Underwater Ice Hockey—Yes, It Exists!
Honestly, the title of this article sounds like a joke. Guess what? It isn’t! The absolute truth is, underwater ice hockey DOES exist and it is a recognized sport. There is even a world cup! How does one get into underwater ice hockey? It isn’t easy, but there are places where there are teams, and they are looking to expand the sport further into new places as well.
What Are the Basics?
Underwater ice hockey is a strange version of regular hockey. The idea for the sport is credited to one man, Christian Redi, who is a world-record-holder Austrian freediver. He has a number of records, but what makes him stand out is that most of his records happened under ice. He free dives in very cold waters. He also is a fan of ice hockey, and played it in his free time. It’s easy to see where this is leading…
As to the new sport, things are a bit different from regular ice hockey, and it isn’t actually a combination of scuba diving and hockey. The players do not wear scuba apparatus while playing, they normally surface every 30 seconds for air. This makes the game much more difficult, and keeps the players on their toes.
It is also not a requirement for the players to be upside down, as they are not using skates to get around, but regular diving fins. The puck floats, so it stays against the bottom of the ice. The players have to try to make plays while also worrying about when they need to get to air, and air holes are guarded fairly well by the other team.
The Ice Cometh
Playing on the bottom of the ice isn’t easy, either. Players usually have to find a good-sized lake that is fairly deep, and make sure it is frozen very well. The best sort of ice for an underwater ice hockey field is black ice, which is the ice that you find when you see a completely clear sheet over a lake. This is great for the sport, and is usually a very cool thing for spectators as well. Check out Lake Ice to get an idea why it’s the best: http://lakeice.squarespace.com/glossary/. Those setting up the field also are careful to keep away from frazil, which is the slushy type of ice under the main sheet near the edges of the water.
The Field of Battle
A field is drawn, and holes are cut into the ice to make sure the divers can get air. The fields aren’t very large, about six meters wide by eight meters long. Normally, a square field boundary is set on the surface, and can be easily seen through the ice.
Underneath the ice, a floating goal is placed, which is attached to corner barriers. These corner barriers can also be used as bounces for the players. They are attached in place by use of small spikes, to line up with the edges of the field above the ice. Once all of this is done, the combatants are pretty much ready to play.
strong>Playing Under the Water
The teams are one to two players per side. Just like in regular hockey, there are three time periods, though the periods of underwater ice hockey are a little shorter, only 10 minutes. There is also a 10-minute break in between periods for the players to warm up. Even though most of the players are high level athletes, these are extremely cold temperatures and the energy output is amazing, so this is a necessary safety requirement.
There are also four scuba divers per match for safety, because the play can get extremely disorienting, and it can be hard for a free diver at times to get their bearings enough to find an air hole. Obviously, a hand signal system exists to signal one of the safety divers to get a player to some air, quickly.
The Equipment Is the Same, but Different
Just as regular hockey sticks are not always made of solid wood, the sticks used in underwater ice hockey are different as well. Obviously, wood floats. This would be a pretty severe problem if you were going to play ice hockey upside down. Because of this, the sticks are made differently from normal hockey sticks. While they are still the same size and have the turned flat part on the business end, they are made from composite materials, being tailored for the striking end to be more buoyant than the handle. The whole thing rests in the water and lightly floats, but pointing straight up, which makes it a lot easier to use upside down and underwater.
Secondly, the puck is different. One obvious reason is that it floats, which is necessary for the game to be possible. The other is that it is much larger than a normal puck, being about the circumference of a small dinner plate. It has a little bit more thickness as well, and the edges, while still defined, are rounded just a little bit. But, in all honesty, it still looks like an oversized hockey puck. The game is even more interesting when you consider the fact that the puck doesn’t just glide against the underside of the ice, but changes speed and friction levels when hitting an air pocket.
It’s a Spectator Sport
Lots of people get together to watch the sport. When setting up the underwater rink, it's very common for underwater cameras to be placed as well, and fed to live feed monitors above the ice. People can also stand just outside the edge of the rink and watch through the ice, provided it’s clear enough. Many of the spectators are extreme sports people themselves, and really appreciate the action. Check out this video from YouTube about underwater ice hockey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58sa4r5k0zk.
There have also been a few world championship cups, the first being held in 2007, in Weissensee, Austria, and the second, in 2013, being held in the same place. Each one drew pretty large crowds, and a number of countries competed. Interestingly, some people from Siberia, Russia, took the idea to a new level and used full dive gear to actually play a full game. Check out some pictures of their game and details on it from the Siberian Times: http://siberiantimes.com/sport/hockey/news/n0130-first-ever-underwater-ice-hockey-matches-held-in-siberia/.
You Can, Too!
Think that playing this sport is out of your reach? Think again! All you need is to research it, make sure you have a place that freezes during the winter (Canada, Wisconsin, we’re looking at you!) and the guts to make it happen. You could start your own mini league, or just try a game for fun. Remember, safety first, as it would really suck to be stuck under the ice with no way to get air. One player recommended always carrying a small scuba tank just in case. Check out Spare Air to see what we mean! http://www.spareair.com/.
Good luck with your diving, and give us a shout if you try it. We look forward to reading your comments, so let us know what you’ve bene up to!