Nathan Hammond, who may be part of next summer’s Under 21 GB Canoe Polo team, in actionNathan Hammond

“It’s not actually played in canoes, it’s played in kayaks,” Nathan Hammond laughs as he dispels the first misconception about canoe polo, a sport with a buzzing national and international scene, but one that has not yet reached Olympic status.

Nathan, 19, from Fitzwilliam College, is an example of one of the many various sporting faces you can find here at Cambridge. Having first picked up his paddle at the age of ten, after his godparents bought him a two-day kayaking course for his birthday, Nathan has gone from strength to strength in the nine years since, and he now harbours hopes of making it into Great Britain’s Under-21 side next summer.

The sport is one of the many kayaking disciplines, which Nathan explains are in numerous, complex categories. These include canoe marathon, canoe freestyle and some you might perhaps have heard of, such as canoe sprint, or the more well-known canoe slalom.

Of the many varieties of kayaking, canoe polo is perhaps more physically demanding than most. It’s a sport that requires a high level of physical contact, one where, as Nathan tells me, it is more than acceptable to dunk people into water. “You can just bin them” he says. Not your average tackling!

Each half begins with each team lined up on either side of the lake and one player from each team sprinting into the middle to get the ball, something that can not only result in head-on collision, but can cause one boat to ride up onto the other, and smack the opposition in the face.

I wonder if anyone who says that canoe polo is not a real sport has ever taken a boat to the face before.

He describes the sport as a mixture of basketball and water polo with raised goals. It can be played on any flat body of water, like a lake or a pool, or even a wide canal. Nathan describes the exhilaration of “sprinting across the water with paddles flying everywhere”, something truly unique about the sport.

But he also expressed his frustration about its low profile, especially in spite of the introduction of stop clocks, which limit the amount of time the ball can be held for, making the game even more exciting for spectators.

“It would really help us to push on to the next level. Increasing people’s interest and awareness of the sport in the long term could maybe lead to more funding and the sport moving forward.”

As he embarks on his mission to join Great Britain’s Under-21 team for the European championships coming up in September, he describes his gruelling training schedule.

“Often in the winter we would train, and there would still be ice on the lake, and next summer I will be training twice a day to try and secure a position [in] a GB kayak.”

Having competed all over the UK and Europe, Nathan feels the sport deserves a higher profile, especially with the need for coverage of the play at the top international level competitions.  Some of the techniques, like learning to roll underneath the water while staying in your boat are not only difficult to master but also exhilarating to watch.

Nathan participates in the Cambridge University Canoe Club, but laments the lack of funding, a problem that seems to be common across all minority sports at Cambridge. 

Sports like canoe polo are often forgotten about in the Cambridge sporting bubble of rowing and rugby, and elite-level athletes in minority sports do not perhaps receive the resources they deserve to pursue their sport to the top level.

Canoe polo is certainly not a sport to be scoffed at, with a brutal training regime and an inherent excitement for both players and spectators. Fed up with those average ball-chasing, dirt-laden land-based sports but still crave an adrenaline rush and the chance to hit someone with a boat? Then canoe polo is the sport for you.

Sponsored links

Partner links