Curly Barker, competition secretary of the World Canoe Polo Championships, to be held in Sheffield in July, spends six days a week teaching and practising the game. He doesn't have a love life. On Wednesday evenings he co-runs classes with Alex Longson, the National Canoe Polo League Organiser, at the University of London Union swimming pool. They spend the first half of the session teaching students technique, the second half playing the game.
Canoe polo is played with a water polo ball - the size of a small football. Throwing involves holding the ball above your head and twisting your torso in order to give the ball maximum momentum. Women should swiftly get out of the habit of throwing girlie netball shots or else suffer a barrage of taunts. The ball is either passed or dribbled, by throwing the ball in the desired direction and paddling towards it. It can only be held for five seconds and should never be carried on the spraydeck.
Although an official game only lasts 20 minutes in total (10 minutes each way), it can feel like a marathon. A player has to think of marking, passing, paddling, scoring and balancing all at once. Players with bigger biceps can push opponents hard enough to cause them to capsize. Experienced canoeists go under and snap back up out of the water with, impressively, the ball still in their hands.
The speed of the game, along with the splashing and acoustics of a swimming pool, all help create an electric atmosphere. As with any sport, emotions and competitive spirit run extremely high. It is not uncommon for conflicts to occur - Barker himself was involved in a heated and aggressive debate when an opponent's canoe bolted straight into and over his. The petite referee had enough good sense not to get involved, letting the men sort it out among themselves. 'They'll probably be buying each other drinks in the bar later on,' she said nonchalantly.
Perhaps the demise of the one-skill sport is leading to the birth of a new post-match etiquette. Certainly, after the canoes had been hauled up and drained of water, it was I, not Barker, who ended up splashing out on a round of drinks at the bar.
Classes are held 8.30pm-10pm Weds, University of London Union swimming pool. Further details from Curly Barker (081-554 9533). All canoe sport in Britain is governed by British Canoe Union based in Nottingham (0602 821100)
World Canoe Polo Championships, 6-10 July, Pondsforge swimming pool, Sheaf St, Sheffield (0422 882908)
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content