Hockey with a splash

Crazy sport of the week dives deep

By Carl Perks

The referee sounds the beginning of the match and the players pass the puck to each other. One player gets a foul for knocking another with his stick and after a shorthand pass, Pete Bryson scores a goal. Now you Canadians fans may not recognise the name of this top scorer; this is somewhat explained as he removes his snorkelling mask and nonchalantly wades to the side of the pool. Pete Bryson is not known for his exploits within the NHL, but within the BOA: The British Octopush Association.

See, the referee did not sound a whistle but a gong, and the sticks that the players are baring are no longer than a foot in length. Not to drop the water bomb too late but this form of hockey is played in a pool clad in full snorkelling gear.

Octopush is a worldwide non-contact sport where two teams of up to 10 players (having six players each in the pool at all times) manoeuvre a lead puck with a short stick with the intention of scoring into an underwater goal.

The common apparel consists of swim fins, diving mask, mouth guard, snorkelling mask, water polo cap and a glove. New innovative rules permit players to wear two gloves so they can manoeuvre their stick with either hand.
The game is rendered ‘‘spectator unfriendly’’ by the players remaining under water for its entire duration. Recent funding has permitted most games to be assisted by a sub aquatic camera crew that sends live feeds to large television screens above the pool. When there is no in-game broadcast, spectators are invited to put on a snorkel and wade at the side of the pool.

Filming these games is rather complex because of the player’s frenzied movements. Videographers are currently researching ways to decently tape these matches. Research remains ongoing. Though subaqueous cinematic shooting of such events are treacherous, many breakthroughs have recently been bestowed upon this art: the recent tournament games in Sheffield, England, and Durban, South Africa, had live online streaming and the European Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, managed to use film instead of digital to give better grain to the picture. Bringing film in such action-packed submersed situations is quite the prowess.

But earlier  pool-hockey  had no access to tapes and recording. Octopush only follows  ice hockey by 50 to 60 years. Invented in 1954 at the Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in Portsmouth England by a diver called John Ventham, was dubbed Octopush. It keeps that name in the UK but is identified as Underwater Hockey in the rest of the world. The original name comes from the fact that teams once consisted of eight players (hence the octo) that would toss a puck about with a shuffle board that could only push the puck and not slap it (hence the push).
If you’re interested in participating, the University of Montreal has a particularly renowned team. Unfortunately the sport is mainly played in Europe with Dunstable English team as the principal victors.

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