.

More on the testing can be gleaned from a BalancePlus media release, undersigned by the company's president, Scott Taylor. It reads, in part:

"On October 5th we conducted sweeping/brushing tests. We used our mechanical rock thrower that is capable of throwing nine rocks at a time with the same speed and rotation. We threw two rocks at a time. One was swept and the other was not to enable comparison of the results. We tested a number of combinations of heads from a number of manufacturers. The ice was level, no frost due to low humidity, good pebble and recently sanded rocks that would curl 6 feet if thrown with backline weight. Normal results were achieved with most faceplates/brush heads. Curl was reduced and distance increased. Subsequent throws produced slightly improved results until such time as the pebble was worn down."


"When we started to test the heads/faceplates with “directional” cloth the results were surprising.A rock that should have travelled to the tee line on its own and farther with sweeping, barely made it over the hog line. Rocks that had been curling 6 feet could be made to curl 7.5 to 8 feet. Rocks that had been curling 6 feet could be reduced to zero curl. By altering the sweeping technique to more of a snowplough stroke we achieved even more extreme alterations in direction. Rocks that should curl 6 feet could be backed up 4 feet against the curl. That is a change of 10 feet. A rock that should curl 6 feet could be swept to a freeze with zero ice or broom given, even with draw weight, by combinations of making it fall and letting it curl."

The Blackhead broom heads, which BalancePlus claims were crafted in order to prove a point about how far curling technology can go and were never going to get to market, were shown to be even more effective than what had become so prevalent on the tours this season; brooms that elite curlers say allowed them to do so much more with a rock than ever before. The company's statement goes on to claim that at a players meeting, in Toronto last weekend, a number of curlers admitted to using directional fabric technology. From the statement:

A meeting was called to discuss what brooms should be allowed. Other teams admitted to using directional heads/faceplates that gave them a considerable advantage for as much as 1.5 years. The teams we gave the directional BalancePlus faceplates to have been asked to return them. We don’t intend to make, sell, distribute or give away any more of those heads.

The video provided by BalancePlus shows what the next generation - beyond the contentious broom heads - can do with a curling shot.

There has been a movement afoot all week to remove directional fabric broom heads from the game, with top level players speaking out against the technology. On Thursday, a group of players signed off on a proclamation that they would no longer use the broom heads, beginning immediately.

Fans wondered what all the fuss was about. Now, with these videos, we have an idea.

However it's not clear as to whether this latest video example of what directional broom heads can do will mean any kind of clear path forward for the game of curling. This remains quite a contentious issue. There seems to be a great need for independent testing on these materials, so curlers and fans of the game can remove all doubt as to whether directional fabric is damaging to playing surfaces.

One manufacturer, Hardline Curling, has claimed that the whole issue is not really an issue at all and that a competitor or competitors, along with the players they equip, are merely out to tarnish Hardline's reputation (read more about that here). Hardline, moreover, claims that its broom heads to not carry directional fabric in any case.

On that note, it will be interesting to see if some of the teams that have been using that company's fabric agree, as they've signed the proclamation, maintaining they will not use directional fabric going forward. A number of those teams are competing at this weekend's Canad Inns Men's Classic, underway in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

(This column has been updated several times since its original posting)