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University of Colorado students swim towards the puck during an underwater hockey game on Friday at the CU Recreation Center pool. For a video of the underwater hockey game go to Colorado Daily/Jeremy Papasso
University of Colorado students swim towards the puck during an underwater hockey game on Friday at the CU Recreation Center pool. For a video of the underwater hockey game go to Colorado Daily/Jeremy Papasso


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What: underwater hockey game

When: Friday, 7:45 p.m.

Where: CU’s Recreation Center, main pool


O n Friday night at 8 p.m., the University of Colorado’s Recreation Center pool was filled with students and locals in swim suits, flippers and snorkel gear, awaiting the start of another weekly underwater hockey game.

Six players waded at the west end of the pool, holding on to the ledge with one hand and grasping a black, wooden stick with the other. One of their teammates yelled, “sticks up!”

One of the players on the east wall looked down the line at his teammates before responding, “go,” sending all 12 players racing to the bottom of the pool.

It was no surprise that Boulder resident Orri Jonsson — the most experienced player in Friday’s game — was the first to reach the neon pink, weighted puck on the tile floor, despite holding a large camera in one hand.

“I’ve always loved anything that had to do with water, and I feel at home in the water,” Jonsson said.

Jonsson started playing underwater hockey as a Colorado State University student in 2004 and helped revive the deflated CU team after moving to Boulder in 2010.

CU’s underwater hockey club faded in 2008 when the group’s organizers left Boulder. But Friday’s game had 12 players in the pool and three substitutes sitting on the edge, waiting to jump in.

Unlike CU’s club sports or NCAA teams, the underwater hockey club is dependent on enthusiastic students and locals to keep the weekly game alive, Jonsson said.

CU senior Jesse Allison-Carpenter, the club’s president, said the water was what attracted him to the game.

“I’ve always kind of been a fish,” Allison-Carpenter said. “I’m in the water any chance I get and this game is totally in the water so it’s right up my alley.”

Regulars said they love the 3-D aspect that the water adds to the game — but the water also creates some challenges.

Many of the regular players feel at home in the water, but they still have to spend half of the game above water, catching their breath. Players dive down to the bottom of the pool, reach with their foot-long sticks for the puck and are often lucky to make contact before shooting back to the surface to empty their snorkel tube and take a breath.

“You’re usually trying not to drown yourself the first time,” Jonsson said. “By the second game you have the breathing down a little bit better and you start to understand what’s going on.”

When ice hockey players hit the puck, it’s common to see it move quickly and far across the ice, but the water forces players to use more energy to hit the puck even a few feet.

“It’s pretty common for new players to only move it about a foot or two during their first game,” Jonsson said. “Eventually, I’d say it’s common to hit it about 10 feet, but even then it takes the right kind of motion to do that.”

The new players were encouraged to swim with the puck, pushing it across the pool floor rather than hitting it once before going up for air. The big hits didn’t usually come until a player was within about five feet of the goal, on either end of the pool.

While the casual style of the games makes it difficult to maintain on campus, Jonsson said it also provides a fun atmosphere for new players to test the waters.

“Some people come in not necessarily in the best shape or knowing exactly what’s going on, so this helps them learn and helps us raise awareness about the sport,” Jonsson said. “If we say that they have to be this good to try, then there’s an impossible barrier for entry and we like to keep it as easy as possible for people to play.”

With eight years of underwater hockey experience under his belt, Jonsson seemed to be the all-star of Friday night’s game, but spent the majority of his time in the water coaching and encouraging other players.

At least five of the players had never played before, and another four had played only once, creating novice-level competition for the handful of regulars.

CU freshmen Emily Chesnut and Kyle Walters said they were joining the game Friday for the first time with few expectations in mind.

“Honestly, I don’t know what to expect,” Chesnut said. “It just sounded fun so we thought we we’d give it a try.”

After only an hour of play, Walters had exited the pool and said he was not planning on giving the underwater sport another chance.

“I hated it,” Walters said. “I had a sprained wrist and was getting hit in the face with flippers the whole time. It was hard to breathe and I just didn’t enjoy it at all.”

Jonsson said a pool full of new players contributed to the sloppy coordination and may have added a few more bumps and bruises than a typical game. It can be a difficult game for new players, so club members recommend trying it three times before forming an opinion about the game.

The game ended at 10 p.m., when the pool closed for the night…and no one knew the score.

“It’s not about the score, it’s about playing the game,” Jonsson said. “We just want to have a good time and teach other people about the game so the score really doesn’t matter.