Spending a lengthy spell at the bottom of a swimming pool may appear a daunting prospect for many. However, with the aid of a snorkel, fins and a small stick, the members of the Edinburgh Underwater Hockey Club relish making the plunge to the lower depths to become embroiled in a sporting tussle.
Despite its relative obscurity, underwater hockey in Scotland and across the United Kingdom is thriving. Competitions run throughout the year at both local and national level with Edinburgh excelling on both fronts.
The club head south to Sheffield next weekend to compete in the British Octopush Association (BOA) UK National Championships where player and club chairman Tim Dale is hoping for a creditable performance from his squad.
Dale said: “Our squad has recently been competing at a very high level in Britain with us winning Division Two and being promoted to the top division which has put us in the top six in the country.
“We’re missing a few key players ahead of Sheffield for one reason or another, so it might be a difficult task for us, but we’ll be giving it our best shot.
“It’s a difficult sport to get going as there is not that many people who have heard of it. It has grown quite a lot in recent years, however, with relatively new clubs starting out in Dundee, Oban and Stirling University. I am certainly keen to see more participation within our club to get the best out of the players we have.”
The game emerged on the English coast in Southsea almost 60 years ago as a group of divers, keen to maintain their fitness levels during the winter months, used their snorkels to push a dive weight along the bottom of the pool in a game originally known as “octopush” with teams consisting of eight players. This has since increased to a squad of ten, and Dale is quick to compliment the individuals who are putting Edinburgh on the map.
“It is recognised around the world as underwater hockey, but the name ‘octopush’ is very historic and particular to Britain as well. We are the only country in the world that still refers to the game as ‘octopush’.
“The BOA is run by volunteers and is investing well in the marketing side of things, so I think it is improving the knowledge and awareness of the sport.
“We have an excellent mix with the beginners, but some really good players as well. I am captain of the national men’s team and I think in the last Scotland game we had six of the 12 players were from Edinburgh, and there is also a decent representation with the ladies as well.
“My wife is a former Great Britain captain and also has a bronze from the world championships, so there is a lot of international experience in the city.”
Having faced some of the world’s best players, Dale recalls his days at university when he first familiarised himself with the sport.
A keen swimmer from an early age, Dale was given earth-shattering news that he had cancer at just 18 years old, a form of lymphoma which left the teenager requiring treatment that would ultimately hinder his future participation and sporting capabilities.
He said: “I started playing at university in Aberdeen in 1995. I was quite a strong swimmer and enjoy a lot of water sports, so felt this was a much more enjoyable way rather than just swimming up and down a pool. I had Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer, when I was 18 and one of the side effects from the steroids was it killed the blood supply to my right hip.
“Therefore, all the land-based sports were too sore for me, so underwater hockey was great for me to take up and I have enjoyed it ever since.”
For anyone interested in attending beginner sessions with the Edinburgh Underwater Hockey Club, please contact club chairman Tim Dale at email@example.com.