Run, Jump, and Unicycle: Corvallis’ Alternative Sports

Underwater-HockeyDo you like to throw things? Run around? Wear special clothing that would look horribly strange out of context, say, while attending a fine dining establishment? Is the mainstream a little too, shall we say… mainstream for you? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you’ve come to the right article, for our city bears fruit of the alternative sporting kind. Even if you’ve never really considered “moving about” to be a great pastime, you might find something new and exciting among the many alternative sports in the area. With games on land, water, and wheels (or wheel, as the case may be) there is something for everyone.

Our whirlwind tour of alternative sports begins with the world’s oldest field game, which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with vomiting. Hurling is thought to have come to Ireland with the Celts, sometime around the end of the last ice age. Though it began before recorded history, the first written mention of the sport was in the fifth century, with verbal accounts suggesting games played as early as 1200 B.C. Suffice it to say, hurling has been around for quite some time and as such has a rich history.

In terms of play, hurling resembles a mix of lacrosse, hockey, and baseball. There is a stick, called a “hurley,” and a ball, called a “sliotar.” It is played on an open field with goalposts at either end. By whacking, slapping, passing, carrying (for just a few steps), and even balancing the sliotar with the hurley, a “hurler” makes their way down the field. Getting the sliotar through the posts scores a point. A sliotar hurled beneath the crossbar on the posts scores a goal, worth three points. However, a very brave goalkeeper stands between a hurler and the goal, making a single point a safer shot.

Our local team is the Benton Brigade, Oregon’s largest hurling club. They are always accepting new players. As long as you are over 15 years old, and willing to learn, you’re welcome to join. While equipment for beginners is provided, the Benton Brigade website says, “Many members recommend bringing cleats, shin guards, and water.” Practices take place on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. at Willamette Park. If you’re concerned about just showing up, feel free to contact the team through their website,

Underwater Hockey
Invented in 1954 by Englishman Alan Blake, underwater hockey is now played worldwide. Proving that statement true, our own team, the Corvallis Narwhals, has played locally, nationally, and even sent players to compete in the 19th annual World Championship in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Michael Riccitelli, a Corvallis Narwhals member, describes his sport as a “low-impact, coed aquatic sport played on the pool bottom with a three-pound puck, small hockey sticks, mask, fins, and snorkel. The water levels the playing field between the sexes and creates an environment that is friendly to people of all body types.”

To play, two teams of six players (with four substitutes ready to dive in) use a stick, or pusher, roughly one foot long to maneuver a puck along the bottom of a pool into the opposing team’s goal. Underwater contact with something, or someone, other than the puck will generally lead to a foul. It is a game of team strategy, finesse, and holding your breath.

The Corvallis Narwhals meet once a week, and are also accepting of new players. “You do not need to be a good swimmer to start. Just a level of comfort in the water and a history of using a snorkel are helpful. Do not be discouraged if you feel lost your first couple of times playing. It is a fast-paced sport that takes some time and understanding to fully master,” said Riccitelli. “Just show up Wednesday nights at Osborn Aquatic Center. If you have mask/fins/snorkel, bring them, otherwise you can borrow our gear for a month. After that, if you continue to play, we will work out something.” Contact information is available on the group’s Facebook page,

Unicycle Hockey
“Hockey is a great sport played on ice, in a field, underwater, and on a court,” said Angela Schwindt of the Corvallis Unicycle Hockey Club. “Add another level of skill and fun riding on unicycles!” It’s hockey like you’ve never seen it before.

The rules are fairly consistent with traditional hockey except that there is a ball instead of a puck, the sport is played on a court, and, of course, you must play while riding a unicycle. That last bit is the most important. The ability to stay upright while riding a unicycle is an essential perquisite to play.

Far from being exclusionary, the Corvallis Unicycle Hockey Club welcomes new players and interested spectators alike to join them every Monday (weather depending) at the courts on 13th and Cleveland at 6 p.m. If you’re interested at all, don’t let a lack of skill on a unicycle dissuade you.

“Skill building comes faster when you are on the court, so we encourage even beginning riders to come to the club. Controlled riding, idling, and free-mounting are good skills to learn,” said Schwindt. For more information, contact Angela Schwindt at

Roller Derby
The Sick Town Derby Dames are back. After an almost two-year hiatus due to disrepair of the historic Lake Park Roller Rink, the final inspections and approval have been given. Already around 20 active skaters and another 10 referees, officials, and volunteers have returned. It’s an amazing start, and they are always happy to have new members.

“We offer boot camps for beginners to learn to skate. Our next one starts May 18,” said Dixie Skullpopper (also known as Miranda Prince).

A name like Skullpopper might make you wonder about the physicality of the sport, and it would be safe to say that Roller Derby is a contact sport. The equipment needed to play includes skates, pads, and a helmet. In lieu of a ball, puck, or other such object for the scoring of points, Roller Derby uses a “jammer,” which is one of the players. During each “jam,” or two-minute session of play, two teams of five skate around a circuit track. Each team’s jammer attempts to lap all the players of the opposing team. The other players, “blockers,” try to prevent this from happening. While this does make for a great deal of contact, the point is always to score, not to cause injury. To that end, like all sports, there are referees constantly on the lookout for fouls and penalties.

“Try it!” said Skullpopper, “I thought I couldn’t do it when I started [six and a half] years ago, and I was happy to find out that I could. Roller derby is fun, challenging, and a great way to meet amazing people.”

Currently the Dames have three practices a week and have fundraisers as well as community outreach events. If you’re interested in the beginner boot camp, joining the team, or even just volunteering in some way, contact the Sick Town Derby Dames at or through their Facebook page,

By Kyle Bunnell