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Understanding How to Play Underwater Hockey

By Blaise Gassend

TEAM MEMBER

“Reaaady... Stiiiiiicks up... Go!”

A dozen people in snorkeling gear frantically swim towards each other from opposite sides of the Zesiger Center swimming pool. Shortly before meeting in the middle, the two fastest swimmers duck underwater and are lost from sight. The remaining swimmers, all face down, breathing through their snorkels, bunch together. They start swimming slowly in the same direction. A few propel themselves into the depths of the pool. Some then start resurfacing.

The team swims in an erratic pattern, sometimes slowly, sometimes frantically. Every once in a while, somebody comes up gasping for breath. Most of the time, though, everyone remains underwater, gazing intently at what is going on below. A few minutes later, the swimmers arrive at one wall. They all suddenly look up and start talking animatedly and breathing heavily. Half stay there while the others head to the opposite side of the pool. After a minute or so, the whole process starts over again.

That, in a nutshell, is a typical game of underwater hockey. From outside the pool, it looks somewhat bizarre. Underwater, though, an intense game is being played.

Underwater hockey... what’s that?

Underwater hockey has the same basic goal as ice hockey. Two teams each try to push a puck into the opposing team’s goal. The players push the puck around with sticks that are only a foot long, much shorter than their ice hockey counterparts.

In underwater hockey, the puck stays on the bottom of a swimming pool. To reach the puck, players have to be at the bottom of the pool. Therefore, you can play or you can breathe, but you can’t do both at once.

“Most of the game, you are on the surface, breathing normally. When there is an opportunity to make a play, you dive,” said Winslow S. Burleson G. Most of the other players would say that they rarely see Burleson on the surface; he is one of those folks who can stay underwater for what seems to be forever.

Underwater hockey is a non-contact sport. You can’t push other players around or lift up other players’ sticks as you can in ice hockey, and checking is out of the question.

Nevertheless, when you are behind somebody, watch out for their fins as they try to motor away. “Every time I am out of breath in the bottom of the pool and kicked on my face, I swear I will never come back,” said Yue “Nina” Chen G.

In underwater hockey, being big isn’t always an advantage. Smaller players can often outmaneuver their opponents by making sudden changes of direction. Chen, for example, is a small, seemingly fragile girl. The second time she played, she surprised more experienced players by stealing the puck from right under their noses.

Underwater hockey is fundamentally a team sport. You can’t be at the bottom of the pool forever, so you have to learn to work with your teammates if you want to get to the goal and score.

“The reason this friendly atmosphere is so pervasive is that it’s really a teamwork game in which no one can score or do much on their own at the bottom of the pool without the backup of the other players,” said David Fitoussi, a recent graduate who played underwater hockey at MIT for a year.

“I really liked the camaraderie, the fact that anyone can come and play, will feel welcome, and is given opportunities to really get into the game without feeling like he doesn’t know how to play,” Fitoussi said.

For more information, the team’s Web site is http://web.mit.edu/activities/scuba-club/uwh/.