02 March 2014

Kayak Polo: A Lesson in Clumsy

I've always loved the graceful aspects of kayaking: wake-less drifting, a perfectly-carved turn, an effortless roll, a silent lake. Kayak polo throws elegance out the window in favor of aggression, throwing, tackling, and yelling. But it's different, it's fun, and I'm hoping to stick with it.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a Berkeley Kayak Polo Meet-up group. Okay, I didn't stumble - Google is just good at advertising. It seemed too good to be true: young kayakers, $5, all gear included (makes logistics much simpler), 10 minutes from my apartment (a rarity in this crowded/spread out Bay), and not already filled to capacity (also unusual for outdoorsy meet-up groups). The sessions are run by the Bay Area Kayak Polo Club (BAKPC) and meet at the Berkeley Marina, in this sheltered area:

The playing field. The goals are the tall floating structures on either end.
Kayak Polo (also called Canoe Polo, which confuses me very much and can be blamed on the British) is a young sport, with the first world championship taking place in 2009. The game is like most polo sports: two opposing teams try to throw a ball into a net on either end of a swimming pool or open water area (in this case, the Berkeley Marina). It's most popular/competitive in Europe. Interestingly enough, the meet-ups have been attended by an international crowd: a French couple, a Belgian guy (see Stijn in previous Berkeley kayaking post), a British guy, a Ukrainian guy and his daughter, and other accents I didn't recognize.

The beginner practice starts at 8:30 am and ends around 10:30, when the advanced game begins. There's really no better way to wake up at 9am on a Sunday morning than to roll your kayak in the frigid Bay waters! It's better than coffee.

The meeting spot.
Since I already know how to paddle and roll, the hardest part is throwing the ball (soccer-ball-sized). Since your lower body is fixed in the boat, all momentum must come from torso rotation, arms, and wrists. My initial attempts have been pitiful. You also have to make sure your boat is pointed in the direction of the throw, or else it's almost impossible to throw it more than 4 feet.  If you want to turn your boat while in possession of the ball, you "chicken wing," which involves holding the ball under your elbow while attempting to turn the boat with your paddle. It's all very messy and awkward because you only have 5 seconds before losing possession. An alternative is to dribble the ball, which involves tossing it few feet ahead of the boat (out of arms reach), taking a few quick paddle strokes, picking it up, and tossing it ahead again (repeat...).  Once competition increases, tackling (pushing someone over) becomes permitted. I haven't mentioned this yet, but everyone wears a helmet with a metal face guard - a necessity with all the paddle flailing and collisions.

Anyways, I hope to keep attending when I can (practice only happens every other weekend), and accepting the fact that it's going to take some real work to get good at this kind of kayaking! My friend Jeff (see previous Colorado post) will be visiting during the next practice, and he's much better in a whitewater boat so I'm sure everyone will be impressed!

1 comment:

taplatt said...

This sounds like a blast, Nena!