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THE ORIGINS OF CANOE POLO IN THE WORLD

THE EARLY YEARS 1920-1992

Researched and written by the deacon exclusively for canoepolo.com. 


INTRODUCTION

Canoe Polo: what a fascinating sport it is. It has all that it takes to make it a great game for both its athletes and spectators alike. It is dynamic and fast, technical and spectacular, easy to learn, and accessible to athletes of all ages and sexes with just minimal canoeing skills.

But what exactly is this game, which is now practised in many countries around the globe but yet unheard of to the public at large, and most of all, how did it all begin?

Although the game of canoe polo is one of the fastest growing team sports in recent worldwide sporting history, it is relatively unknown outside its own sporting discipline. Although many individuals around the globe started practising and spreading the word of this game in their own countries during the last half of the 20th century, little or nothing has been documented to record their efforts.

For many years now, it had been an interesting topic for me to research and document the endeavours of these early pioneers. Who they were, and what motivated them to “invent” or promote an aquatic sport which would be an exciting new discipline, characteristic to the canoeing world on the eve of the 21st century. I have a personal interest in this subject, as I too was a “pioneer” of this great sport, having introduced it in Italy in the late 1970’s.

This article is the end result of my investigations, in trying to source theses persons who like I, introduced the game of canoe polo to their own communities throughout the world.

As of now, it is still an uncertain subject to know with certainty who or which country was the first to introduce this sport in its modern form. There is little documented proof, either on the Internet, or in printed form, to give any positive proof of such an initiative, so I do hope that this article will help those who are interested in this subject and would like to see more light shone on the matter.

Let me try and explain in some more detail...
 


DEFINITION

First of all, the modern definition (briefly described) of Canoe Polo, is a that of ‘a sport played by two teams of 5 players, each sitting in individual kayaks, engaged in a competitive ball sport game on water in a defined playing area’. The object of the game is to get the ball into the opponent’s goal (to score goals). The team scoring the most goals is the winner of the game.

The name of the game is a misnomer in my opinion, as it should have actually been called kayak polo. According to the International Canoe Federation (I.C.F.) Canoe Polo Rules, the primary playing equipment used for this sport is a kayak and not a canoe. As a matter of fact the word ‘canoe’ is not mentioned even once in the entire document!

The difference between kayaks and canoes, is that a kayak is an enclosed boat where a person is seated inside with their legs stretched forward, braces his/her feet on a footrest for better stability, and uses a paddle with a double feathered blade held in his/her hands for propulsion; whereas canoes are open styled ‘Canadian’ boats where the paddlers usually sit or kneel, and use single bladed paddles for propulsion. Closed canoes are used mostly in slalom racing or in wild water activities, whereas open canoes are used for more leisurely activities.

This game can be loosely said to use as a combination of canoeing, water polo and basketball skills. The game is fast and aggressive, but it is also relatively injury-free. The tactics and playing are not unlike that of basketball or water polo. The ball, which is identical to the kind used in the game of water polo, is passed from hand to hand amongst the team players (with some limited use of the paddle on the ball), and thrown directly at the opponent’s goal. A player in possession of the ball can be tackled by being pushed over into the water by an opponent, in the latter’s attempt to “capture” the ball for his/her own gain. The ball can be in the possession of a player for not more than 5 seconds, but it can “dribbled”, by a player throwing it ahead (or behind) in the water, to regain control again, so as to re-start the time clock.

Canoe polo can be played in indoor or outdoor swimming pools, in slow moving rivers, lakes, or any “pitch” approximately 35 meters by 23 meters in size. The goals measuring 1.5 meter wide by 1 meter high, consist of a metal or wooden frame with a net, suspended vertically over the water at each end of the pitch. A player acting as the goalkeeper defends the goal with his/her paddle held vertically in front. There are special rules that prohibit the attacking team from touching the goalkeeper whenever he (or she) is in a defending position.

A game lasts a maximum of 20 minutes, divided into two half periods, with each side changing ends at the interval. Two referees preside over the game, one on each side of the pitch. Players use helmets with metal face grills for protection and use padded buoyancy vests for upper torso protection.


ORIGINS

A popular belief of the origin of the game, in the minds of many, can be traced to an article taken from the English national weekly “The Graphic”, dated September 1880, showing an etching of a game in progress at Hunt’s Quay, Scotland, where at the seaside, men sitting on wooden barrels and fitted with saddle cloths, play with a ball in the water.
 

