Twenty years of baggage

UWH gear
UWH gear
Some of the underwater hockey gear I’ve accumulated.

Preparing for my annual trip to the Australian Underwater Hockey Championships I found myself rummaging through my spare gear. Sitting on the floor in living room of our Carlton North apartment it dawned on me that a full twenty years earlier I would have been sitting in my parent’s house in Wonthaggi doing the same thing. In December 1993 it was a skinny little freckle faced squirt getting ready to play in his first National Championships. The butterflies in my belly have faded as the bats, fins and snorkels strewn across the room have aged and worn but the list below is a physical remainder of two decades spent chasing a lead puck around the bottom of a hundred different swimming pools across the world:

  • 11 pairs of fins (three unbroken Breier Carbon Fibre open heels, one pair of Najade, four pairs of Technisub Ala – one good and three clapped out – one pair of Technisub Stratos FP, a pair of F1s shitboxes and two pairs carbon Leaderfins)
  • 10 left handed gloves (three silicone Boney, four silicone South African, a latex TruBlue, one Slovenian and a latex Stu Parko special)
  • One right handed latex TruBlue glove
  • Five masks (two Reef teardrops – fuck! things are getting dire – one Cressi Big-Eyes, one TUSA SplenDive II and a Cressi SuperOcchio)
  • 20 Waterpolo caps (1s, 2s, 8s, 10s, 2 pairs of 11s and 13s plus a singe 1 (red), 6, 9 and 11)
  • About 30 odd sticks (3 pairs of Arnold Piccoli endorsed wooden monster hooks, 1 pair plastic Dorsels (unused), 1 pair CamAm Gav Wise plastic (I tried them once), 1 black South African Sharkie  (Unused), about 10 pairs of assorted homemade wooden bats and one right handed wooden Razor white ‘appropriated’ from Parko or Nick Martyn by the looks of it)
  • 17 pairs of bathers
  • Four pairs of Victorian branded tri-vests (thank god those days are over)
  • Three pairs of Lycra socks
  • Three medium fin keepers
  • Four pairs of swimming goggles
  • Three snorkels
  • Three gear bags (one Australian branded, one Hockeysub and one cricket bag)
  • 20m of 3mm utility cord
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Bastard file (rusty)
  • Swiss Army knife (unusable)
  • Bag of zip ties
  • Three rolls of Quick Eze
  • Voltaren (both tablets and gel)
  • Two black Textas
  • One White paint pen
  • One and a half rolls of Duct tape
  • Three rolls of Electrical tape
  • Three orange Super Soft Trueblue pucks
  • Three green Trueblue pucks
  • One Pink Trueblue puck
  • One Simms puck
  • One Lead puck
  • Two Elite Men’s World Championship gold medals
  • One Elite Men’s World Championship Bronze medal
  • One Australian Nationals Men’s division gold medal
  • A shoe box full of Australian Nationals Men’s  division bronze medals

Rummaging through twenty years of underwater hockey memories was an opportunity to reflect on my time in the sport. The act of cataloging my spare gear led me to the following realisations:

  1. Nearly two-thirds of my life has been spent playing Underwater Hockey
  2. I’ve had some amazing experiences and met a bunch of fantastic people along the way
  3. I have enough spare gear to allow two teams of left handers to play on another
  4. I am still passionately in love with the sport

Channeling my inner Wonthaggi

The World Championships outdoor pool at Eger
The World Championships outdoor pool at Eger, Hungary.

Whether it is a recommendation from a friend, seeing a poster down at the pool or joining a club at University, all underwater hockey players remember how they found their way to the game.

My pimply-faced journey began in Wonthaggi. I was splashing around at the local pool when an old hairy dude rocked over and suggested that we give underwater hockey a go. Give it a try I did. I was hooked from the start.

We played on a Thursday night and I remember counting the days until the next session so that I could get amongst it again. I was telling anyone and everyone about this underwater pursuit that I had stumbled across. All my school friends where dragged along to the pool at one point or another.

The Wonthaggi pool is shallow, 0.8m to 1.5m, with fast, small tiles. It was a good place to learn the game. A pool like that gives you quick hands and teaches you the benefits of fast lateral movement. It is a small rural town but the club has produced dozens of national and international players. Some douchebag resurfaced the pool a couple of years back using those safety tiles that grip like a bastard and it completely changed the style of game. Club nights have turned into a flick and chase bash-fest.

I never thought it would happen at the World Championship level but playing in the outdoor pool here at Eger took me back to my time in Wonthaggi. The visibility is terrible and the bottom is like sandpaper. Jase reckons he has seen rivers with less algae. Apparently some bright spark decided clean it using a chemical toxic enough to strip the glaze from the tiles. On the upside, channeling my inner Wonthaggi has worked quite well when adapting my game to the slugfest.

Getting the first day jitters out the way

The Australian Elite teams arrived in Eger nearly a week ago. The first New Zealand contingent arrived a day or two after. Many of the other teams didn’t turn up until yesterday. It’s interesting that two of the nations who have to travel the furthest, arrived the earliest.

Getting here early has had its advantages. We have had a chance to acclimatize and get over our jetlag. Some of the boys have even begun to decode the Hungarian passion for pork-based cuisine.

The team was selected back in January then we have spent the last seven days training, practicing and talking. This extra time adds to the excitement but also presents some challenges. You have so much time to think. Anticipation builds and builds so that by the time the competition actually comes around you are a bundle of nervous energy. The trick is not letting those nerves affect your game.

It’s a trick that I’m yet to master but our first game was a solid hit out against New Zealand. We drew the game 3-3 but the result is almost secondary to finally getting the games underway.

Eight months worth of swimming and training is behind us now. We will be better for our first run. Now we can get down to business. Let the games begin.

Top 10 Underwater Hockey songs

Most of the Australian teams have been holed up in Eger for five days now. As it has turned out we have had a fair bit of time between sessions.

Some people have spent that time working through one TV series or another, others have amused themselves with witty anecdotes about memories past, a select few might have even spent their spare time usefully.

I decided to turn my hand to compiling an Underwater Hockey themed mixed tape.

Pink Floyd – Breathe

Brooke Fraser – Something In The Water

Paul Kelly – Deeper Water

The Who – Water

Yazz – The Only Way Is Up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtKADQnjQmc

Fatboy Slim – Brimful Of Asha

Faith No More – Underwater Love

Bobby Darin – Splish Splash

Cat Power – Water And Air

PJ Harvey – Down By The Water

Any others I’ve missed?