Throughout the winter while the usual breed of hockey fans are sitting on their sofas, with a beer, yelling at their television sets, there is a group of other hockey fans that are wearing fins and snorkels and swimming around at the bottom of a pool, pushing a puck around. This is the world of underwater hockey which is not as commonly recognized in hockey circles, particularly in Canada but a group at the University of British Columbia play the game and would never switch to the other.
It certainly doesn’t have the same cult following that ice hockey does and maybe never will but those who love the game are truly diehards. The skills that one must develop for underwater hockey are not skills that you can transfer to too many other team sports. For one thing, you are playing underwater and holding one’s breath is one of the primary abilities that one needs to continue to play the game.
The rules of the game do mimic the game of ice hockey – there are sticks and there is a puck and you need to shoot it into a net. That’s where the similarities end, however. The teams don’t make slap shots and there is no dropping of the gloves and fighting the other players. This is a no contact sport. No one has false teeth and fighting is unheard of in the game.
The game used to be called “Octopush” and still is by some, including the sporting association for the sport in the United Kingdom where the sport was essentially born. A gentleman by the name of Alan Blake started it to keep his team of divers in shape throughout the winter months.
Many underwater hockey teams remain co-ed although there are segregated teams as well. Size is not important in the game – it’s the ability to swim and handle the puck that make the biggest difference so genders can play together without matching abilities and no threat of injury.
Jordan Fryer of UBC plays for the national team for Canada. They traveled to Hungary last summer to play in the World Championships and will travel with them again. While in Hungary the team face other underwater hockey teams from Australia, countries in South America and Africa, Germany, Portugal, the US and the UK. Fryer says that he feels lucky to be a part of not only the team but the sport itself and he’s happy that he’s had the chance to travel so much to play. He works hard practicing at the University of British Columbia campus at the Aquatic Centre whenever he gets the opportunity.
Hopefully, the sport will gain more and more attention and eventually had great numbers of competitors and media support. One of the difficulties around that lies in the positioning to watch the game. Watching from the surface is not optimum and facilities need to be established where fans can watch the game as it happens underwater. It will, however, make a great televised or streaming sport.