“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” Theodore Roosevelt once said.
Although this phrase was a take on foreign diplomacy, it would have been interesting to think that good ol’ Teddy had the modern sport of water hockey on his mind while he was championing it.
Not much can be spoken when underwater water, and a stick, whether big or small, is a stick nonetheless. As such, the sticks used by underwater hockey enthusiasts to bully lead pucks eight feet below and the players’ lack of audible communication mid-sport would have been enough to qualify these guys as Teddy’s type of athlete.
Contrary to public opinion, the sport of underwater hockey is not just “swimming” and “hockey” combined. Here is how it works: each team has ten players, six of whom are in play and another four who can substitute for players during the match. A puck, made from three pounds of solid lead is placed in the middle of the pool.
Once the starting signal is fired, players either hang back or swim in a mad dash towards the middle of the pool and dive below the surface with the help snorkeling gear and fins. Using a small curved stick, players are able to guide, block, steal or even shoot, or “flick,” the puck.
The ultimate purpose of the game is to get the puck into the opposing team’s gulley, a three meter-wide metal trough that is used as a goal. As with any sport, strategy is crucial—players can curl their entire bodies around the puck to block opponents and they can set up formations to move the puck forwards.
Underwater hockey players also need to consider the three-dimensional nature of the playing field and they must be able to predict when teammates need to go back up for air in order to keep continuous play. Although underwater hockey is limited-contact, the sport is still competitive and rigorous.
At the moment, underwater hockey is popular in countries such as France and New Zealand, but the sport is gradually growing in the U.S., and even at Tech.
The Swordfish Underwater Hockey club, which practices at the CRC, recently took 5th in the B Division of the U.S. Underwater Hockey Nationals, and the team plans to compete in the A division soon. They are also hosting a tournament this year, and they plan on establishing another team at Emory as well.
So why do the members love the sport so much? Current president of Swordfish, Ricky Mehta, wrapped it up in four words.
“It’s unique and fun,” Mehta said.
Although there is a bit of a learning curve, just being able to keep up with the pace of the game is engrossing and exciting.