Horsing Around

 ‘HORSING’ AROUND IN 1880

Each barrel was loaded under the waterline with a heavy loaded keel to keep it afloat. The players used feathered style of wooden paddles for propulsion and contact with the ball. Most probably these frolicking gentlemen were literally “horsing” around, imitating the land-based game of polo, and the eventual metamorphosis of modern canoe polo should not be considered to originate here for that reason.

It is of great importance to keep in mind that the word “polo” is not used in conjunction to a specific game, as it was derived from the ancient Sanskrit word “pulu”, from the Gujarat region of India, meaning ‘ball’. Thus, canoe or kayak polo is an aquatic game between two teams of players, using a ball to score goals.

The game of canoe polo has had many transformations and variations in the styles of play from the time of its introduction. In 1988, the International Canoe Federation (I.C.F.) uniformed the canoe polo rules, into one standard style, which was mainly based on the then Anglo/Australian/French version “hands only” style of play. These rules were used for an experimental four years by all the world canoeing federations.

In 1992, the I.C.F. compiled the final rules which formed the base for today’s modern game, as we know it. But long before then, there were many styles of play in many countries scattered around the globe, and it very fascinating to understand what styles were used in those countries in the past and how they came to be.

The following article is documentation of the research that I have done in sourcing the origins and development of this sport in many of those countries. Mentioned where possible, are the people who were the “pioneers” or motivators in starting up this movement in their relative countries of residence. 


GERMANY

To give some origination to the game of canoe polo in a modern context, the most probable origination and attribution could be given to Germany, where a recognisable form of this sport was played in the 1920’s. The first games were started in Sprint and Long Distance Racing clubs and the game was played outdoors on lakes and rivers.

There is confirmed documentation that the Germans had their own canoe polo Leagues and championships were played on a regular basis. They had a set of rules and regulations to govern this sporting discipline.

The German variation originally had athletes sitting in heavy kayaks over four meters in length, playing on pitches roughly ninety meters long. There was a floating goal at each end which was basically the same type as that used in the game of water polo, but was about four meters in length by one and a half meters in height. Games were played with two halves of 20 minutes each. The paddlers could pass the ball and score goals both with their hands and their paddles, although hand throwing of the ball was more likely to be used. Body tackling was not allowed. Players used helmets without metal facial protection grills but buoyancy vests were compulsory for all players. Due to the size, width and weight of the kayaks, it was near to impossible for a capsized player to right oneself with the Eskimo rolling technique.

In Essen, there are some canoeing clubs which have written manuals, trophies, pennants and cups, as well as records of competitions played there in these early years. The pennant photographed on the left below is one of many on display at the KG Wanderfalke canoe club in Essen.  

1930 Pennant Essen 1983 Berlin pennant

1930 PENNANT                           RULES IN 1983                               CLUB PENNANT 

This form of game did not have any substantial changes until the new I.C.F. Rules were adopted in 1992. In the latter part of the 1990’s major tournaments were organised in many German cities which included Munich, Hanover, Nuremburg, and Essen.

The Deutschland Cup competition, held in Essen every Whitsun weekend, is the biggest tournament in Germany, and one of the biggest in Europe, where many important clubs and national teams compete. The 35th edition of this event was held in May 2005.

Germany has also one of the strongest canoe polo teams in the world today. In the 2004 World Championships held in Miyoshi, Japan, in the Men’s category, they ranked 2nd. In the World Games held in Duisburg in July 2005, the Women’s National team were the winners in their category. 


FRANCE

The first mention of the game of canoe polo in France can be dated to an article referring to an event on the 23rd June 1929 at Chalifert, where, during a nautical meeting of the Canoe Club of France which was the predecessor of today’s French Federation Canoe Kayak, ( F.F.C.K.) a competition of “canoe balle” was refereed by a certain ‘Monsieur Jaubert’. Not much else was recorded to give clearer insight into the game’s origin in France.

The participants however were using presumably, open canoes and not kayaks to play this game. 

