By Eric Reithel – For those of you who have been around Windy City Curling the past few weeks, you probably know that I was recently sent a new curling brush to try out. Featuring the truly unique icePad, Hardline Curling supplies is a relatively new company to the fold of curling products, and they sent me a demo broom to review.
About Hardline the Company
Hardline has only been around since it started off as an idea amongst friends in 2009. Since then, they’ve grown large enough in prestige to have two internationally known teams, the Carruthers and McEwen rinks, take their sponsorship. These teams will be using Hardline gear this Fall as they enter what will be the freshman year of tournaments leading up to the 2018 PyeongChang, South Korea Winter Olympic Games. A rather impressive resume for a company in its fifth year, to be sure, but Hardline seems to be the kind of company who follows the old competitive adage, “Go big or go home.”
Just take a look at their website. The bold claims they make about the signature icePad lend themselves to this idea. This is not a bad thing, mind you. After all, when you’re a start-up company competing against curling product giants like Goldline, BalancePlus, and others, you almost have to be. As I emailed back-and-forth with a representative from Hardline, Archie Manavian, I was told, “We called ourselves Hardline for a number of reasons. a) It’s curling terminology, and b) my personality. I don’t take crap from anybody (except the wife). I stand up for what I believe in and I don’t back down from bullies.” The emails I received from him held a lot of the same trumped-up claims woven into the language of the website. “There are really no comparisons between the icePad and the other brushes on the market. The icePad is the logical choice.”
I’ll admit, upon reading that in an email, I rolled my eyes in skepticism. So upon receiving my brush in the mail, I gave Archie a call to ask some preview questions. Not only was Archie incredibly informative and helpful, but the one thing that stood out to me the most in our chat was that Archie was a genuine and friendly guy.
A big thing lost in the boasts and claims of Hardline’s website is the honest sense of pride Archie and Hardline have in their product. The words about the icePad may have been virtually the same, but when spoken through Archie’s voice, there was no ego, no salesmanship, nor any trace of arrogance: just plain and simple belief. This man truly believes in the product he’s selling, and every line uttered about the icePad was stated simply, confidently, and matter-of-fact. That goes a long way with easing my mind about purchasing something new and untested by time because it leads me to believe that, for better or worse, the company will be there to back their product up and do what it takes to ensure customer satisfaction.
So how did the trying out Hardline’s icePad go?
Well, for starters, when I first got the brush in the mail, I honestly thought the box they shipped it in was empty when I picked it up off of the front porch. “Uh oh… they forgot to put a broom in here,” I thought. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and saw that not only was the handle in there, but so was the head and the icePad.
Yes, it IS that light. In fact, in the two weeks I’ve been sporting the Hardline broom at my side, everyone who has curiously asked to hold it has also been unanimously impressed by how light and almost airy it rests in the hand. “Wow. This is light,” (or some variation thereof) became a common first utterance.
In fact, when I first held it, the first thought that came into my head about the Hardline broom was a quote from Will Smith’s character, Jay, in the film Men in Black when he receives a tiny little ray gun over any of the other beast-looking weapons on the armory wall: “I feel like I’m going to break this damn thing.”
Another observation was the design sealed onto the handle. The demonstration brush I was sent was Hardline’s “Evolution” style. Red and white in color scheme, “This looks sleek,” I thought. (Sure, I may have been hoping to test out the equally impressive and forward-thinking “Pride” design, but requesting that specific design might have been asking too much of Hardline just to sate my personal preference.) Clearly a lot of thought went into the design, not just mechanically, but aesthetically as well.
I also noticed that the broom handle was tapered in a manner I didn’t expect. Unlike other competitor designs where the broom is either uniform in thickness or tapered to be thicker at the head (a staple of BalancePlus), the Hardline design is tapered to be more narrow at the head. I asked Archie the thought process behind this decision: “I’ve (always) believed that you can get a stronger grip on a thin handle than you can on a thicker handle. … I just personally feel the thinner the grip on the lower hand while sweeping, the stronger your grip.” In my testing, I didn’t notice this having any difference or affect on my game, but I’ve always held my broom at least a third of the way up the handle from the head (where the Hardline’s tapering begins).
But perhaps the initial observation that piqued my curiosity the strongest was the material composition of the icePad itself. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting (a type of synthetic cloth akin to BalancePlus’s EQ or Goldline’s Norway pad, perhaps?), but it certainly wasn’t what was was there. I can only describe it as thin plastic-like fabric, honestly. I asked Archie about the composition of the icePad’s material and how to describe it better, but this was met with a humorous reply of, “If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.” (I’ll admit, I laughed out loud at that. As serious as Hardline is about their product, it’s refreshing to see that they haven’t lost their sense of humor along the way.)
