Dabbling at paddling

Dabbling at paddling

Canoe polo is fun but takes some multitasking

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Assisted by Raymond Ng, Young Post reporter Chris Lau gives canoe polo a shot on the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin.
Assisted by Raymond Ng, Young Post reporter Chris Lau gives canoe polo a shot on the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin.
Photos: Nora Tam/SCMP

I am starting to realise why I spent all those long hours learning how to swim as a child ... to try out water sports for Young Post!

Last year I wanted to try diving and water polo, but my efforts were in vain because we couldn't get permission to shoot in any swimming pools.

But my colleagues know I'm a water creature, and they didn't let me off the hook so easily this year. So canoe polo it is!

Canoe polo is quite similar to water polo, except you're in a canoe instead of in the water.

The two goals are hung up above the water on the two opposite sides of the court. The offence side has to shoot at goal, while the defence team guards it; and vice versa.

"Usually we play in a swimming pool that's 23 metres by 35 metres in size," says Hong Kong team male U21 coach Raymond Ng King-yuen. Thanks to him, his students and the Hong Kong Canoe Union, I was able to try out the sport for the first time and survive to tell the tale!

During this practice session, we cruised about on the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, enjoying the scenery ... Well, not really. We actually crashed into one another, and pushed people off their canoes, and into the water.

Tackling is allowed in this sport. But if you push your opponent from the front, it's a foul. Only side tackles, such as pushing others on their shoulders, are allowed.

For serious fouls, players receive a green card. Those who get three green cards receive a yellow card, which means they have to stop playing for two minutes. Since a normal seven-player game lasts only 20 minutes, divided into two halves, a two-minute send-off could make all the difference between winning and losing. Even more brutal fouls result in a red card, and the player being banned for two games.


Chris catches a pass from Ng

When playing, obviously you can't just put the ball on your lap and paddle. For starters, that's the slowest way possible to move forward; and besides, you're not allowed to hold the polo ball for more than five seconds. So players "dribble", which means throwing the ball forward and paddling to reclaim it. This is the trickiest part of the sport, since you need to keep a clear head to steer your canoe in the right direction at all times. Trust me, it's not easy! For example, if the ball is on your left side, closer to the tail of your canoe, how do you paddle? It takes a lot of skill.

There's also the danger of falling into the water if you're tackled, or losing your balance by stretching your arm too far out to reach for the ball. I lost my balance once, and the taste of the Shing Mun water is not something I want to sample again in a hurry!

Players wear "spray skirts" to secure them onto the canoe. This means that when they fall, they turn over with the canoe and are submerged in the water. To get back in the game, they need to perform a flip - a very difficult thing to do - to resurface for air and resume play.

I didn't wear a spray skirt when I played, because I wasn't sure whether I could flip myself back again, and I didn't fancy meeting my end in the murky depths of the river. I did, however, wear a helmet!

It may take a while to get used to canoe polo, but it's a fun sport. If you're looking for a new sport to master, it's definitely worth a try. Just make sure you take some swimming lessons first!


See what else we're doing this summer

- Capoeira
- Golf
- Fly yoga
- Ice hockey
- Lacrosse
- Lawn bowls
- Pilates
- Wakesurfing

... and revisit last year's YP does the Olympic Games

- Archery
- BMX
- Boxing
- Equestrian
- Handball
- Rhythmic gymnastics
- Rowing
- Sailing
- Taekwondo
- Trampolining

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