Golfers hit a tiny white ball with a golf club, and tennis players hit a slightly larger ball with a raquet. But kayak polo players? They juggle a ball on a paddle as they try to score a goal that is seven feet high, while fighting off defenders. Kayak polo, or canoe polo as it is internationally known, is played like a mix between hockey and basketball, but instead of skating on ice or running on hardwood, the players use boats. Four players and a goalie paddle and maneuver their way around a rectangular pool. There are eight players on a team, and substitutions are allowed at any time during the game.
The pool is a minimum of 27 yards long and three feet deep. An Olympic size pool, either indoor or outdoor, is ideal for play, but teams can also compete in a calm stream.
The netted goal is just three feet by five feet and it is hung vertically. Players try to score by throwing the ball into the goal with their hand or paddle.
The kayaks used are about three yards long and must have curved ends, because they constantly bump into each other while players try to gain advantage and score.
Paddles are double bladed, but they cannot have any sharp or dangerous features. If the paddles do appear dangerous, they must be taped up or not used in play.
Players wear protective helmets and masks similar to hockey masks in hopes of preventing any serious injury.
Kayak polo games are made up of two 10-minute halves with a three-minute halftime. During play, opponents are not allowed to hit each other with their paddle or their boat. Although players will bump into each other, the action can not be intentional.
When the ball is in play, players can use their paddles or hands to make passes to teammates. Players can not hold the ball for more than five seconds or bat the ball down with their paddle.
“Paddling is a skill that takes a while to learn,” said Mark Pointdexter, coach of the under-21 U.S. men’s team. “Even when you get it down, it still takes a few years to perfect.”
Although the sport looks aggressive, it’s not really as physical as it may appear, Pointdexter said.
Kayak polo has three types of penalties similar to soccer. A green card is used as a warning, a yellow card gives a two minute suspension and a red card suspends the player for the remainder of the game.
The sport is popular in Europe and Australia, where it began. According to usacanoekayak.org, it is continuing to grow in the United States where there are currently 11 club teams, including Dallas’ own Texas Tornadoes.