Bromley's unknown sporting heroes swim beneath the surface
PUBLISHED: 13:50 15 August 2013 | UPDATED: 13:50 15 August 2013
When preparing for a hockey match it's important to have all the correct equipment.
So that’s a puck, a stick, a goal, some flippers and a snorkel. Wait, something has gone wrong there. Or has it?
For almost 60 years teams across the globe have been competing in underwater hockey, a niche sport played by strong swimmers and those with marine-like lung capacity.
West Wickham Hockey Club has been one of the UK’s leading “octopush” teams since it formed in 1974. It has won the national championship three times and has been in the top three teams in the UK for 25 of its 39 years in the pool.
This month six of the team’s stars will represent the Great British elite men’s squad when they travel to Hungary for the world championships.
Club chairman Paul Pizzey explains the sport, though relatively unheard of, is building momentum and has a lot more players worldwide than you may think.
“The world championships are a great example of how the sport is up and coming. This is the 18th and biggest championship so far, with 20 nations and about 1,000 players taking part.
“It’s a niche sport, but there are more than 100 clubs in the UK and it’s proving quite popular at universities – so there are even more teams out there on campuses.”
Much like field hockey, its underwater counterpart is a game of two halves and typically lasts between 16 and 24 minutes depending on the level.
Scores are relatively low but the fitness levels are incredible as the players dive up to three metres below the surface to flick, block, tackle and shoot.
Though underwater, Paul says the sport is much faster than people first think – but it can be difficult to watch for new spectators.
He said: “The water can restrict your movement but if you see a guy with strong legs kick his flippers, you’d be surprised at how much speed he can build up.
“Some spectators may find it very challenging to watch but you find some pools have windows below the surface where people can watch more clearly.
“Technology has advanced so much that the world championships are broadcast online with small cameras underwater following the action.”
Those travelling to Hungary with the British squad are Scott Allen, Rob Howard, Karl Speed, Chris Alwin, Peter Hodge, and Des Matthewman – six of West Wickham’s 28 registered players.
But it’s the British women who are a force to be reckoned with on the global stage, having scooped the past three world championship titles.
The sport is mixed at club level and West Wickham’s men and women train together at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre on Thursday nights and at The Walnuts leisure centre in Orpington on Monday evenings.
“It’s a sport unlike others because it’s played at the lower levels mixed,” says Paul. “Under water weight and size matter slightly less but at the higher levels the two genders are separated.”
Juniors are also encouraged to try the sport and West Wickham has youth sessions on Sundays at de Stafford Sports Centre in Caterham.
To find out more about the sport, visit facebook.com/westwickhamuwh.