My immediate thought when told I would be giving Octopush a go was ‘eh?’, which was then swiftly followed by ‘what, so they thought of a pun and then created a sport around it?’ As it turns out, I wasn’t far off, but as I was to discover that there is a lot more to the beast than mere wordplay.
Octopush was created in 1954 by a bunch of Southsea snorkelers who wanted something to do during the long winter months when the channel itself was much too chilly to dare venture into. It also goes by the slightly less exciting name of Underwater Hockey, and that is perhaps the best way to describe it – teams of six (eight when founded, hence the name) compete to push a weighted puck along the floor of the pool with their sticks, and into the opposition’s goal.
Now, I am to swimming what Emile Heskey is to the English football team; loads of effort, well-meaning, but about as effective as a chocolate teapot. Hence, I donned the mandatory mask and snorkel (required so that you can see what’s happening on the pool floor at all times) with slight trepidation, lest I end up drowning, or worse, embarrassing myself.
We were (both literally and metaphorically) thrown in at the deep end. A brief demo of how to clear your snorkel and avoid a watery grave, some passing practice on the bottom of the pool, and next thing I knew I was in a five-on-five game being told I was left attack. Someone shouted ‘go’, everyone hared it to the puck in the centre of the pool, members of both teams dived down to try and manoeuvre the puck towards the opposition’s goal, and I very quietly swallowed a lot of water. It was very exciting, but by the time someone finally scored a goal, I had no real clue what was going on, and I imagine I wasn’t alone.
It’s nowhere near as violent as water polo, which as far as I can gather involves fourteen crazed individuals scrapping around a pool until someone loses a testicle, but due to the three-dimensional nature of play things can get quite chaotic, the only lull coming when everyone has to come up for air at the same time. In fact, despite the sometimes physical nature, it is actually a unisex sport, as I was informed that the men’s greater speed and strength is countered by women being more able to change direction quickly. What really surprised me is how tiring it was. You’re constantly gasping for breath, all the while trying to work out where the puck’s going next and plan your movements accordingly.
Obviously, as it was being played by beginners, the quality must have been slightly lacking, and I am intrigued to think what a match being played by experienced players, and especially those capable of holding their breath for more than the four seconds I could, would be like. I imagine there would be much more structure, with genuine passing play and patterns, and the communication would be a lot better due to familiarity with your team mates and their styles, strengths and weaknesses.
Would I try it again? No, my deficiencies with snorkel management came to the fore a bit too much, but I can definitely see the allure and I am glad to have had a go. So if you’re a keen snorkeler looking to keep yourself amused, fancy something totally different or are even just a massive fan of pun-based sports, I’d say give it a go. You never know until you try.