You’ll need a lot of gear — and a lot of breath — for this intense workout.
ABOVE WATER, underwater hockey looked like roiling chaos in the pool, with jets of water shooting out of snorkels and people kicking each other with long fins.
Underwater, it was elegant and intense, with players diving after a weighted puck on the white-tile bottom of the pool, pushing it with their sticks and swimming over and around each other, like tumbling porpoises.
I heard about underwater hockey at another pool, and was curious to find out more. A quick search led me to the Seahammers, a local underwater hockey team. The only local underwater hockey team?
USA Underwater Hockey
While it might sound obscure, the players are dedicated to their sport.
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“I’m seriously crazy about it,” said Seahammers founder Pat Carboneau. A few players recently went to the world championships in South Africa.
I went to the pool at Matt Griffin YMCA in SeaTac to find out more at a regular session. There’s a steep learning curve to the game, so rather than jump into the chaos, I borrowed a mask and watched underwater.
The players wear masks and snorkels, which help them keep their eyes on the puck while still coming up for air. They also have a small stick, and wear fins to help them swim fast and dive to the bottom of the pool, where the action happens.
When learning underwater hockey, the first key part is learning how to snorkel, said player Christina Jones. From there, you have to learn to get to the bottom of the pool to push the 3-pound puck, and then you learn positioning, techniques and strategy.
This snorkeling requires holding your breath. While some players described it as fast-paced, others said you wanted to maintain your Zen underwater, or else you use up all your oxygen. I know I got tired from multiple dives underwater to observe the game. Holding your breath is not easy.
But you hold your breath for only 5 to 10 seconds at a time, Jones said. The key is to be strategic about when you get air, to help your teammates with the puck.
The game is also fast. Most of the time, multiple players battled at once for the puck at the bottom of the pool. Occasionally, I saw sprints where a player grabbed the puck and swam straight across the bottom of the pool to the underwater goal.
While the gear list is long, including water-polo caps and a glove for your hand with the stick, the game is accessible for newcomers. Strong swimmers excel, but the fins mean anyone really can do it, players said.
Like any water sport, it’s also an intense workout. The players basically sprinted whenever the puck was in play, going between the surface and the bottom of the pool, and chasing after the puck below.
It was surprisingly fun to watch how the players timed their dives and worked with each other underwater, where the only sound is the clack of the sticks and puck. I couldn’t tell how they communicated, but they all knew when fouls were called and would surface to pause the game. After a couple of breaths, they were back at it.
The pool had a shallow and a deep end, and it clearly got harder in deeper water.
I was impressed by the players’ focus, and the physicality. They were swimming on top of and around each other, and still stayed calm. They also were friends, and many said the camaraderie is a reason they keep playing.
If you love team sports and are interested in ramping up your swimming endurance, consider the call of underwater hockey.