Putting it to the Test
First and foremost, I had to test one of the bolder claims on the website: taking the icePad off of the head to clean it under a faucet. After watching a quick demonstration video online, I was able take the pad off, clean it in the sink (something I would never do with a cloth-based pad), and put it back on all within ten minutes with relative ease. Fun note: I watched the video demonstrating how to do this weeks ago out of curiosity as I was researching my entry Gearing Up: Brooms and I still remembered the process without needing a refresher. It’s that easy. So straightaway I knew that the icePad was designed to last a long time.
When it came to practical matters, I was able to test the broom under three unique circumstances: teaching a Learn2Curl, practicing on dedicated ice, and – the main focus – playing a game at my club on our arena ice.
First up: teaching a Learn2Curl. The major observation of having a Hardline broom in my hand when teaching brand new players the game of curling was that it seemed to lend a sense of credibility to my instruction as a teacher in the eyes of the students. Sure, none of them may have known about Hardline specifically, but this is where the aesthetic design of the broom receives its praise: it looks like a high-end product. And when I had a group of fresh faces standing on the ice looking at the loaner brooms out of the bin, and then looking at this fancy broom in my hand, I sensed that there was a subtle acknowledgement there from them that yes, this guy probably knows what he’s talking about because he cares enough about this sport to be wielding this fancy broom. That feeling didn’t seem to exist during previous classes I’ve taught.
I also found myself pointing out a lot of stuff on the ice (lines on the sheet, far away rocks, etc.) with my broom. I never used to do this with a fiberglass loaner out of the bucket, so to that end, I give the lightness of the broom further praise.
Of course, I wasn’t really able to test out the broom in action until I went to the Fort Wayne Curling Club. As part of the certification process to become a Level 1 curling instructor with the USCA, we were given various drills and exercises to teach on-ice. Between these drills and exercises, we had a few extra minutes to play a few ends for fun. Windy City Curling’s vice president, Matt Galas, and I convinced two of our fellow classmates to partake in a fast round of Mixed Doubles. (I mean, after all, it was a beautiful club with well manicured dedicated ice. How could we not?)
This is where my preconceived notions about the Hardline icePad were almost instantly changed.
During one particular tricky shot, I was attempting to curl my rock around two guards for a light tap-back of their shot stone. For those of you familiar with the format of Mixed Doubles, you know that there are no sweepers. It’s two-versus-two, and often called a “draw game” for good reason: if your stone needs sweeping, you get up after delivering it and, with your slider still on, catch up to it and sweep it yourself. Finding draw weight without needing sweepers is crucial.
Needless to say, my shot needing sweeping. It curled quicker than expected and Matt called for the sweep to try and hold the line as best I could. So there I was, sweeping furiously with the icePad as hard as I could without touching it. I took one look at the situation and knew there was no way this shot would clear the guards. I kept sweeping anyway. Sure enough, little by little, the rock kept going further. I passed one guard, still sweeping hard, and Matt kept encouraging me. As my shot approached the side of the second guard, I thought disaster was imminent.
It cleared the second guard by the tiniest of margins (as in, millimeters). The moment it did, I let off the rock so that it could curl and make the shot. I almost couldn’t believe it. As we’ve all seen at one time or another, a few millimeters can be the difference in this sport.
But here’s the thing: I know that there is no way on Earth that I would have made that shot if I didn’t have a Hardline broom in my hands with the icePad at the end of it. Had I been holding any broom of lesser quality (like a loaner out of the bin), my stone would have wrecked completely on a guard. I was sold.
“Maybe there is something to Archie’s claims after all…” But before I got too excited and put the cart before the horse, I knew I had one more test to put this broom through.
On Arena Ice
For as well as the icePad performed on Fort Wayne’s dedicated ice, it’s not the arena ice of Windy City Curling. At this point in review, the only trial Hardline had passed so far at Windy City was merely being impressive to look at in the eyes of new players (and a few of my club mates). Finally, Hardline was going to be put to a full-game test in the place I cared about most. So I jumped into a game playing lead, asking my teammates to pay attention to the sweeping I’d be doing as best they could.
The biggest item of note about the Hardline broom is how different it is compared to anything I’ve used previous. For example, when delivering a stone, the lightness of the handle under my arm was a bit unnerving at first. I was worried that I was going to bend the broom if I leaned on it too much. Yes, intellectually, I know that its made of carbon fiber and not going to break or bend without a significant amount more force or pressure placed on it than I am capable of, but that didn’t change the fact that its lightweight nature didn’t take some getting used to. (And before anyone mentions it: yes, I know a shooter isn’t supposed to lean on the broom. It’s only supposed to be there for balance checks, but balance is something I’m still working on and, full disclosure: I do sometimes lean my broom. Using the Hardline forced me to face this detriment to my game, which adds a point to the ‘plus’ column in my eyes for them.)
