Can Underwater Hockey make a splash in Hong Kong?

April 12, 2019

 

Photo credit: Underwater Hockey Hong Kong  

 

With football, rugby and basketball holding sway over much of the city’s sporting demographic, it is an unenviable task to champion an obscure sport in Hong Kong. 

 

Just ask Nowie Cornelia Ignacio and Henry Chan – both vocal advocates of the fledgling local Underwater Hockey (UWH) scene.

 

The sport was developed by British Navy personnel in the 1950s to keep fit during the frigid winter months, finding popularity predominantly in Europe and North America. 

 

Equipped with a short stick, snorkel and a bright ice-hockey-esque puck made of lead, Hong Kong's UWH enthusiasts train at public pools such as Whampoa on weeknights, with an extra Saturday session thrown in during the summer. 

 

 

Chan first encountered UWH while studying in the US and upon returning to Hong Kong in 2010, started a Facebook page with the aim of popularising the sport.

 

While enduring a lukewarm start, messages started to trickle in from former World Cup players and mostly expats – including Nowie Ignacio, originally from the Philippines. 

 

The Filipino has been an integral part of UWH's growth from a mere 8 players in 2015, to now boasting over 200 registered members in the city.  

 

"Since 2015, we've been to China Cup as a team each year and participated individually in tournaments held in Australia and Manila," said Chan. 

 

"We've done pretty well in the China Cup, usually coming in 3rd or 4th and we're getting recognition from the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore." 

 

 Photo credit: Underwater Hockey Hong Kong 

 

Despite building a strong core of regulars comprised of teachers, engineers, bankers and a geologist, its development is still "slow and steady" in Chan's eyes. 

 

This is perhaps in part due to what they aim to accomplish; aside from attracting a following of local Hong Kongers, the duo have plans to form different teams based on ability, as well as a junior side. 

 

The magnitude of their ambitions is something they are all too aware of; pool rental costs take a chunk off their budget each session and most public pools are not fit-for-purpose in the first place (bearing in mind that a standard UWH pool requires a flat bottom surface and 2-metre depth throughout). 

 

 Photo credit: Underwater Hockey Hong Kong 

 

However, Henry Chan believes in a 'cart before the horse' approach and hopes to be recognised by governing bodies such as the Hong Kong Underwater Association as soon as possible.

 

"They have the resources and connections to pool everything together, in terms of funding and sponsorship."

 

"Being able to organise tournaments of our own is how we develop and choose the best players to form a team at a higher level to take part in international competitions."

 

 Photo credit: Underwater Hockey Hong Kong 

 

In addition, the social and multicultural aspect of what they are trying to build is something that is close to their hearts.

 

"Underwater hockey for me is life. I've been playing since I was 14 and dropped my Taekwondo and swimming to concentrate on hockey," said Ignacio, who is now head coach. 

 

"It's like a fruit salad - we have lots of different flavours and the way the players play reflects their cultural background. We have players who come from 'feisty' cultures and also players who are so reserved." 

 

"We are not together just to play hockey - we want to let them know our families as well in after-game dinners, parties and invites to special events." 

 

"The goal is not just to build a team, but also a family of players."

 

 

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