Welcome to the world of underwater hockey!
This unique sport has been gaining popularity all around the world and for good reason. It combines elements of hockey, freediving and swimming into a challenging and exciting game played entirely underwater. Often players who are most successful in this game are swimmers and surfers with great ability to hold and recover their breath and can produce great speed underwater while demonstrating learned skills in puck control. It is also important that they can work well with their team members and take full advantage of their individual skills.
If you're looking for a fun and challenging sport, then underwater hockey might just be the sport for you.
Underwater Hockey: An Overview
In 1954, Alan Blake, a founder-member of the newly formed Southsea Sub-Aqua Club introduced underwater hockey in the United Kingdom. Blake and other divers, including John Ventham, Jack Willis, and Frank Lilleker, played the game for the first time in the Guildhall Baths in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.
The first rules were tested in a 1954 two-on-two game and Alan Blake made the following announcement in the November 1954 issue of the British Sub-Aqua Club's the-official magazine Neptune: "Our indoor training programme is getting under way, including wet activities other than in baths, and our new underwater game "Octopush". Of which more later when we have worked out the details``.
The first Octopush tournament took place in early 1955 and involved a three-way tournament between teams from Southsea, Bournemouth, and Brighton underwater hockey clubs.
The sport spread to Durban, South Africa, in the mid/late 1950s, when spearfishermen from the Durban Undersea Club (DUC) started playing the game in the pool of club member Max Doveton. The UK's Octopush used a small paddle to push the puck whilst the South Africans used a mini hockey stick. Whilst the "long stick" version of underwater hockey did spread outside of South Africa, the UK's 'short stick' version ultimately prevailed and is how UWH is universally played now.
In the Americas, underwater hockey first arrived in Canada in 1962 through Norm Leibeck, an unconventional Australian scuba diving instructor and dive shop owner, who introduced the sport to a Vancouver dive club.
Underwater hockey has been played in Australia since 1966, again thanks to Norm Leibeck, who returned from Canada with his Canadian bride Marlene. It now attracts players from a wide range of backgrounds, and the first Australian Underwater Hockey Championships were held in Margaret River, Western Australia, in 1975. A Women's division was added to the championships in 1981, and a Junior division commenced in 1990.
In Asia, the game first became known in the Philippines in the late 1970s through growing awareness of Octopush within the scuba diving community.
Footage from British Pathe of an early game at Aldershot Lido in 1967 and from British Sub-Aqua Club archives is evidence of how the sport has evolved in terms of equipment and playing style. The game used to be much slower, and the puck was not flicked at all, unlike the modern sport where significant changes in equipment, team size, and other factors have helped make it the international sport it is today, with 30 countries playing.