Underwater Hockey Gains Speed In U.S.

Sport is growing in schools around the country.

Aug. 18, 2011 -- Take a puck, a stick and a goal. Sounds like a typical game of hockey. But add a snorkel, a mask, fins and a pool, and you get hockey with an underwater twist.

Underwater hockey is a relatively unknown, one-of-a-kind sport that is gaining speed in the United States.

Twenty-eight years ago, Brigit Grimm attended a scuba diving class. Her instructor demonstrated a new game that involved moving a hockey puck around underwater.

"I thought, 'Does anyone actually play this game?" the former Cal Berkeley swimmer remembers. "But after one practice, I fell in love with it, and that was it."

Grimm, now U.S. Underwater Hockey National Teams director and member of the San Jose Club Puck team, says it mixes the competition of hockey, the team formation of basketball and the endurance of swimming.

"It is a three-dimensional sport. There's a lot of up and down and twisting movement. [You] have to take yourself out of the game just to breathe," Grimm explains.

A game consists of two 15-minute halves during which players race underwater to a puck at the bottom of the pool. Players work as a team, using small sticks to move the puck down the pool, ultimately scoring in the opponent's goal.

For most, the unfamiliar sports might sound slow, but that's not the case.

Grimm says, "It's a much faster moving sport that most would visualize, but having a 3½ half pound lead puck and a short stick, it's a much faster game. "

Players use snorkeling gear and fins to move quickly throughout the water. However, most can only stay underwater for 10 seconds.

"You think you have to hold your breath, but that's the last thing you want to do." Oren Levy, one of the newest players on the San Jose Club Puck team explains. "When the puck is moving, you want to find the best path, get it to a teammate, get air, and find the next opportunity to get back down. "

Levy joined the growing San Jose Club Puck Underwater Hockey team while recovery from knee surgery. He says he's not the best swimmer, but was looking for a way to stay in shape.

"Swimming was boring, but chasing a puck around, that's excitement," Levy says. "I felt like a 10-year-old throwing a rock in the pool and trying to be the first one to get to it."

Most people join looking for a fun, new exercise, but it turns into so much more.

"It's so addicting. It keeps me fit, so when I don't play, I feel bad, but when I play, I feel amazing," 48-year-old Yori Hyunh, a software engineer from Milpitas, Calif., says.

Hyunh, who was been playing for 21 years, says the sport is more than just a team.

"It's so small, people know each other. We are an extended family." Hyunh says, "Weddings, funerals, births or camping trips, we're all there."

In 1954, scuba divers in England created the sport as a way to teach people to feel comfortable with their fins when diving in the water. The sport, originally called octopush, quickly spread throughout Europe. By the 1960s, underwater hockey made its way to the United States.

Every year, U.S. clubs compete in both national and world championships.

"We travel for tournaments, including the World Championship, every two years. So, we see cool places and meet great people from Australia, Colombia, South Africa, and the Netherlands," Grimm says.

Underwater hockey clubs consist of both men and women of all ages from all walks of life.

"We have polo players, entrepreneur, software engineers, doctors and parking attendants," Hyunh says, "I love that I'm almost 50 competing against up and coming 20-year-olds."

"Players have their kids playing at the age of 8, and we have a few playing into their 70s," Grimm says. "It's one sport that you can play at a recreational level as long as you as you want."

Players say people don't have to have experience in the water, because the sport focuses more on skills and endurance.

According to Levy, "Strong and fit is not much of advantage. All body types, male and female are equal when immersed in the water."

There are currently about 50 clubs in 28 states.

Underwater hockey is growing in schools around the country. A faculty member at Roger Bacon High school in Cincinnati created the team in the late 90s after playing the sport in college, making it one of the few high school teams in the nation. The University of Florida, Georgia State University, University of Illinois and George Mason University also have club teams.

Grimm, Levy and Hyunh agree that anyone interested in underwater hockey should contact their local club team and try it.

"Just come out," Grimm says, "We will teach you how to play and make sure your comfortable in the water."

For more information on underwater hockey, visit the USA Underwater Hockey site at http://www.usauwh.com/.