As the summer solstice (夏至 xiàzhì, lit. the arrival of the summer) approaches soon on 21st June, regardless of the real temperature, we would like to introduce to you a sport that suits the season – underwater hockey through the eyes of XIA Xiaoxuan (夏霄璇), a Queen’s PhD candidate and Belfast Underwater Hockey (UWH) member.
What is underwater hockey Underwater hockey (水下曲棍球 shuǐxià qūgùnqiú) is a fun, fast-paced, three-dimensional game played at the bottom of a 2.5-metre-deep pool. Two teams of six players in the water and four subs (替补队员 tìbǔ duìyuán) face off against each other. Players wear 1) a snorkel (呼吸管 hūxīguǎn), 2) a headgear (泳帽 yǒngmào), 3) a mask (面罩 miànzhào), 4) fins (脚蹼 jiǎopǔ), and 7) a protective glove (防护手套 fánghù shǒutào). They score goals with 5) a stick (球棍 qiúgùn) to hit 6) a puck (冰球 bīngqiú) by using skill, freediving (自由潜水 zìyóu qiánshuǐ), manoeuvrability and holding their breath.
The sport first appeared in England in 1954, when Alan Blake invented a game he called Octopush. Blake used the game to keep Southsea Sub-Aqua Club members active during winter when open-water diving lost its appeal. Since then, it has expanded globally.
An accidental engagement
An accidental opportunity, I started playing underwater hockey in the summer time in 2019. When I finished my swimming, I noticed some people in the diving pool practicing freediving, which I had always wanted to learn. So I had a quick chat with them about their next training time and my willingness to join in. When I came to the ‘freediving’ training, I noticed it was so much more than just freediving – they were holding short sticks at the bottom of the pool and fighting each other to get a puck into the goal.
‘Well, I just came here to learn freediving. Once I touch the bottom, I’ll definitely quit.’ I told my coach, a player in the QUB UWH team.
At my third training session, I finally touched the bottom of the pool and could control my breath well. My teammates warmly congratulated me and encouraged me to join in the game just for fun and promised that they would be kind to me.
‘This will be my last training anyway, and this game might be my last UWH game.’ I thought and joined in. However, I changed my mind when I touched the puck set in the centre at the bottom of the pool. I wanted to play this game! When I pushed the puck into the goal, I confirmed my decision about playing the UWH in the future!
I have been trained in the team over the past few years and played with different teams in different pools. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to join in the Women’s Nationals 2022, an underwater hockey competition held in Leeds, as a member of the Irish Women’s Team.
The fun factors of playing UWH
There are good reasons why I’m now so fond of (非常喜欢 fēicháng xǐhuan; 乐此不疲 lè cǐ bù pí) playing underwater hockey. I like the quiet but tacit cooperation between team members (团队成员 tuánduì chéngyuán). It helps me to keep up my training to hone my skills as well as reach my own individual fitness goals (健身目标 jiànshēn mùbiāo) better. When I play the UWH, the only two things I care about are my breath and the puck, which help me to copy with stress.
My skills improved during this time, and more importantly, I met lots of lovely people of all ages, from all over the world who are passionate about UWH too. Some have played UWH since their youth for over twenty years and kept up excellent levels of fitness and skills. Some of them met each other through UWH training and eventually got married and had a baby. Some of them encouraged their family members to join in the sport – now, a father might not possess the puck all the time due to the solid defence and strong attack from his daughters!
Thanks to my accidental encounter with it, I have really been in love with underwater hockey as an excellent and attractive sport to enrich my life experience while doing my PhD study. I definitely recommend it to you all and beginners are always welcome!
Belfast Underwater Hockey Club at Queen’s
“Belfast UWH was first established in 2014 and since then we have grown into a diverse club with members from all over the world, various ages and skill levels. We represent Queens University Belfast at numerous tournaments throughout the year including Student Nationals, Irish League games and International tournaments where everyone is welcome on the team regardless of skill level.“
The Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival (端午节 Duānwǔ jié), is a traditional Chinese festival with a history of over 2000 years. It occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month in Chinese lunar calendar, which falls on Friday 3rd June this year.
Duanwu Festival is widely known as Dragon Boat Festival (龙舟节 Lóngzhōu jié) to the rest of the world, as one of its celebrative events – dragon boat racing – has become so popular (受欢迎 shòu huānyíng) in the world.
Today, we would like to invite Dr YAO Xudan (姚旭丹) to introduce dragon boat racing and share with us her interesting experiences of joining in races when she was in Belfast and more recently in Manchester.
YAO Xudan (姚旭丹) studied her PhD in Queen’s University Belfast from 2014 to 2018. Afterwards, she joined the National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester, as a postdoctoral research associate. Currently, she is continuing her research in Queen Mary College, University of London.
Dragon Boat Racing in Belfast
When I was doing my PhD at Queen’s, I joined dragon boat racing as a paddler twice in 2015 and 2016, as a member of Team QUB, which were organised by Chinese Welfare Association NI. People from different professional backgrounds, including universities, associations, boat clubs, etc., signed up for the events with full enthusiasm. Chinese food was prepared and supplied to all participants. Although we did not win in the end, everyone enjoyed the teamwork spirit (团队精神 tuánduì jīngshén) during racing, despite the bad weather. My colleagues from Spain and India were so excited that they wanted very much to follow up celebrations as such in the future. I believe that our traditional culture (传统文化 chuántǒng wénhuà) could be shared and accepted widely in this engaging way.
Dragon Boat Racing in Manchester
On 29th May 2022, the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival was held in Manchester, with 36 teams from universities, companies and institutions participating in the competition. With my previous experience of Belfast races I joined one of the University of Manchester teams, which was formed by all girls. The morning was a bit wet but fortunately it became sunny during the race. Again, although we could not enter into the final competition (决赛 juésài), we were satisfied with our great team performance and enjoyed ourselves. Apart from the racing, the festival also included Chinese kung fu performance (功夫表演 gōngfu biǎoyǎn), singing (唱歌 chànggē), dancing (跳舞 tiàowǔ) and tasting (品尝 pǐncháng) traditional Chinese food such as zongzi (粽子 zòngzi), baozi (包子 bāozi), marinated eggs (卤蛋 lǔdàn), making it an exciting and fun experience.
Overall, dragon boat racing is really one of the wonderful occasions for people to get together and celebrate our traditional festival, as well as to enhance intercultural communication and understanding between people of different communities.
About dragon boatracing
Dragon boats are human-powered watercrafts originally made of wood, and in modern times upgraded into carbon or glass fibre composites, as well as other lightweight materials. They are universally decorated with a Chinese dragon head and tail. For racing, a standard dragon boat typically consists of 20 paddlers, one drummer facing toward the paddlers, and one steerer. However, there are also small boats with a capacity of 10 paddlers.
Author: YAO Xudan Editors: Martin Duffy and WANG Liang
Have you joined any boat racing events before? You are very welcome to share your experience by using the comment box below.
More to read
Here are posts about our past celebrations of Dragon Boat Festival, if you are interested in getting to know more about our celebrations at Queen’s.
After a 3 year absence the 16th annual Queen’s University Belfast Boat Race will take place next month, with Queen’s men and women rowers taking on Trinity College Dublin on Saturday 11 June 2022. As well as the main event there will also be junior races involving local schools racing over the 2km course.