CANOE BALLE (Photo courtesy of the Secret Canoe Polo Society)

An interesting document dated 1935 in the magazine “La Rivière” (edition number 271/1935 pages 89-90) lays down a set of rules of the game of “Canoe Balle”, realized by “a group of experts divided equally between players and referees of rugby and water polo”. This authority declared that its intentions was to create a new style of competition and not less, a Canoe Ball Federation in the future. There was also a written 13 point set of rules which would govern the game. (Length of field between 60 and 100 meters, width as of the river, teams of 3, 4, or 5 players, rules of play, refereeing, etc).

With the rules of the game in 1935, there was great enthusiasm amongst the players to practise this new discipline which was mainly played on public holidays and during important events. In the year 1943, new rules were drawn out by Marcel Stibbe and shortly later the C.C.F. became the K.C..FF., and consequently, the game of Canoe Ball evolved into Kayak Ball. This change also marked the prominence of the use of kayaks over canoes. In 1947 in Perigueux, according to a certain Daniel Bonigal, a tournament was held on the canal of the Marne, between teams from various regions around the Paris area. Around 1951, due to the reduction of events organised during public festivities, interest in the practise of kayak polo was severely reduced.

In 1970, a canoe instructor by the name of René Tragarò who visited the International Boat Show at Crystal Palace, London, re-discovered the game and exported it to the Breton Region of France. 1978-1979 were the years when the re-entry of kayak polo established a firm hold in the country, starting from the Breton Region. René Tregarò, now regional league technical adviser, together with several clubs, organised a number of matches during various local town festivals. The rules of the game now resembled those used by the British. These games becoming more frequent then evolved into small regional championships.

In 1981, on return from a trip to the Boat Show at Crystal Palace in Britain, he brought back with him a film of the games held there, as well as a set of rules of the game, which he translated into French. The following games were so spectacular and enjoyable that many athletes were motivated to practise this sport. The next year, a team from Normandy was invited to play at Crystal Palace. According to the players, this was the year that the game entered officially into the country as a sporting discipline.

In February 1983, players from the region of Normandy, getting news of the match between the team from Breton and Britain, consequently sent their own team to play at Crystal Palace, returning home with great enthusiasm to get involved with what was happening on the other side of the Channel. The name “Kayak Polo” was officially accredited in France during a meeting of the CCFF in September 1983 in Paris.

In 1984, during the French wild water championships at Thonon-Les-Bains, the French Federation delegated Francois Parmentier, at that time regional technical adviser for the Region of Dauphine Savoy, to organise a kayak polo tournament entitled “French League Cup” as a new spectacular discipline which could help in the athletic preparation of slalom and downriver racing.

After seeing the success of the League Cup, the F.F.C.K. decided to organise a championship for kayak polo clubs. The French kayak polo championships saw its real debut in 1986, with 8 clubs selected for the first division, to play home and away matches. There was also a second division championship made up of other teams. In 1987, the French Federation clarified rules and regulations for refereeing. From 1988 onwards, a major diffusion of canoe polo teams spread around most of the regions of France.

In 1992, France also adopted the new I.C.F. Rules.

France is currently one of the top teams in International competition events. In the World Championships held in Japan in 2004, they came 4th in the Men’s category. 


GREAT BRITAIN

The first mention of canoe polo in Britain can be surely attributed to the activity of Oliver J Cock, MBE, who invented this version of the game in the late 1940’s, just after the end of the Second World War. The game was first mentioned in his book “You and your Canoe” published in the U.K. in the middle of the 1950’s. 

In April this year just before completing this article I was able to talk directly to him to obtain first hand insight into these historic details. He told me that when he was living near the river at Hambleden-on-Thames around 1947, he used to go kayaking on the river with other friends, all being members of a local club, Chalfont Park Canoe Club. 

At that time, paddlers used folding kayaks (made out of canvas and wood) on the river. One day, while sitting in his kayak, he saw a tennis ball floating by, picked it up and threw it at somebody with the intention of splashing him. It was vigorously thrown back at him with the same intention. That soon got the two of them into throwing the ball even more vigorously at each other. When the game grew livelier, the tennis ball was changed over to a football. Making people wet was possibly the best way that made everybody so enthusiastic at that stage. It was only when the game got “competitive” that players began to sober up and play more seriously.

Two teams of players were formed and the width of the river was conveniently used to form the ends of the playing field, with shrubs or imaginary lines on the opposite banks as goalposts. That was when, to quote Oliver Cock, the game of canoe polo started in Britain, “all because of the fact that I threw a tennis ball, and then the sport growed like Topsy”.

