In evolution, animals migrated from the water to land. In team sports, the opposite appears to be happening. And the fittest on land may not necessarily be the best player in the water.
#147;We get all ages, shapes, sizes, genders,? said David Sun, founder of the Beltway Bottom Feeders, a Washington, D.C.-area underwater hockey group.
Hockey ? underwater? ?Heck, yeah!? Sun exclaimed. He is even an adjunct professor of the sport at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
But more than hockey is turning people into aquatic creatures again. Thanks to zero-gravity equalization and the expansion of water-based activities, volleyball, basketball and even rugby also have found their way into the pool and are growing in popularity.
?It?s more comfortable being in the water,? said John Spannuth, president/CEO of U.S. Water Fitness in Boynton Beach, Fla. ?It feels better in the water, and you don?t have the exhaustion you do [on land].?
Enthusiasts agree. ?It?s very low-injury and it?s a water activity, zero-gravity,? said David Andrews, former president of the Palm Beach Underwater Hockey Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. A skin diver and longtime UWH player, Andrews plays even though he has a pacemaker.
Underwater hockey, also called ?Octopush? in other nations, involves moving a puck along the pool bottom into the opponents? goal. Players don fins, diving masks and snorkels, as well as a mouth guard, water polo-style cap and a glove to avoid scrapes. They use a short stick to push the puck.
In underwater rugby, a weighted ball must be sunk into the opponents? goal on the pool bottom. In Boston, there?s a loyal following a mass of men and women in fins and diving masks push their way throughout the three-dimensional underwater playing field. There?s even a USA team in the men?s and women?s divisions that plays in world championships.
Underwater hockey and rugby are recognized sports by the Underwater Society of America, which includes free diving, fin swimming, underwater photography and scuba diving.
Water basketball and volleyball, on the other hand, are played in the zones above the water. Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind., hosts a popular water basketball program every winter. It works well in the school?s aging pool, said Rin Seibert, the university?s director of recreational sports. Participants play in deep water, with substitutes filling in the five-person teams. Spannuth said the game is an excellent way to draw in kids, particularly on a hot summer day.
?A lot of pools are missing the boat by not putting in water basketball [nets],? he said. ?It will help increase attendance and reduce the trouble kids get into.?
Water volleyball, too, is gaining speed. ?If you have more of a leisure type pool, the facilities are lending themselves to [more] water play,? Seibert said. At Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas, all students are invited to join a team except, ironically, collegiate volleyball players.
Briley Bergen, coordinator of team sales at Adolph Kiefer & Associates in Zion, Ill., said the trends are spreading through the university scenes via intramural and club sports. ?Once [my school] picked up underwater hockey, and so many other schools signed up for it, [the school] picked up a lot of other sports as well,? said the recent graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill.
The school?s inner-tube water polo and water basketball teams became popular alternatives to typical intramural sports such as softball and flag football. It all adds up to a big score for aquatics.