Ever hear the old joke about the guy who tried to play water polo but his horse drowned? I know, lame. But if that guy had only used a kayak, he might still be here today. And once he buried his horse, he could have joined the Carolina Kayak Polo Club. As the name suggests, kayak polo is essentially water polo — which is awkward enough as it is — but played while paddling a kayak. The Charlotte-based club has about 20 members, and during the spring they play at McDowell Park on Lake Wylie.
According to long-time member Donald Rhodes, 39, the club started about six years ago when a guy named Rick Garcia and a couple of his buddies started goofing around at Lake Wylie, paddling in their canoes and throwing sponges into laundry baskets. "They thought they had invented a new game," Rhodes said.
But then Chris Sewell showed up and informed the guys the sport actually originated in Europe in the 1950s. It even has a governing body, the International Canoe Federation, which organizes annual world competitions.
Sewell, himself a Brit who played as a teen in England, helped recruit other players, and soon an informal group started getting together for practice and pick-up games. Rhodes, a senior vice-president at Bank of America, was one of the early recruits.
"It's steadily grown over the years," he said. "I have an 11-year-old daughter and I'm about to get her started."
But it's not all fun and games. The Charlotte club has competed in several national competitions, and the B division (second tier) won the U.S. championships in 2006 and 2008.
John Thornton, 61, is one of the club's oldest players. "It's a great workout, and the safest contact sport I know. You can push people over, but they don't get hurt as a rule."
Similar to regular water polo, each team has five players, who try to score by throwing a ball into in the opponent's goal. International rules call for a 50- by 25-meter "pitch" (pool surface). The goal measures 1 by 11/2 meters and is suspended a couple of meters above the water.
Team members pass the ball up and down the pitch to get in good shooting position. It's a violation to hold the ball for more than five seconds. Defending players can block the ball using their paddle or hands. And when play gets a little rough, those who can roll their boat or regain their balance after being knocked over have a distinct advantage.
"There's an awful lot of skill involved," said club member Mike Trayner, 47, who's gotten his 15-year-old son, Jack, involved in the sport. Trayner said he started playing because after years of playing soccer his knees are shot, and it's one of the few sports he can still play. "It's got that fun, team aspect to it like soccer," he said. "And it's one hell of a workout. You play a couple of hours of polo and you're drained. It's a good way top keep fit."
The Carolina Kayak Polo Club meets at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center Uptown and the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center during the fall and winter. For more information, go to: www.carolinakayakpolo.org.
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