What the Puck? Underwater Hockey Is All the Rage Among University of Florida Students

Photo: Underwater hockey practice at the University of Florida

Breathing is not important right now. Only two things matter: the puck and my teammates.

Bubbles peacefully float up to the surface among a frenzy of fighting bodies and fins as my teammate flips toward the underwater metal goal. He's got it under control. Now I can breathe.

Though I've never played the water sport before, I find myself fighting for the puck and the need to breathe along with the other players.

It's Monday night in the pool at the University of Florida's underwater hockey team practice. Wait. Underwater what?

That's what the players of the little-known sport usually hear when they tell other people about what they love to do, said University of Florida junior and one-year player Rafael Seminario.

Masks and Mini Hockey Sticks

Underwater hockey is played like this: Each co-ed team has 10 players, but only six can be in the water at once. Players carry a foot-long miniature hockey stick used to hit the three-pound puck on the pool floor into a metal goal at each end.

The sport is believed to have developed in the 1950s in Great Britain, said Tom Redig, the development director of USA Underwater Hockey. The national organization has 50 registered teams, 10 of which are on college campuses. Though no collegiate division or official campus tournaments exist, the league hopes to grow the sport at the college level.

Someone standing on the side of the pool wouldn't understand the sport, said Jayne Raponi, a freshman player who started playing last fall. It takes a dive underwater to see what's really happening, so it isn't much of a spectator sport.

A mask allows the players to see underwater. The water fins increase mobility. Most importantly, the snorkel allows players to breath while still watching the action on the pool floor.

The snorkel often presents the most problems for new players.

Fighting to Stay Below Surface

"At first, it was a lot of swallowing water," said David Lopez, who joined the team in November. The fight to keep under water leaves little air to blow the water out of the snorkel after surfacing.

Attracting Surfers, Water Polo Players

But timing the breathing through the snorkel is a key to success for the team. Since not everyone can be under water and active all the time, players need to coordinate trips to the surface.

"Sometimes, you have to choose whether you're going to grab that puck or to breathe," said Cassie Meyer, a two-year veteran.

Most players estimated that it takes about one or two months for a new player to catch on to the sport. But most have participated in water sports in the past, from surfing to water polo.

The club's president, Andrew Kisz, is one of the few who didn't have any previous experience in competitive water sports. He just loved swimming.

When Kisz returned to school in 2007 after service in Iraq, he was looking for a sport to play. The underwater hockey club had set up a table outside the student union, and Kisz took interest even though he'd never heard the two words put together before.

Now, he's become the teacher. In such an unknown sport, the club has gotten a lot of practice in instructing people how to play, he said.

Competitive Edge

Being comfortable and willing to teach fosters a close and welcoming atmosphere in the pool, even though the sport itself can get heated.

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