Underwater hockey? It is hockey and happens to be in water that is not frozen solid. And yes, it is a real sport gaining traction across Canada, to the extent that it has a critical mass and depth to sustain its own broad national championship.
The Canadian Underwater Hockey National Championships, organized by the Canadian Underwater Games Association, will take place in Coquitlam from May 15 to 17. The weekend-long competition will bring the nation’s best underwater hockey athletes to the Metro Vancouver region.
While you might think the game involves using long hockey sticks, like the same ones used in ice hockey, that is not the case.
Underwater hockey players use a 12-inch long stick to thrust or flick a three pound puck on the pool floor.
In each game, there are two teams with six players on each side. Players wear a diving mask, snorkel and fins as well as safety gear such as gloves and a water polo cap. The swimwear players wear are typically briefs or a one-piece swimsuits to reduce the effect of drag while in the water.
Players need strong swimming skills and must hold their breath during the game to dive to the bottom of the pool to drive the puck into the opponents’ three-metre wide goal. There is of course no verbal communication between teammates while they are underwater, meaning players must use their hands to tap on the pool floor or use their stick to make noise.
The games are relatively short, lasting for 30 minutes split between two periods. A half-time interval between the periods lasts for three minutes.
Like water polo, underwater hockey can be extremely rough. Players can get kicked in the face and the puck moves at speeds that can easily bruise exposed skin.
But how do spectators watch the game if it is underwater? Underwater hockey is not a spectator-friendly sport – it looks like a shark-feeding frenzy from the surface.
If space permits, spectators are sometimes allowed to put on a mask and snorkel to watch the game underwater from the pool’s viewing areas. However, in most tournaments, spectators watch the game on big screens with live footage provided by underwater videographers.
While many people may have never heard of the sport, underwater hockey has existed since the 1950s when it was created in the United Kingdom by Alan Blake. The University of British Columbia even has its own underwater hockey team who are named the ‘UBC Thunderducks’ and practice regularly at UBC Aquatic Centre.
A part of underwater hockey’s history lies within Vancouver as the first Underwater Hockey World Championship, the pinnacle event in competitive underwater hockey, was held in the city in 1980.
Canadian Underwater Hockey Championships 2015
Dates: Friday, May 15 to Sunday, May 17
Location: Coquitlam City Centre Aquatic Complex (1210 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam)
Vancity Buzz is a proud sponsor of the 2015 Canada National Women’s U23 Underwater Hockey Team