If there is an honest critique to be had about Hardline when delivering, it’s to be found the design of the head. Whereas the edges of the plastic surrounding the pad on a competitor’s Performance head have a wide, flat lip that extends out enough to rest on the ice when delivering a stone, the design of this lip is smaller on the Hardline design. This only becomes a problem if you don’t use the traditionally accepted delivery method of tucking your broom under your arm. Since I use this method, I observed no issues; however, another Windy City member who tried out the Hardline rests his broom on top of his shoulder during delivery. The sharper angle from his shoulder down to the ice meant that plastic lip wasn’t making contact with the ice surface, the icePad itself was which caused a slight bit of drag.
When I asked Archie about this, he replied: “The icePad was tested with all levels of curlers for (four) months before it went to market. The one negative comment was from a player who had the same issue when delivering. … We tried different versions of the icePad to correct this situation but found that it didn’t look good. For the handful of people that do have issues, we recommend the inconvenience of carrying a second sliding broom. … We figured that for the few who do have issues, it’s not going to be a major issue to bring along an older broom that they’re used to for delivery. Many players do it.”
But what about sweeping on arena ice?
Much like on Fort Wayne’s dedicated ice, the IcePad also shone on Windy City’s arena ice. I was able to help carry rocks just as far as any other high-end broom out there, which is what most people look for in a broom. So if that’s what you’re looking for, then know that the Hardline broom delivers.
Beyond that, the biggest positive I found after sweeping front-end for an entire game was in the ease of use. Being accustomed to heavier brushes, I’m used to feeling like I need to exert a lot of muscle strength when sweeping a rock. That’s fine for one shot that might require a great deal of commitment, but not a full eight ends of rock-after-rock. And yet, after an entire game of sweeping, fatigue never really set in with the Hardline broom (and I will be the first person to admit I don’t have a lot of upper body strength.) To find a broom that allows me to go a full game without tiring out was not only exciting, but also rather liberating.
Before using the Hardline, I was worried that doing well at a bonspiel might not be in the cards for me. How could I possibly survive one full game at a tournament, let alone potentially multiple draws in a day? Now, not only do I feel as if I might make it through a spiel, I’m eager to get to one.
So are there are any critiques when it comes to sweeping? If there are, they can all be summed in one word: adaptation. There is a learning curve that comes with using the icePad. Luckily, with dedication, it’s a quick process.
Given the unique material the pad is made out of, the sound produced when sweeping stands out immediately. Instead of the all-too common scrubbing sound other synthetic pads produce, the icePad makes what I can only describe as streaking. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I would call it a trade off.
Synthetic cloth pads of the same price point and quality from other companies may be much quieter, but they’re accompanied by a sense of resistance and drag. Comparatively, the icePad glides almost too effortlessly across the surface of the ice pebble. When I first started using it, the only thing that let me know I was even sweeping effectively was the noise I was producing. Had it not been there, I would have assumed that I wasn’t making solid contact with the ice.
As Archie explained to me, “Because the running surface of the rock only slides on top of the pebble, this is where the icePad targets the sweeping. It doesn’t go down into the pebble. One comment we hear over and over again is that when sweeping with the icePad, it doesn’t feel like there is any friction. On the contrary, the friction is only on top of the pebble, where you need it. What there isn’t is resistance.”
It’s also worth noting that because the pad glides so smoothly, I was tentative to put too much of my body weight on the broom for fear that it might slide out completely from under me. A few quick ends of getting used to it, and I eventually adapted.
What I found interesting is that most of my critiques to this end are just as much mental as they are physical. Breaking old habits and shifting into new ones might take some time and re-acclimation, but they are in no way insurmountable after a game or two. And once that was done, I found myself helping the team just as I’ve always been able to.
But here’s the biggest concern: While the icePad shines on dedicated ice, on arena ice it didn’t seem to go “above and beyond” the competition. I suspect that this is because we only have time to put down one or two layers of pebble before game time, instead of housing a permanent “orange peel” texture as a dedicated club. Now, don’t get me wrong: on both surfaces the icePad holds it’s own just as any other high-end pad on the market; however, everyone present to the testing process on arena ice seemed to be of the consensus that, while a great product, for our purposes, the icePad wasn’t the end-all be-all as it might be on dedicated ice.
So would I recommend the Hardline Broom and the icePad? In short: Absolutely, in a heart beat. While it may not offer that much of a stark difference in the results of the distance a sweeper can carry a stone on arena ice, for a beginner (or any curler, for that matter), every thing else about the Hardline broom and icePad make it more than worth the cost. With some simple adaptation to the new sensations a sweeper will encounter, anyone getting this product will also be getting one of the lightest brooms currently on the market, one of the most effective pads currently in production, and a product that they can confidently take with them from an arena club onto any dedicated ice sheet for a friendly bonspiel without worry if it’ll hold it’s own against the competition when they get there.
Compared to the competition’s price point, for the $140 (plus shipping, online) Hardline charges, you might just also have some extra cash on hand to splurge on an extra icePad, should you ever need one (which you probably won’t for quite some time).
Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling, a product reviewer for KodiakCurling.com, and a lover of craft beer. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.