When most people think of water polo, they think of a team of swimmers attempting to get a ball past the opposing team’s goalie and into a net to score.
A sport is being introduced in Spokane, however, that is similar to water polo but brings a new aspect to the game.
It’s called kayak polo and is a new addition to the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.
“I’m really excited about the league,” said David Early, aquatics supervisor at the Parks and Rec Department. “It’s a brand-new sport in Spokane and a relatively new sport across the country.”
In kayak polo, players paddle kayaks with their hands and try to get a ball into a net that is elevated 6 feet above the water.
Although the sport has been extremely popular in Europe for 25 years, the U.S. has had organized kayak polo leagues in Maine and Maryland for two years.
“This will be the first West Coast-organized program,” Andrew Brewer, president of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, said.
The sport is especially popular in England, where it is played by students from elementary school through college as a regular physical education class.
Brewer became interested in kayak polo after he read an article entitled “Kayak Polo Catching On” in the June 1994 edition of Paddler magazine.
Then, after contacting the organizers of kayak polo leagues back east as well as in Portugal, England and Brazil via Internet, Brewer brought the idea to the Parks and Rec Department, where it was received with open arms.
“The presentation came right when I was planning the winter schedule,” Early said. “When we put the program out, we were amazed by the number of people who were interested.”
In its formative stage, the league has three full teams and 10 people in a player pool. Brewer said he is expecting to have five to eight teams before the league starts play Sunday.
According to Brewer, even people who don’t kayak will enjoy the new sport.
“We wanted to put together a program that all skill levels could use,” he said. “Boats will be available for those who don’t have one.”
The league will use a four-on-four format and players will be required to wear life jackets as well as safety helmets. Kayak polo is definitely a contact sport that has been compared to hockey, soccer and rugby.
The Spokane league will, for the most part, follow the official rules for canoe polo (called kayak polo in the U.S.) that were established by the International Canoe Federation.
However, unlike its European counterpart, the players in the Spokane league will not use paddles, which would require full face masks.
“We’re trying to keep the cost down,” Brewer said. “I think the advanced players will want to start using paddles.”
Although the league is a Parks and Rec program, the referees, or “scrutineers” as they’re called, will be provided by the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, as well as a 10-member committee to provide guidance for the fledgling league.
“The idea was to put it together as a pilot program to work the kinks out,” Brewer said. “We anticipate that eventually there will be different levels of play.”
In 1994, the first Canoe Polo World Championship took place in Sheffield, England, and was won by a team from Australia.
The 1996 world championship will be in Adelaide, Australia. With the sport in its developmental stages in the U.S., the organized U.S. leagues have been invited to send a team to Portugal for the 1998 world championship.
Brewer is excited at the possibility and says that being on Internet has helped him in organizing the Spokane league.
“We’re getting into international contact that we’ve never had before,” he said.
People of all skill levels are invited to join in the new league.
“Folks will get a wide variety of competition as well as experience for new paddlers,” Early said.
The kayak polo league will meet Sunday nights at the Shadle Indoor Swimming Pool beginning at 8:30 through March 5. The first two weeks will be used for instruction. Anyone wishing more information should call Early at 625-6200.
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