Rochdale Observer Article( December 2007)
Soggy hockey sticks
December 04, 2007
HOCKEY under water? Sounds odd, but reporter LAURA SHANNON went along to Oulder Hill School to find out more about this most unusual sport ...
AFTER losing my teeth almost a decade ago after being at the wrong end of a hockey stick, taking up the game again wasn’t something I had in mind.
But after a night with the Rochdale Snorkelling and Underwater Hockey Club I may well change my mind - just as long as there’s a swimming pool involved rather than a playing field.
I was intrigued to find out just what underwater hockey entailed, so decided to strap on my snorkel and dive in.
Greeting me at Oulder Hill School’s baths were a passionate husband-and-wife team who told me of their long love affair with the unusual sport.
Former divers Mick Hyde and wife Helen run the club together with fellow enthusiast and Mr Hyde’s former tutor, Barrie Whitehead.
Mr Hyde, aged 45, said: "It started as a game to keep divers fit in winter, but now people dive all year round and lots of underwater hockey players have nothing to do with diving.
"I have been playing for 27 years and started when I left school. It suits people who like swimming, but want to play a team sport."
Underwater hockey rules involves 10 players in a team with six playing at any one time, rotating without limit.
Equipped with a snorkel, glove, hat, small bat and flippers, the player must take a deep breath, dive to the bottom of the pool and navigate the puck to underwater goalposts.
When you need air you keep your face in the water and clear the snorkel by blowing out.
Keeping your face in the water allows you to locate the puck before diving back down to continue play.
Two teams are separated by the colour of their sticks and you can obstruct your opponent by turning underwater with the puck.
The turns are not easy and in my enthusiastic attempts I started to float towards the surface, looking more like a flapping wounded seal than an underwater hockey player.
Nonetheless my tutor, world championship competitor Mark Dawson, was very encouraging.
The 22-year-old played his first world championship underwater hockey match in Calgary, Canada when he was just 16.
Mr Dawson, with the lungs of a dolphin, can swim underwater for three lengths of a 25-metre pool without coming up for air.
He said: "It’s a great sport but you can’t expect to pick it up overnight, it takes some time.
"You can breathe all the time in normal sports but you have to learn to be able to hold your breath and not panic underwater.
"Swimming on your own can be quite monotonous, but with underwater hockey you make good friends really quickly."
Giving it their all on Wednesday night were junior players Elliot Mottershead, Robert Scott, James Wright and Zach Tait, who put me to shame in their fearless attack on the puck.
James, aged 11, said: "My brother played underwater hockey and told me it was great.
"I have been playing for four years and would like to play in the world championships in the future."
The club is looking to recruit new members and full training is given.
(Practice sessions are now held on Thursday nights at Oulder Hill pool from 7.30pm to 9.00pm.)
For more information call Mick Hyde on 646988 or Barrie Whitehead on 373967.