Oliver Cock was also was part of a committee to test canoeing proficiency for The British Canoe Union (B.C.U.) and went on to become coach to the British slalom team in 1948; he also covered other important roles, one being President of the British Dragon Boat Association, retiring in only in the year 2000.

In 1966, it was thanks to the design and development of a new canoe for use by teaching and training people in swimming pools that the game of canoe polo really took off. Bert Keeble from Essex was asked to design a kayak without sharp ends, to avoid ruining the poolside. He came up with a simple wooden craft which with the National Coach tried out in the pool at Crystal Palace, London. It seemed reasonably suitable for this purpose, and it was in consequence of this designed boat, that Alan Byde, created a similar craft made out of fibreglass and called it a Baths Advanced Trainer, or BAT for short. That name stuck, and the use of this type of kayak soon gained popularity for its versatility. The modern high-tech canoe polo boat of today’s game is a direct descendent of that BAT kayak.

In 1970, The National Exhibition Committee decided to include this relatively unknown game of canoe polo at the Crystal Palace Boat Exhibition, for a wider audience. Out of this event, a committee was formed to look after and develop it into a competitive sport, and so new rules were created for its regulation. In 1971, the first National Championships were held at the Crystal Palace Exhibitions swimming pool. Since then, the game has grown into a very popular sport with leagues and competitions throughout the British Isles.

The British version of the game of canoe polo played in the 1980’s-1990 though, was substantially different to that of the Germany, Dutch and Italian game, and notable for two important features.

The goal posts were not the same as the water polo goal posts, but were vertical suspended frames, one meters wide by one meter high, with the lower edge two meters from the level of the water. Another important feature was that ball play was dominant in “hands only” use, for dribbling, passing and scoring, although some players did occasionally use their paddles for flipping the ball in the air. The defending player however, had to raise his/her paddle to defend goal shots thrown high in the air. Tackling an opponent in possess of the ball was permitted with a flat handed push against their upper arm or torso.

The playing field length was about 35 meters in length and 20 meters in width. Knowledge of the Eskimo roll or self righting manoeuvre was essential. All players wore compulsory buoyancy vests and helmets, but the use of protective face grills was not ruled compulsory until the adoption of the I.C.F. Rules in 1992.

Teams from Great Britain were constantly dominant in the world canoe polo scene, and went over the years, to win many titles in both the Men’s and Women’s categories.

In 2004 in Japan, the British Women’s National team was crowned World Champions; in the Men’s category they ranked 3rd. In 2005, during the World Games event in Duisburg, Germany, the Women’s National team classified second.


ITALY

In Italy, the sport was first introduced into the canoeing community by me, during an International canoe meeting organised by my local club, Natisone Kayak Club, at Manzano on the river Natisone. We had organised a small tournament and inserted it into the programme on the afternoon of the 9th of September 1979, as a finale a to the mornings river outing.

Four clubs participated that day in the event: Natisone Kayak Club, Canoa Club Udine, Canoa Club XXX Ottobre from Trieste, and a club from nearby Slovenia, Soske Electrarne. All participants had only white water canoeing skills and had never having played canoe polo before. This first International Tournament organised coinciding with the birth of a new sporting discipline in Italy.

There was great enthusiasm amongst the teams for this new sport and a willingness to continue playing on a regular basis. Consequently, the Italian canoe polo movement was created as interest in the game was guaranteed.

PAGE FROM SPORTS ENCYCLOPEDIA

The idea of practising this sport came to me after I saw an illustration of the game in a book ‘The Italian Encyclopaedia of World Sports’, while browsing in a local bookstore. I thought that this activity could have been a pleasant alternative for my fellow club members in the summer months, when the local alpine river running through the town, had a tendency of losing its wild water strengths, and become basically a flat lake. In this way, we had guaranteed canoeing activities for the “dry” summer months.

In the first version of the game we played originally with normal fibreglass touring kayaks, over four meters in length, but the following year, we bought our first fibreglass B.A.T. kayaks. For that first match, the goal posts were rudimentary and were semi-fixed on the shallow bed of the river, thirty meters apart. The height of the river that day was only half a meter high, but sufficient to play in.

