It is an amazing combination of hockey, water pula and free diving. Truly a team sport, because it doesn’t matter how good one player is, he’s eventually gonna have to come up for air, so there has to be teamwork. There has to be passing. You can’t just have one guy doing everything. The rules are fairly straightforward: There are two teams of six with four additional players from each team waiting to be substituted in. Each player is equipped with a snorkel, goggles, a cap, fins and a plastic stick thirty centimeters long. Just like in ice hockey, the goal is to get possession of the puck, and hit it into the opposite team’s goal.
The puck is made of a rubber-covered lead, and weighs one and a half kilos. This way, it doesn’t bounce and stay securely on the bottom of the pool. George Mason University, located just outside Washington DC, is one of nine universities that includes underwater hockey as a university sport. I’m on the U.S. Men’s Elite Team, so we travel around the world, competing at the world level competition, and as I get ready for World’s, I’ll spend anywhere from 10 to 20 hours week training for about a year. My favorite thing about the sport is the people. You know, I feel like every place I go. You know, I have a little bit of family, because we have teams all over the United States. Most underwater hockey teams are mixed with both men and women players.
There’s a 3D aspect to it that you don’t get, you know, in the other court sports, because in basketball and soccer you can only run on the court, and hockey you can be on the bottom of the pool but you can also be on the surface, and so there’s that added dimension to where you need to position yourself in the play.
For obvious reasons, players can’t communicate with each other verbally, and aside from the need to hold their breath underwater, hockey is less dangerous than regular hockey because of the cushioning effect of water. But as in any other sport, confrontations happen usually with fins. It’s a non-contact sport in the sense that basketball is non-contact, so you can’t grab somebody, but you can still if your sticks on the puck, create body contact, create space. Despite the fact that underwater hockey is not a new game, for most, it remains more of an exotic sport. Today only about 200 people play underwater hockey professionally in the U.S. But players like Richard hope their example will invite more people to dip a toe in the water.
Maxim Moskalkov for VOA news, Oakton, Virginia.