Governed by the CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques), Underwater Hockey is a minimal contact sport played in two-dozen countries. Basically, it’s like hockey, but underwater. In a swimming pool, two teams of six wearing snorkels, masks, fins, and gloves use miniature one-handed hockey sticks to maneuver a three-pound lead puck into the opposing team's goal, a 10-foot metal tray. Here in Shanghai the sport is represented by the Shanghai Azures.
Founded in 2011 by Singaporean native Alice Chong and Columbian Jamie Andres Garcia, Shanghai Azures is the city’s only underwater hockey league—and it’s still going strong. They get together for training and scrimmages three times a week for two- to three-hour sessions at the Jing'an Sports Center Swimming Pool. Members pay RMB5000 in annual dues. No one in the organization was able to offer a satisfactory explanation for such a steep price other than Saturday training fees and pool rental costs. Non-members play RMB150 to join Saturday sessions. On top of that, Tuesday and Thursday training sessions go for RMB70 and RMB150, respectively. These fees are paid by members and non-members alike. So, suffice it to say, if you want to play, plan on committing some serious money and time.
Club leader Hazel Zheng explains that while “underwater hockey is a sport that requires teamwork and skills, it is actually easy to learn.” The Azures are currently focusing on expansion. If you’re a complete novice, don’t fret—they run a beginner class at the start of each month, incorporating training from professional coaches. You can rent or buy equipment from the club too.
On day one you’ll be mastering the art of holding your breath, diving underwater, swimming freely and the simple movement of pushing the puck. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be eligible to join in national tournaments such as the China Cup, the New Talent Tournament, and a handful of other competitions in Asia. One of Shanghai Azure’s A-team and longstanding member of four years, Lisa Zhang recalls her fondest memory: “In Chengdu for the China cup we showed great teamwork and cohesion during the final. The performance of the whole team was unforgettable.”
It’s a sport that doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, career or body type, and instead, as Zheng explains, connects a community of enthusiasts from all walks of life. Members range from 20 to 50 years old and work in middle or top management roles in different professions. The Azures even have eight members who play for the national team.
One of the benefits of being a part of the underwater hockey club is the sense of camaraderie and team spirit. This sport is ideal for those who enjoy swimming or have a water sports background but want to challenge themselves and be a part of a team. For those reasons Shell Wu and Joan Lu signed up 18 months ago and never looked back. “I like water, but I find swimming boring. I had been looking for a sport that requires skill and teamwork. I love the passion for sports and life in the group,” says Shell. Joan agrees, adding, “I love the trust and solidarity among team members.” This trust is essential particularly underwater when vocal signals are useless. On average, players can hold their breath for 30 seconds, so the coordination of breathing is essential to scoring points.
The high spirits often continue after training sessions. One of Lisa's favorite things about being on the team is dining together post practice when the group hangout and catch up. “The club is like a family, we often organize different activities outside of training,” adds Zheng.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, there’s no overlooking the fact that underwater hockey is a great workout. It’s a combination of both cardio training and anaerobic explosive force that will whip you into shape, and, as Zheng points out, “It’s safer than regular hockey, and brings little damage to your knees.”
So if you’re looking for a slightly unorthodox team sport, check out the Shanghai Azures Underwater Hockey club. You'll join an inclusive community that promotes camaraderie, teamwork, and last but not least, a good workout.
Where: Jing'an Sports Center Swimming Pool, 151 Kangding Lu (near Changhua Lu), 康定路151号(近昌化路)
When: Tuesday 7-9pm, Thursday 6:45-8:45pm, Saturday 9am-12pm.
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