 

Italy 1979 Roma 1983 I.C.F. Rules in 1989

    THE VERY FIRST GAME 1979                 ROME EXHIBITION 1983                        I.C.F. RULES IN 1989

Within a few months, we constructed new floating goals 4 meters in width and 1.5 meters in height and they were made out of floatable polypropylene plastic tubing. This enabled us to transport the goalposts to wherever we organised matches, in lakes, rivers or swimming pools.  

The size of the playing field according to the rules was 35-40 meters in length and 18-20 meters in width. 

Ball play as stated in the rules was exclusively limited to paddle play only, both for dribbling the ball and scoring. Only at throw-ins and goal starts was the ball physically handled. Body tackling, unheard of at that time was not used for gaining control of the ball. Each game was controlled by two referees. Buoyancy vests were used by all players, as were helmets, but they were without facial protection. Notwithstanding the exclusive use of paddles, injury to the players was virtually unknown.  

Bearing in mind in 1979, that these rules were from a book translated from the English language into Italian, I was under the impression that this then unheard game was already being played in that way either in the USA or in England, or both.  

How wrong I was to be!

During the early years, it was next to impossible recruit other clubs to the game or to get the Federation involved, as interest lay at that time only in slalom and downriver activities. 

But, nevertheless, I did not give up my efforts to go ahead with the game I believed had a great future. 

Our club participated in matches in local tournaments around the Friuli region, and in 1981 the Regional Committee organised the first canoe polo championship. With more Italian canoeing clubs finally coming to play at our yearly International Tournament, the news of this discipline spread to other parts of the country, and canoeists from the slalom and down river disciplines started to create their own teams and organised competitions sprouted literally everywhere. 

In 1982, when we found out about the International Tournament at the Boat Show at Crystal Palace, London, though it was too late to enter the main programme, we were invited to play a ‘friendly’ at the end of the regular competitions. This was the first opportunity for an Italian club to play abroad. We soon realised that contrary to what we thought, the game of canoe polo, although practised in other countries, did not have the same form of rules as in Italy. 

From 1983-1990, our club travelled regularly playing many tournaments in Germany, Holland, Hungary and Australia, where we got used to seeing that nearly every country played with a different set of rules. In spring 1983, only after the (then) President of the Italian Federation, Dr. Sergio Orsi, came to the Nautical Boat Show at Trieste, to see a demonstrative match organised by our club, did he officially take notice of this sport and get more involved at a Federal and International level.  

In October of 1983, we were invited by the Italian Olympic Committee (C.O.N.I.), to play a demonstration match against a selection of other Italian clubs (at that time there were only canoe polo teams from northern Italy in activity), during the Olympic Youth Games Meeting Week, in the Foro Italico indoor swimming pool in Rome. This game widely publicised in Rome drew support from canoeist and public alike, paving the way for other canoe clubs, now also from southern and central Italy, to become involved in the sport. 

In November 1982 at Mestre (near Venice), an important meeting was co-organised by Canoa Club Mestre whose members represented the Veneto section of canoe athletes and Natisone Kayak club, who were representing the Friuli Region athletes, to talk about promoting the sport of canoe polo, not only in the northern regions but also in other parts of Italy. In November the next year, again in Mestre, the Veneto Committee of the Italian Canoe Commission organised another meeting inviting various clubs to propose their ideas in creating a set of National Rules for the game. 

From 1986 onwards, other Italian teams started travelling outside Italy, taking part in many International tournaments around Europe. The first National Tournament was held in Italy in 1987 and was called the Italian Cup, which was won by A.S. Roma Canoe Polo.

1988 was the beginning of changes in the way the game was played in Italy. At our yearly International, the event was divided equally into two tournaments; the principal event in the old “Italian style” and a smaller competition with the new I.C.F. rules. In this way transition towards the new rules would be easier for us to get used to. We had already constructed the new suspended goalposts which we positioned at the ends of the swimming pool to use when we changed over to ‘the other game’. As it was now apparent that ‘Italian Rules’ would not survive as an alternative way of playing canoe polo anymore, the faster we could adjust our game, the easier the transition to the new rules would be. 

From 1989 our tournament was organised only with these new I.C.F. rules. It was a sign of the times and it was just a matter of time before all the other canoe polo teams in Italy would follow suit.

1992 was the last year in which Italy played with “paddle only” rules. 

In 1993, the Italian Federation, (now known as Federazione Italiana Canoa Kayak) as did all the other canoe polo playing countries, adopted the new unified I.C.F. Rules. The first Italian National Championships with these new Rules was held with the club A.R.C.I. Lerici winning first place. Italy has since gone on to become one of the strongest nations in this sport.  

