Can you name a team sport played in the water? Yeah, water polo, thank you. This 200 year old sport sport is originated from Great Britain. It quickly became popular, only 10 years has passed between the first international waterpolo match in 1890 and waterpolo's introduction as the first olympic team sport in 1900. A version different from nowdays waterpolo became popular in the US, much more similar to underwater rugby, till US teams comformed to the international rules around 1914.
But water polo is the old fashined mother of the underwater game what you get when you mix football and polo . Underwater rugby is emerging globally and it's played in 27 countries around the world. It's a sport invented 53 years ago in Köln, Germany at a diving club to improve the fittnes of the divers. Ludwig von Bersuda ( Kudos to you! ) was the first one who filled balls up with salty water so they would sink to the bottom of pools and claimed the game played with these balls underwater rugby. It has similarities with traditional rugby, but since there is much less risk of injuries, it can be played by anyone regardless of age or gender.
So what are the basics? Underwater rugby is played in a pool were the lenght is between 12-18m (cca. 39-59 feet), the width is between 8-12m (cca. 26-39 feet) and the depth is between 3.5 - 5m. (cca. 11-16 feet) Each team has 12 players. During the game 6 players are in the pool with 6 exchange players on the side who can be substituted at any time. The players wear fins, a diving mask and snorkel, so forget about scuba gear, this game requires a minimum level of fitness. The aim is for the teams to place the ball in the goals that are placed on the bottom of each side of the pool, contact is allowed only with the player carrying the ball. That's pretty much it, simple and eventful. You can watch tutorials in english and in german here.
Why is it great?
- It's the only truly 3 dimensional teamsport as far as I know, not considering virtual games on computers. Seriously, think about it? Ever thought t he scenes of the movie Gravity were cool, fancied the Quidditch of Harry Potter? Then you are going to love this! Total freedom of movement, like you were floating… As you are indeed floating :) Same with passes and attacks. Attacks may come from any direction, but you can avoid the ball being taken by passing it on in any direction.
- It quickly creates a bond between the players. Think about it. As the motto of Graz's team says, underwater, noone can hear you scream. In order to have efficient teamplay going on, you have to know your teammates, and they have to know you, how you play, what your tactics are, as the communication underwater is very limited. (mostly to hand signals)
- Lower risk of injuries. Underwater rugby is indeed a tough sport, yet, the risks are lower as it does not cause the injuries from running, stopping suddenly or being run into, and so on. In the water, even fists come at you with smaller force being stopped by water's resistance. Agression and violance are forbidden.
- Simple sport, at least regarding the rules. For those, who were not born and raised in the US, baseball can be quite confusing for the first time. Who does what and why? UWR is as simple as a muay thai match. Get the ball in the other team's goal :) Of course, if you want to succeed, you cant avoid adopting lots and lots of tactics, but as an observer, not knowing these would not limit the experience of watching a game.
- Efficient workout. Some do jogging or swimming to achieve their goals keeping themselves healthy. UWR offers the same results, with some additional training of the cardio-vascular system. And lots of fun!
- Nice prospects. As it is a very young, developing sport, it offers a chance for everyone to become top-class player without having to give up your life and job :) And as it is a smaller community, you may get to know a lot of similar minded, interesting people from all over the world. Besides, as it is still a developing sport, even the best teams and players are doing it because of their dedication and love, not for money which stands as a great example for others and very motivational.
- It is for everyone regardless of age, gender. I think it's really nice that for each type of person the sport offers an ideal position. For those who are fast, agile and constantly feel to urge to charge at full throttle it is best to play as an attacker, but the complete opposites, slower and larger players can be also great players as defender or goal-keeper, specially it they play their position disciplined. Some tournaments feature woman leagues too, some have mixed teams.
Where to try it out?
One great source to find a team where you can play is http://uwr1.de/vereine . In the following list I would include some of my personal recommendations, in case you are visiting any of these cities, I think it's worth to contact the local teams, they would gladly provide you with the gear to be able to try out or at least check out the sport.
The swimming pool "Piscines Municipals de Montjuïc" is at the Montjuïc Mountain in Barcelona, Spain. This is a fabulous outdoor Olympic swimming pool built for the 1992 Olympic Games diving events. It has a seating capacity of 4.100 spectators and has a breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Is there any place cooler than this to play UWR? :)
Amanda Barsten started out as a swimmer but got hooked on underwater rugby 11 years ago. Now she playes in one of the best UWR team of the world. Nice place to start a sport, right? Truth is, if you are visiting a nordic country, you are in a country which is in the forefront of the sport and you can learn a lot from them. No wonder the so called "Molde tactics" were developed in this region which nowdays define the way teams play underwater rugby.
