Swimming is a well-known, simple sport. It has rules that spectators and competitors can understand without difficulty: jump in, swim straight and swim fast. Make sure Speedos do not restrict, too. The same can be said about hockey as well, albeit the latter is slightly more complicated; simply sprinkle in the offside rule, a couple of sticks and a ball. Aside from those trivialities, hockey is a sport that people grasp with relative ease.
With this in mind, perhaps the founder of Octopush – a hybrid of the two aforementioned sports – was a strong swimmer with a fantastic penalty stroke.
At first glance, second-guessing the sport itself rather than its creation would serve better. The image on the website’s homepage treats people to the sight of two players with small sticks pushing a puck along the floor. Quite bizarre and outlandish; and that’s before the scuba-diving equipment and underwater arena are taken into consideration. So is it as, ahem, simple, as it appears on the photographs?
‘Octopush is a non-contact sport in which two teams of six compete to manoeuvre a weighted puck across the bottom of a swimming pool into goals while wearing a snorkel, mask and fins’ states Martin Hill, Oxford Octopush secratary. So far, so good. It appears the moniker of ‘underwater hockey’ derives from the equipment used to push the puck: a hockey stick without the stick. Known as ‘pushers’, they’re no longer in length than a standard school ruler. Close control is an absolute must in this game; a slight flick from an opponent’s pusher can free the puck from the attacker’s possession. Distance shots may be an option however; there are no goalkeepers in Octopush.
Invented in 1954 by British Sub Aqua Club member Alan Blake in an attempt to stop club members abandoning the new club during the winter months (when it was too cold to dive in the sea), Octopush’s original rules were tinkered with to make it more accessible and it finally established itself as the sport it is today. It took Oxford University fifty-two years to form their own club; interest levels have risen steadily ever since. Attracting between fifteen and twenty regular enthusiasts, Oxford have entered two University Nationals tournaments, impressively finishing 6th in a ten-team league in their first ever season. Despite finishing one place from the foot of the table this year, enthusiasm hasn’t degenerated. ‘We are always looking for new players whatever their experience’, says Martin Hill.
Octopush is fun and different; substitutes splash into the arena as opposed to the usual slow jog seen by footballers. Despite sounding like Chris Eubank exclaiming his love for eight-legged sea creatures, it is a sport which will hopefully gain more fanfare and members in the coming years.