In 2004, during the 2004 World Championships, they were the runners-up in the Men’s U21 category, and classified 5th in the Men’s category. 


THE NETHERLANDS

Little is known of how the Dutch canoe polo activity began. In 1976, one of the early players was a certain Fritz Jager, who played with Canoe Club Ossa in Heerhugowaard. He and other players used kayaks, played without buoyancy vests but used helmets with face protectors.

The Dutch version of the game was a mixture of the German and Italian variants. They, like the Germans, used a floating water goal, but it was exactly the same size of that used in water polo. The size of the playing area was about 30-40 meters in length and within 20 meters in width. Dribbling of the ball was used both by hand and by the use of the paddle, but like the Italian version, goals could only be scored by paddle use, and only by a player who did not handle the ball in his attempt to shoot into the opponent’s goal. In the case of handling the ball it would have had to be passed to another player who would have had to score with direct paddle use only. Tackling of opposing players was allowed, and Eskimo roll techniques were essential to the game. Games were played in swimming pools, on rivers and on lakes.

 WORMER TOURNAMENT                                     1985 POSTER

In the 1980’s, International tournaments were held regularly in Amsterdam and other towns and cities, with canoe polo clubs growing rapidly around the country.
In 1988 Fritz Jager retired from the game to become Chairman of the I.C.F. Canoe Polo Committee.

I.C.F. Rules were implemented in all games from 1992 onwards. Dutch canoe polo has emerged since then to be consistently one of the strongest canoe polo teams in International competitions.

The Netherlands are currently the World Champions in the Men’s category, having won in Japan in the year 2004. In 2005, the Men’s National team won the German Pentecost International at Essen, whereas the club team Deventer K.V., won the Charleroi International in Belgium.


AUSTRALIA 

Canoe polo first came to Australia in 1952 after the newly formed Australian Canoe Federation heard about it through correspondence with the I.C.F. The arrival of this new sport coincided with the preparations of the Melbourne Olympics in 1956; consequently Australian canoeists were eager to try this new discipline imported from overseas.

In 1953, the state of New South Wales, hosted the Third Australian Sprint Championships at Penrith on the Nepean River. With the enthusiasm of all the paddlers, a canoe polo competition was also held. In these years however, canoe polo was played in open touring canoes, two persons per boat, with the stern paddler steering the vessel and the bow paddler doing all the ball handling. This version of the game was very different to the one which emerged in Britain in the late months of 1960.

The "open canoe" polo game was played for fun by many clubs in Sydney during the years 1960-1970. However, when Ray Abrahall of Sydney went to compete in the Devise to Westminster Marathon in the UK, he brought back a BAT kayak with him, and suggested to the N.S.W. Canoe Association that they officially play using these kayaks. The version of Australian canoe polo rules that were imported from England used one meter square suspended goals, and the same size pitch as those of the British. Unlimited boat tackling was allowed, but no hand tackles to the body was permitted.. However, although most people still regarded this form of the game as a novelty, it stimulated a great deal of interest and teams began to form in earnest.

In 1976 canoe polo was officially underway using the Approved B.C.U. Canoe Polo Rules of 1972. Within months, a successful knockout competition was held and the first State Canoe Polo competition scheduled. The Australian rules though similar to those that were played in Great Britain, had some variations, one being that players could tackle their opponents with a two handed push to their opponents body, compared to the former, where only one handed body contact was permitted.

In the late 1980’s, Richard Boult, a member of the Australian Canoe Federation, was also part of a committee formed by the I.C.F. to investigate and formulate a new set of common International Rules, based on the various styles of play that were then being practised around the world. His effective lobbying during many of those meetings in promoting the Australian/British/French style of play, left little space for the Dutch/German or Italian variants of the game to be taken into consideration as an alternative way of play. This input effectively helped to pave the way to define the rules in which the game is now played around the world.

Australia also changed over to the new I.C.F. rules in 1992.
 

PLAYER IN 1989                                STICKER 

In 1985 and 1989, the Australian national canoe polo team visited Europe, where they participated in several International Tournaments gaining excellent results on many occasions. In 1989, in Sydney, Australia, the first World Canoe Polo Tournament was organised for both National and Club teams. There were many teams present not only from Australia and New Zealand, but also teams from Europe and the Far East.

