Octopush, or underwater hockey, is a non-contact sport in which two teams compete to manoeuvre a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool into goals.
Players wear a diving mask, fins, and a snorkel for play. Safety gear includes a water polo style cap, a mouthguard, and a glove for the playing hand (to protect against pool-bottom abrasion and, in some designs, knuckle protection against puck impact). Because current rules permit a player to switch the stick between hands mid-play, players may choose to wear a protective glove on both hands. The stick is quite short (according to recent rules, not more than 350mm. in length, including the handle) and is colored white or black to indicate the player's team. In tournament play, the colour of the stick, swimwear and cap are randomly assigned to each teams before every game. The puck is approximately the size of an ice hockey puck but is made of lead or similar material (Adult size weighs 3lb / 1.3-1.5kg, Junior 1 3/4 lb 800-850gm) and is surrounded by a plastic covering, which is usually matched to the pool bottom to facilitate good grip on the stick face while preventing excessive friction on the pool bottom. The puck's weight brings it to rest on the pool bottom, though can be lofted during passes. The goals are three meters in width and lie at opposite ends of the playing area.
Two teams of up to ten players compete, with six players on each team in play at once. Substitution happens continually from a substitution area, which may be on deck or in the water outside the playing area, depending on tournament rules. Before the start of play the puck is placed in the middle of the pool, and the players wait in the water, touching the wall above the goals they are defending. At the start-of-play signal, in-play members of both teams are free to swim anywhere in the play area and try to score by sending the puck into the opponents' goal. Play continues until either a goal is scored, and players return to their wall to start a new point, or a break in play is signaled by a referee (whether due to a foul, a time-out, or the end of the period of play).
The most typical playing formation in the US is the 3-3 (three offensive players or ''forwards'', and three defensive players or ''backs''). Other options include 2-3-1 (''i.e.'', two forwards, three midfielders, and a back), 1-3-2, or 2-2-2. As important to tournament teams' formation strategy is the substitution strategy: which players will substitute for which positions, and how many players are substituting for how many positions. A 10-member team playing 3-3, for example, may have two players substituting for each other at the center-forward position, three players covering the other two forward positions, and five players covering the three defensive positions. Substitution errors might result in a foul (too many players in the play area) or a tactical blunder (too few defenders in on a play).
There are a number of penalties described in the official underwater hockey rules, ranging from use of the stick against something (or someone) other than the puck or the playing surface, playing or stopping the puck with something other than the stick, and "screening" (interposing one's self between a teammate who possesses the puck and an opponent; one is allowed to play the puck, but not merely block opponents with one's body). If the penalty is minor, referees award an advantage puck -- the team that committed the foul is pushed back 3 meters from the puck, while the other team gets a free possession. For major penalties, such as a dangerous pass (''.e.g.'', over an opponent's shoulder near the head) or intentional or repeated fouls, the referees may eject players for a specified period of time or the remainder of the game. A defender committing a serious foul sufficiently close to his own goal may be penalized by the award of a point to the fouled player's team.
Games consist of two halves, typically ten to fifteen minutes in length (depending on tournament rules; 15 minutes at world championship tournaments) and a short half time interval. At half time the two teams switch ends.
In official games, there are two "water refs" who referee the game in the pool, and a poolside "deck ref". The water refs are responsible for monitoring game play, and are usually distinguished by a red cap, a yellow t-shirt, and a yellow/orange glove. The "deck refs" are responsible for tracking time, keeping the score, and calling fouls noticeable at the surface. Communicating underwater is obviously problematic for the refs. To get over this problem, water refs use hand signals to communicate to the deck ref, to pause play, and what the nature of the foul is. In training, we don't use referees, and instead rely on players to call each other up on fouls.
SpectatorsAs you could imagine, octopush is not the most spectator friendly sport. From the surface, it is usually possible to only detect roughly where the puck is, and how long players are staying down. To appreciate the game fully, spectators in our games are welcome to get into the pool and watch the game from the side. In official majoy games/tournatments, it is common to have underwater videographers. Unfortunately, we do not usually record our games, however, there is are a number of underwater videos on YouTube and Google Video.
The sport was invented in Great Britain by Alan Blake of the newly formed Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in 1954 and first played at the club by him and other divers including John Ventham, Jack Willis, and Frank Lilleker in Eastney Swimming Pool, Portsmouth, England. Originally called "Octopush" (and still known primarily by that name in the United Kingdom today) the original rules called for teams of eight players (hence "octo-"), a bat reminiscent of a tiny shuffleboard stick, called a "pusher" (hence the "-push"), an uncoated lead puck called a "squid", and a goal known at first as a "cuttle" but soon thereafter a "gully". The first rules were tested in a 1954 two-on-two game, and an announcement was made in the November 1954 issue of Neptune, the official newsheet of the British Sub-Aqua Club. The object of the game was to keep members of Southsea Sub-Aqua Club #9 from abandoning the new club during the winter months in which it was too cold to dive in the sea. The first octopush competition between clubs was a three-way tournament between teams from Southsea, Bournemouth and Brighton in early 1955. Southsea won then, and they are still highly ranked at a national level today.
The substantial changes in equipment, team size, and other factors have helped make the game the international sport it is today, with 44 teams from 17 countries competing at the most recent World Championships in 2006 at Sheffield in the United Kingdom where, even then, there were some countries that were not represented.
The game first came to Canada (and probably to North America) in 1962 via Norm Liebeck, a decidedly unconventional Australian scuba diving instructor and dive shop owner, who introduced the sport to the Vanquatics, a Vancouver dive club previously named the Wobbygongs. Ten years later, the Underwater Hockey Association of British Columbia (UHABC) was formed and received support from the BC government.
Underwater hockey enjoys great popularity in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, USA, Netherlands and France, as well as to a lesser extent in other countries such as Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Singapore and Zimbabwe, and can be found in numerous additional countries catalogued at The Underwater Hockey Tourist, which has catered to the needs of traveling underwater hockey players since 1996.
The world championships are held every two years. At the 2006 World Underwater Hockey Championships held in August 2006 in Sheffield, England, 44 teams competed in six age and gender categories, including teams from Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Jersey, C. I., Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the United States of America. Winners of the elite divisions [therefore current world champions] were Australia in the women's division, and New Zealand in the men's (open) division.
The Official Rules are available in PDF form without charge and define (with illustrations) a valid goal, the fouls and signals, and the dimensions of the playing area, sticks, and goals. The rules can be found at www.auf.org.au.