by Terry Maas and David Sipperly

Underwater Hockey

underwater hockey curl

If you love the water, enjoy team play and are looking for a way to stay in excellent shape, then underwater hockey is your sport.

Originally played by freedivers to stay in shape during the winter months, underwater hockey has developed into a highly organized and competitive sport over the last 15 years. This lively sport enjoys national and international recognition. To help us explain the basics, we've interviewed Kendall Banks and Tim Burke, two nationally recognized competitors with world championship experience. Tim was the 1996 Underwater Society of America's Underwater Hockey Athlete of the year. Kendall has served as National Underwater Hockey Director for the Underwater Society of America and has represented the United States eight times on the national team in world play; his teammates have elected him captain seven times.

Underwater hockey is loads of fun, but be forewarned: this is one tough sport. It's like running up and down a flight of stairs on a single breath, breathing again at the bottom of the stairs and then repeating this cycle for fifteen minutes. It is a high intensity, anaerobic sport that requires excellent physical fitness. "Although long breath-holds are helpful, they are not critical to success," Tim stresses. "It is more important to couple short, effective breath-hold times-enough to complete each play-with short surface intervals."

In underwater hockey, two teams of six, wearing only masks, fins and snorkels, compete in a swimming pool. Their objective is to drive the puck with short hockey sticks into their opponent's goal. "It is similar to ice hockey, where speed, puck control, passing and awareness of others is critical," says Tim. "Yet it is played on the bottom of a swimming pool while you hold your breath.".............

Underwater hockey gear

The rules are simple: no standing on the pool bottom or blatant fouling (holding or grabbing another). Although incidental contact does occur, underwater hockey is still considered a non-contact sport. Are there any risks? Sure—blackout from over-exertion, broken noses and teeth from puck-passing and ruptured eardrums from fin slaps are possible, but rare; and, in most cases, preventable with the use of proper gear. The most common injuries are bruises and cuts on the knees and knuckles caused by striking the pool bottom or being hit by sticks and pucks.

The gear required to play underwater hockey is minimal. “All you need are mask, fins, snorkel, a glove, hockey stick, head and ear protection, a mouth guard and a good roll of duct-tape,” says Kendall. You can purchase most of the special gear from the Underwater Society of America (USofA).” Use duct-tape for field repairs or for securing fins to your feet............

Three players try for the puck

Finally, don’t forget your mouth guard. It is made from the chin strap of a roller blade helmet cut to fit around the mouthpiece of your snorkel. Duct-tape is often used to secure it in place. The mouth guard is the newest piece of safety equipment mandated by the USofA because there have been several occasions where divers required extensive dental treatment after receiving a blow to the mouth from a puck.

Tim is quick to offer some advice to beginners. “Keep your stick out in front of you at all times, limit your breath-hold times to short, effective  durations and otherwise follow the play on the surface,” he says. “Work on puck-handling, shooting and curling. Coordinate the timing of your surface dive to anticipate the play and your teammates. Improve your physical conditioning by swimming with and without fins.”

You can locate the closest underwater hockey team in your area by contacting the USofA or your local dive shop. Because teams are always looking for new players, they often recruit by conducting training seminars and demonstrations. We’re confident that you will find this sport exciting, and an excellent way to stay in shape during the “off season.”




designed by Mark Peaslee,
Copyright 1998 Terry Maas and David Sipperly,
BlueWater Freedivers