Australia has been constant in ranking among the top countries on the canoe polo scene for several years now, coming 6th in the World Championships held in Japan in 2004.


U.S.A. 

In the U.S.A. there is an obscure reference to canoe polo being played at the Nantahala River, North Carolina, on the 5th July 1980. The basic rules were that ‘the paddle was for propulsion only and not for ball play’. The goals were similar to those used for water polo. There is no news if this game was just a one-off or there was any further development of the game. 

CANOE POLO IN THE US (Photo courtesy of the Secret Canoe Polo Society) 

In 1996, a young Italian canoe polo player, Ezio Ambrosetti, from the Roman club Mariner Canoa Polo, immigrated to Austin, Texas, and settled there. At that time the game of canoe polo was practically nonexistent throughout the country. In 1997 he got together with some Texan canoeists who had heard about this sport, and started to teach them the rules and tactics of the sport which he had been playing back home. These rules were obviously the “paddle only” style which at that time was in practice in Italy.

They built two floating goalposts made out of aluminium and PVC for the game. Within the next spring, they were training weekly in the river-cum lake which flowed through Austin. Even now after 7 years into the sport, they still train every week on Wednesdays for all 12 months of the year. At that time Ezio Ambrosetti was the only person in the whole of Southern U.S.A, who had a plastic BAT kayak. All the other athletes played polo regularly with river kayaks, some with sit-on-top kayaks, and one player had a Canadian open touring canoe!

He tried to teach his companions the knowledge of the “paddle only” game, because to him it was a clear advantage in knowing how to use the paddle correctly in contact with the ball, and also had its great advantages. This rule of thumb is also a valid technique even with the “new” rules of today.

At the end of 1997, Brad Carr from Tennessee, who had studied at a University in Canada, and had learnt to play canoe polo when he was there, had circulated a message on various canoe and kayak forums on the Internet, looking for people who wanted to create an American National Team to play at an International Tournament in Edmonton, Canada, in March 1998. Various people from all around America responded, including Ezio Ambrosetti, and they all agreed on meeting directly in Edmonton the following year in March.

Without ever having met and trained together, the team formed up in Edmonton, and participated in the tournament. Surprisingly, this newly formed ‘wonder team’ lost only in the final, to what was considered practically Canada’s National Team.

That first group of American players was composed of players from Tennessee, Boston, England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and Italy. The names of these players were Brad Carr, Tim Johnson, Tom O’Brian, Marty Bell, Andrea Fear, Kirsty Leveloff, David Wright, Natalie Bartley, Angela Killian, Elena Ramirez and Jakie Hoglund, and Ezio Ambrosetti. All these players lived in the U.S.A. for different reasons and all of them had learnt to play in some other parts of the world. This infusion of people was practically the basis of the first National team of the U.S.A.

The same year, 1998, the decision was taken to participate in the World Championships in Portugal, with a Men’s team and a Women’s team to represent the U.S.A. In April 1999, the first National Championships was held in the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club in Gainesville, Georgia.

Teams participating in these Championships have grown from an initial 8 in 1999 to roughly 30 in the year 2004, divided into Men’s, Women’s and Junior Categories. The National Championships are now held yearly. The U.S.A. was represented in the World Championships in Brazil in 2000, in Germany in 2002, and in Japan in 2004.

Currently, there are about 8-10 canoe polo clubs in the country which are active throughout the year. There are also several clubs which are only seasonally active. All these teams have a vast stock of canoe polo boats made from plastic, RFG and carbon fibre, which have been imported from Europe, Canada and Australia.

Ezio Ambrosetti is still developing canoe polo in the state of Texas and the entire South. With his friends of the Texas Canoe and Kayak Club, they are currently organising and developing lessons for youngsters in the local Middle School, with the hope that some of these kids will decide to continue in the sport and train all year round, with intentions to be part of the future National team.

Many Americans, as do the Canadians, and French, still call the game by the name of Kayak Polo.


SINGAPORE 

Singapore aficionados started to play canoe polo in the mid to end 1980’s. Some kayak instructors and members of The People’s Association and Seaside Club at Changi heard of the game and started trying it out. Their initiative did not last long and the sport faded from sight.

