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 coloured white or black to indicate the player's team. In tournament play, the colour of the stick 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 3 lb (1.3-1.5 kg), Junior 1 3/4 lb (800-850 gm)) 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 metres in width and lay 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 signalled by a referee (whether due to a foul, a time-out, or the end of the period of play).
Going for strike
A typical playing formation 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 - 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, playing or stopping the puck with something other than the stick, and 'blocking' (interposing one's self between a team-mate 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 metres from the puck, while the other team gets free possession. For major penalties, such as a dangerous pass (.e.g., at or near an opponent's 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 penalty shot or a penalty goal 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.
Refereeing the game are two (or three) water referees (i.e. in the pool with full snorkelling gear, and usually a distinctive cap, gloves and t-shirt) to observe and referee play at the pool bottom, and one or more poolside deck referees to track time (both in the period and for each ejected player), maintain the score, and call fouls (such as excessive number of players in play, failure to start a point from the end of the playing area, or another foul capable of being committed at or noticed at the surface). The deck (chief) referee responds to hand signals given by the water referees to start and stop play, including after an interruption such as a foul or time-out.
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.thewaa.org
Underwater Hockey is not very spectator friendly. Since the action is all below the surface, one must enter the water to get the full effect of the game. Spectators may either try on fins, a snorkel, and mask and enter the pool for a view of the playing area, or take advantage of the work of underwater videographers who have recorded major tournaments. Organizers of major tournaments are usually the only contacts for acquiring underwater hockey footage, and no official worldwide repository exists for recorded games.
Filming the games is challenging even for the experienced videographer, as the players' movement is fast and there is no place on the surface or beneath it which is free from the frenzied movement of the players. However, research and development of filming techniques is ongoing.
High level World Championship Events, in recent years, have attempted video coverage of the games. The latest attempts during both the 2006 World Championship in Sheffield, England and the 2008 World Championship in Durban, South Africa even included online streamed footage, whilst the 2008 European Championship in Istanbul, Turkey had excellent video coverage but no live streaming.
The sport was invented in 1954 by Alan Blake of the newly formed Southsea Sub-Aqua Club 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 14th World Championship in 2006 at Sheffield in the United Kingdom, though sadly rather fewer teams and countries attended the more recent World Championship in 2008 at Durban in the Republic of South Africa.
Underwater hockey enjoys great popularity in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA, the Netherlands and France, as well as to a lesser extent in other countries such as Japan, the Philippines, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Singapore and Zimbabwe, and can be found in numerous additional countries (but not Moldova apparently).
The game first came to Canada in 1962 via Norm Liebeck, a decidedly unconventional Australian scuba diving instructor and dive shop owner, who introduced the sport to a Vancouver dive club. Ten years later, the Underwater Hockey Association of British Columbia (UHABC) was formed and received support from the BC government.
In South Africa there is still a commonly held belief that this sport was invented there in the early 1970's and although a form of underwater hockey was developed there, the modern and internationally recognised 'underwater hockey' is a direct development of the original Octopush from Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in 1954.
In Asia, the game first came to the Philippines in the late 1970's through the scuba diving community that became aware of octopush.
Historically, World Championships have been held every two years. At the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) 14th World Underwater Hockey Championship held in August 2006 in Sheffield, England, 44 teams competed in six age and gender categories, including teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Hungary, France, Jersey C.I., Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the United States of America. At the subsequent, though less well-attended, World Championship held in 2008 in Durban, South Africa, the winners of the Elite divisions [and therefore current World Champions] were Australia in the Women's division, and France in the Men's (Open) division.
Considerable political turmoil within the world governing body,CMAS, came to a head soon after the 2006 World Championship, resulting in the CMAS Underwater Hockey Commission members resigning en masse and soon thereafter forming an alternative 'world governing body' solely for the sport of UWH, known as the World Aquachallenge Association (WAA), and which was officially ratified at the 1st WAA World Championship in March 2008. Consequently, from this point the UWH community has two world governing bodies :
1) CMAS, which continues to organise international competition in the form of the World Games (although mainly euro-centric) in alternate years. These are intended to be multi-disciplinary events to include UWH and other sports under their governance, such as finswimming, free-diving, underwater orienteering etc. The 1st World Games was held in Bari, Italy in 2007 and the 2nd is scheduled for Tunisia in 2009 (although it appears in April 2009 that this may now take place as an UWH-only event in Kranj, Slovenia in August 2009), and in the years in between holds Zone Championships (eg the 12th European Championship in Istanbul, Turkey in 2008). Zone Championships are intended to be seeding competitions to decide which countries compete at the World Games the following year. CMAS currently actively supports only Elite level competition.
2) WAA, has continued with the original World Championship series held in alternate years with its 1st (renumbered - it would have been the CMAS 15th) being in 2008 in Durban, South Africa and the 2nd scheduled for Medellin, Colombia in 2010. WAA actively supports not only Elite level competition, but also Youth (Under-19) and Masters (Ladies 32 , Open 35 ) levels too.
It is apparent that there is little constructive dialogue between CMAS and WAA, or maybe even deliberate 'buggeration' on the part of one organisation or another, as the next World (WAA) and European (CMAS) events after the split were held over exactly the same period in 2008, except a continent apart. Unfortunately this dichotomy of championships coupled with the possibility of future CMAS sanctions, has already led to many European countries being forced to choose which competition to send their team to, with the result that in 2008 neither event was as well attended as has been the case in previous years, nor as competitive