Octopush: Underwater Hockey

There’s hockey. There’s ice-hockey. And then there’s Underwater Hockey, originally known as ‘Octopush’, the sport was invented in 1954 by Alan Blake of the Southsea ub-Aqua Club. It was first put to test at that very club by divers John Ventham, Frank Lilleker and Jack Willis. This is a quirky sport devoted to having fun in the water. It is also highly egalitarian given the fact that just about anyone can play with great flair. Another motivation to create such a hybrid sport was probably to maintain the clientele base at the club even during winter when it was too cold to dive into the sea.

The original rules required a team of eight players, thus supplying the first part of the name, ‘Octo’, a heavy bat called ‘pusher’ was used and also provided the latter part of the name ‘push’. An uncoated lead puck christened ‘squid’ and lastly a goal initially known as a ‘cuttle’ but soon after renamed ‘gully’ were what were required to play the game. The first Octopush competition between clubs was a three-way play-off between teams from Southsea, Bournemouth and Brighton in early 1955. Southsea proved victorious in the submerged sport and are still a force to reckon with at a national level.

Octopush is defined as a non-contact sport in the same vein as basketball. The rules of the game thwart the use of brute force. Play is conducted solely on the bottom of the pool so efficacy is determined by how much time a player can spend at the bottom of the pool. With exertion plummeting bottom time to an average of 30 seconds, Octopush is a true mascot of team spirit bar none. Since no player can stay below for long stretches and is dependent on his team members to pick up slack when one goes up for air.

Underwater hockey can be played as a casual sport and even as a serious competition. Whether the players are horsing around in the water or being fiercely competitive, Octopush provides incredible exercise to improve free diving skills and diving muscles.

A player must work his/her way through a mildly extensive list of equipment that are specifically chosen to aid the sustainability of the game. A small volume free diving mask, large bore snorkels, ear plugs, soft free diving fins, heavy weight gardening gloves covered with aquaseal and a specially designed stick are not only tools, some are explicitly recommended to protect the player from any untoward course taken by the puck which may cause substantial physical damage.

Plunged into a 25m x 15m and 2m deep all the way across, players aim for lead weights 3 meters of rope that can be used for goals, but professionals testify that the ‘thunk’ of the puck against the metal goal is tremendously gratifying. With the teams lined up at either end and the puck in the middle at the start of the game, teams play zones as in basketball with forward offensive players and back defensive players.

An offensive player, the Centre tries to get the preliminary possession of the puck. Wings (right and left) take it upon themselves to score goals and steal the puck from the opposing team’s defense. Burdened with the task of limiting the other team’s offense, Halfbacks follow the play closely in order to be in a rewarding position so as to do his/her role justice. Playing the ‘pivot point’ the entire defense is played out by the Swingback. With game play lasting 15 minutes, Octopush is refereed by a total of three referees, two in the water and one on the pool deck to track time and penalties.

Extensive change in equipment, team size and other supplementary factors have made Octopush the international sport it is today. Vastly popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the Netherlands and France along with Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and many others, World Championships are held every two years. At the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) 14th World Underwater Hockey Championship held in 2006 in Sheffield, England, 44 teams competed in six age and gender categories.

Definitely not a spectator sport, Octopush is indeed a fascinating sport that should be fun for those willing to experiment with a sport that thrills!

Anandi Bandyopadhyay