In the mid 1990’s, the same instructors, mainly Keat Yeow, L.C. Cheng and some other players revived the game when they entered University. They worked very hard and introduced the sport to other Universities, Polytechnics and seaside clubs. By 1999, Singapore had their first canoe polo Championships organised by the Singapore Canoe Federation.

In 2000, the Singapore Canoe Federation created their first national team. The following year, the first canoe polo league was formed. The national team also participated in the successive Asian Canoeing Championships held in Hong Kong.

In 2004, Singapore participated in the World Championships held in Japan.
 

MALAYSIA 

Canoe polo had been played in Malaysia since 1978, but only in Penang. There is little information of this period of time as to who actually introduced the game into the country.
In May 1996, a basic canoe polo course had been introduced at Kola, Kenyir, Terengganu, but developed little interest on a national scale.

In November 1996, a National Basic Canoe Polo Instructor Course had been held in Kangar, Perlis. This course was conducted by Mohamed Assyidiq, from Persatuan Kayak Dan, Mendayung, Indonesia, with more encouraging results this time. The game then started being practiced all around the country. Since then, many major tournaments have been held regularly.

The First National Canoe Polo Championship in Kangar, Perlis was held in May 1997. In that tournament, Penang was the first National Champions, mainly due to their player’s long experience in the game. Perlis were second and Kuala Lumpur placed third.
In August 1997, the 1st National Canoe Polo Camp was held in Kangar, Perlis.


CONCLUSION

I have been very fortunate to be a part of this canoe polo movement for the last 25 years, in what I consider was in its formative years, leading up to rule unification. Playing canoe polo in many countries, gave me first hand information of the different ways the game was being played prior to 1992. I have also had the opportunity, during my athletic years, to make long-lasting friendships from around Europe and Australia, with many different players and organisers, with whom I still keep contact.

I would ask all canoe polo players to give a moment of thought to the fact that without the efforts of many people from around the world who worked passionately at creating, promoting and developing this game, today all of us would not have been able to enjoy this fascinating world sporting discipline at all.

I, as many others, look forward to see in the near future, the game of canoe polo integrated as an Olympic discipline.

IMPORTANT MILESTONES IN WORLD CANOE POLO HISTORY

In 1987, the new International Rules were first used at the World Sprint Titles in Duisburg, Germany, where canoe polo was played as a demonstration sport.

In 1994, in Sheffield, England, the first Canoe Polo World Championships were held; the Men’s senior division was won by Australia.

In 1995, the first European Championship was held in Rome, Italy. The senior Men’s division was won by Great Britain.

In 1996, the second World Championships were held in Adelaide, Australia. The senior Men’s division was again won by Australia.

In 1997, in Essen, Germany, the second European Championships were held. The senior Men’s division was won by France.

In 1998, the third World Championships were held in Aviero, Portugal. The senior Men’s division was won a third time by Australia.

In 1999, the third European Championships were held in Belgium. The senior Men’s division was won by France.

In 2000, the fourth World Championships were held in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The senior Men’s division was won by Great Britain.

In 2001, the fourth European Championships were held in Poland. The senior Men’s division was won by Germany.

In 2002, the fifth World Championships were held in Essen, Germany. The senior Men’s division was won by Great Britain.

In 2003, the fifth European Championships were held in Kildare, Ireland. The senior Men’s division was won by Holland.

In 2004, the sixth World Championships were held in Miyoshi, Japan. The senior Men’s division winners were Holland.

In 2005, canoe polo was included for the first time in the World Games and was held in the month of July in Duisburg, Germany. The Dutch National team were the winners in the Men’s competition and the German National team were the winners in the Women’s category.

In 2005, the sixth European Championships will be held in the month of September in Madrid, Spain.

1985 STICKER 

Footnote: I would like to thank all the people who helped me in the research for this article, but keep in mind that there are still many people and countries of the canoe polo world that have not been mentioned in my research, due to little or no information available.

If I have omitted the names of any such people, I offer my apologies. Any new information sent to me by readers like you in keeping this article up-to-date, will be highly appreciated. 

Thank you.

Reza Ali

August 2005.

This book is dedicated to friend and fellow canoeist Franco Baschirotto (1956-1979)

“We shall never forget you”

E-mail: natisonekayakclub@yahoo.com 

Web: www.utenti.lycos.it/natisonekayakclub
 

Copyright © 2005 Reza Ali

No part of this article may be reproduced or cited without permission of the author 



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