For many of the players on the Capital Region Underwater Hockey club (CRUWH), diving into the unusual sport was a happy accident.
“We get people who come to the pool to swim laps and they’re like ‘What is that? That looks more fun than what I’m doing’,” says Jen Whitman, a player for CRUWH who assists with promotion.
The underwater hockey team practices Thursday evenings at the Oak Marr Recreation Center in Oakton and, unlike the lap swimmers the pool typically hosts, it’s a sight to see.
Invented in 1954 by Englishman Alan Blake, underwater hockey is exactly what the name promises. A leaded puck stays at the bottom of the pool and six players on each team—all wearing snorkeling gear, ear protection, glove, mouth guard and armed with a short hockey stick—face off and try to score goals. The catch? Players have to strategically alternate between playing and surfacing for air.
Experienced swimmers and water polo players tend to be good fits for the sport.
“Good swimmers will be fast and able to be [under water] a lot, but they tend to be slower picking up the stick skills and game strategy; while good water polo players have both the swimming skill and pick up the game strategy more quickly,” says Whitman.
Blake originally invented the sport to keep the members of his scuba diving club competitive when they were confined to the pool during the winter months. The quirky sport was intended to give his swimmers something fun to do in a team atmosphere—and it’s in that spirit that CRUWH has flourished.
“I’ve always liked swimming, and swimming laps seemed really boring, so it seemed like an exciting way to work out,” says Brittany Haughton, a Springfield-based veterinarian, who began playing the sport in Canada and found friends through itwhen she moved to Northern Virginia.
“It’s really social and you meet people from all over the world,” she says.
Stumbling upon the sport at the rec center isn’t the only way the club recruits players. George Mason University is one of about nine schools in the country, per USA Underwater Hockey, who count underwater hockey as an official club sport. The university team and the Capital Region team pool their resources and practice together, with experienced players from CRUWH serving as mentors to the younger GMU players.
They also compete together in tournaments, but in general, the sport is about having fun.
“I liked that it was unique and it looked like a sport people did for fun as opposed to going for times,” says Cody Spraker, an underwater hockey player and former triathlete.
However, there are a few local players who have taken the sport to the next level.
Whitman and Andrew Creedon competed on the U.S. team in July at the Underwater Hockey World Championships in Quebec. Haughton also participated as the elite men’s team manager.
Creedon picked up the sport in 2008 and made his first world team in 2013. Thanks to the sport, he has been all over North America and to Hungary, South Africa and Colombia. The sport had 15 countries represented in the previous world championships.
“The rewarding part is the friendship. I’ve been travelling with the same group of guys for 10 years. So I’m playing with the same guys I started with at George Mason,” says Creedon of his time playing competitively.
But if you still want to give the sport a try post-college, it’s not too late, says Whitman.
“One of the perks of the sport is you can jump into it as a college student or an adult and be pretty good,” she says. “It’s not like soccer or basketball where if you want to play at an international level you would have to start when you’re 5.”