Colombia is a country where underwater rugby quickly started prospering. Maybe it's because that the weather is perfect throughout the whole year to play it outside in open air pools, but there are hundreds of players in Medellín and also many-many clubs. There is probably no rugby player who has not seen the Orca's catchy youtube promo video, but I would recommend visiting trainings of Pablo Ramirez Zapata's new club called "Koral". He started rugby at the age of 14 and absolutely dedicated to it!
Hungary is very rich in water sources, not only its a water collecting basin (the Carpathian-basin) but there are many springs where large amounts of hot mineral water gush forth, no wonder many b eautiful historical thermal baths are to be found in Budapest. According to expat player Whitney Printup the local team "Tiszavirág" ( mayfly, a unique insect which is responsible for the breath-taking phenomenom, the blooming of the Tisza river ) has a lot of experience in hosting guest-players from all over the world with great Hungarian hospitability.
This club is very young, not even two years old, and has been founded by a Hungarian expat. Needless to say, very friendly people help you to start the sport here!
The most succesful team in Germany, and one of the bests worldwide too.
It is hard to pick one from the czech cities which offer a possibility to try the sport. ( Ústí nad Labem, Praha, Pardubice, České Budějovice ) Brno is another university city which has just started to use it's source of players from two of the largest schools in the Czech Republic. Brno used to be one of the worst teams in the central european league, but recently became much better, nearly winning some tournaments despite having to train in a relativly large pool (20 * 8 meters, 5m deep). In my opinion in the next few years Brno's team will become a force to reckon with!
In my opinion there is no city in the world more breath-taking and beautiful than Salzburg which is a result of many lucky coindicences such as being a student city with a well preserved old town and rich cultural history thanks to the wealth provided by the salt mines in the medieval era. The scenic alpine surroundings crowns all of this. Yet, the team I recommend joining for training is Graz, as they are the ones who has been hosting the now 2 day long UWR festival called Steirischen Panther for 13 years now. Great atmosphere, great pools, pure fun!
Same reason as above! Amazing city with rich cultural heritage and welcoming spirits! Make sure you visit during their 2 day long tournament.
İzmir, aka. the Pearl of the Aegeanon, one of the most beautiful and modern city of Turkey, is famous for nature gifts, beaches and touristical places. Underwater rugby (UWR) is very popular in İzmir and the most qualified players are mostly from İzmir. According to latest international tournaments, over than 80% of Turkish UWR team has been consisted of players from the teams from İzmir. There are three swimming pools in the city where UWR can be played. The most appropriate swimming pool in İzmir is "Prof.Dr.Sermed Akgün Swimming Pool" which is located in the Ege University Campus area. It is 50 meters long with 8 lines and 4.5 meter deep. Most of Turkish National Championcups are organized in this pool. Turkish UWR society is very friendly and they are open-minded to organize international tournaments in this lovely city which has been founded about 5000 years ago.
Saint Peterspurg is called "the cultural capital of Russia". Why? Beccase here are a lot of palaces, museums, beautiful streets and spirit of beauty. And of course well known White nights in June. This is the time when sun doesn't set at all and you get a constant mixture of day and night. You can walk a night long and even don't notice that it's night. It's impossible to come to Saint Petersburg only once, if you visit this city for the first time you always want to come back.
Right smack at the equator is the tropical country, Singapore. This clean and green city is not only known for its vibrant lifestyle and exciting food choices, but also its warm and humid climate. That is the reason why this country is perfect for Underwater Rugby.
First Asian Team Underwater Rugby (Singapore), FATUWR was born in May 2014, founded by Khee Chia How. Although the team is young, it currently has about 25-30 consistent members and is rapidly growing in numbers. With such geographical advantage, it is part of the club's ambitions to grow the sport into the rest of Asia. The team trains every Saturday morning, 9-11am, in a warm and cosy swimming pool of 4.5m deep all year round.
The truth is, I could make this list extra long, but maybe it's better if you check the list of the teams mentioned above for one near you. If you can't find any, don't worry, you could just as well start one, if you feel determined!
You can find instructions on the net how to fill up the proper size ball with salty water and until you figure out how to mount the goals to the bottom, you can just use weights to keep them at their place. The lack of a proper pool nearby is not neccesarily a problem even, at least I've seen videos in which people play in the sea!
Hope to see you underwater soon!