by Julia Steele
Here in the Great Blue South,
photo by Joe Graziano
you might not expect to find much from the Great White North. But believe it or not, hockey has actually gained a footing here. Actually, make that a finning, as in fins, great long ones, which players employ instead of skates—for while hockey in the Islands is played around water just as it is in Canada, here that water is not frozen. In fact, it is warm, chlorinated and contained in a swimming pool.
Welcome to the sport of underwater hockey, where lungs are challenged, swimsuits are de rigueur, and pucks rarely move fast enough to break teeth. In this hydro environment, play works like this: There are two teams, each with six players who carry hockey sticks (much smaller than the real thing). They swim along the bottom of the pool, battling to get as many shots as they can through the goal posts and diving up and down incessantly to replenish their air supply; as you might expect, and as longtime player Jerard "Ziggy" Jardin confirms, the greatest challenge of the sport is holding your breath.
Ziggy is part of a team of underwater hockey aficionados that plays Monday and Wednesday nights at the University of Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku pool; there is also a second, newer club that plays Saturday mornings at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base. This Labor Day weekend, the UH players will host the Pacific Coast Championships. Teams from across the United States and Canada will challenge each other, and there are rumors Australian and Filipino teams may also show up. In the more formalized championship play, games have two ten-minutes halves with a five-minute break between, and teams of six are strictly composed of three men and three women. Play will take place at the UH pool from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. September 3rd to 5th and attendance is free—but don’t expect to see the Hawaii players triumph.
"We’re usually in last place," Ziggy says with a laugh, noting that he and his teammates are more concerned with exercise and camaraderie than trophies and welcome drop-in novice players during regular games. But they do have one secret weapon: Annabel Briseno, who holds several world free-diving records, often swims with the group.
Underwater Hockey Pacific Coast Championships