After nine years in tropical Singapore and a love for freediving under my belt, my family and I relocated to cold Ottawa, Canada. Saying goodbye was hard and I miss SG and the freediving community immensely.
To help move on, I focused on discovering the potential positives of my new home.
As they say, “When in Rome…do as the Romans do.” or...
“When in Singapore… take advantage of the tropical weather, year-round outdoor pools, and amazing freediving destinations nearby.” or...
“When in Canada… uhhhh…mmmm... play hockey?”
While hockey is the national sport of Canada, the thought of slap shots and hockey fights seemed too much a departure from the peace I discovered freediving. I just didn’t have it in me to transition from gliding, submerged, through 26-degree water to slipping, sliding, and banging around on minus 4-degree ice.
Unfortunately, Ottawa is hours away from the nearest established freediving community and even farther from a trace of visibility in open water.
Then I heard about Underwater Hockey (UWH): freediving’s distant, not-so-zen, yet still sub-aquatic and apnea-laced cousin. I signed up right anyway (every Tuesday evening!) with Gatineau-Ottawa Underwater Hockey Subaquatique. It felt like a compromise, but I needed to get back underwater somehow.
On my first night, the athletes told me the game would be fast-paced and suggested I watch from the pool deck. I insisted I play from the opening face-off. Sink or swim - right?
The pool is partitioned off underwater to form a 25x15 meters rink.
10 minutes in, I asked/gasped through my snorkel (which includes a built-in mouthguard), “how long before a break?”
“No breaks,” barked a player who looked like a lumberjack in a speedo as he dove right back to the weighted puck at the bottom of the pool.
I tried to spend a bit longer chasing players and the puck around the underwater “rink” at the bottom of the 2.5-meter pool. After a fin kick to my ribs, I resurfaced again, completely depleted. I asked the next player who surfaced about the half time.
“No half time,” he spat, then dove back to the bottom.
I soon realized the trend. The underwater part of underwater hockey is non-negotiable and an underwater hockey player on the surface is useless. It’s a suck it up and go-hard-for-an-hour-straight kind of training experience. It’s get some CO2 tolerance or bust. Your teammates are counting on you to be underwater to receive a pass or defend a shot.
The players are serious and tough underwater but super friendly once the match is over.
The closest thing I can think of in freediving is the Sweet 16 set. Go fast. Go hard. Rest after it’s done. During the Sweet 16, the diver attempts to relax through contractions while maintaining a fast, steady kick and streamline position. In UWH, however, a player’s body contorts into a myriad of shapes while maneuvering for the puck. Contractions are a far second in the discomfort category to getting kicked in the side by a lumberjack with stiff fins. Underwater hockey is supposed to be a non-contact game, but as I’ve learned, we wear a glove, headgear, and a mouthguard for a reason.
Specialized equipment keeps UWH players safe and moving through the water at a fast pace.
Halfway through this UWH season, I’m catching on to the pace of the game. I’ve rediscovered how to decrease the turnaround time between dives and can attack the puck at the bottom more instead of watching from the surface. I also conceded to the physicality of the sport and adopted more of a hockey player mentality. Next, I’ll work on stick control to maneuver and protect the puck better. Played well, it is a tough and graceful kind of sport. Players move like giant seals chasing a toy. I’m getting there week by week.
Like freediving, underwater hockey is a fun, challenging, and fast-growing sport. For me, the best part about it is that, according to a freediving instructor who trained both freedivers and UWH players, the transition back to freediving from UWH is smooth. In UWH your body is in constant motion and CO2 production is super high. When you head back to freediving and look for some depth or take a long underwater pool swim, your mind (and body) is much better prepared to face those unavoidable urges to breathe.If you want to learn more about UWH or are in Ottawa for a visit and want to try it yourself, contact email@example.com.