Every Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m., a peculiar scene unfolds at the Osborn Aquatic Center. It’s called underwater hockey, and it’s not like any sport you’ve ever seen. The co-ed club was started in 1997, and although the founding members have since moved on, the Corvallis Underwater Hockey Club is currently 25 members strong, and is always ready for new recruits.
Underwater hockey began in the United Kingdom in the 1950s as a way for skin divers to maintain and improve their fitness levels over the winter months. It eventually evolved into a low-contact game that combines basketball, soccer, water polo, snorkeling, and of course, hockey. The game is played with a 3-pound puck that sits on the bottom of the pool and 12-inch wooden or plastic sticks that are slightly curved. The premise seems simple enough: get the puck into the opposing team’s goal, but when you’re underwater, there is an additional skill level involved in achieving this objective.
The club plays single or double elimination tournaments with clubs from around the country. Six players make up the offense and defense, but there is no goalie. According to club organizer Shawn Tucker, “It would be unfair to weigh someone down and make them wait to tend goal while underwater.” Tucker explained that full games, although sometimes shortened, are played for two 15-minute periods, and “a good pass is about 8 to 12 inches, so it’s a relatively close game.” He adds that although this close proximity results in a game that is slower paced than ice hockey, “it’s faster than you think.” Players, concerned about the amount of time they spend underwater (“bottom time”), dive down, pass the puck, and re-surface. Ideally, their bottom time is 10 to 15 seconds at a time.
All this bottom time results in a sport that is not spectator friendly, one of many things that is holding the game back from the Olympics. “From the surface, it looks like a feeding frenzy,” explains Tucker. He and other members add that the game is best appreciated by joining in. The game is good-natured fun; body checking is not supposed to happen, though accidents occur due to the use of fins and the low visibility through face masks. Don’t let this stop you from checking the game out. If you can swim one pool length and are comfortable with a mask, snorkel, and fins, you are invited to join in the fun, just email firstname.lastname@example.org and dive right in!
by Kristen Daly