Hold Your Breath: Mason Athletes Go Underwater with Hockey

By Best Of Mason Director Nicole Ocran

Imagine playing basketball while holding your breath. Or maybe baseball. Now try soccer. The men and women of George Mason University’s underwater hockey club manage it with ease in six to eight feet deep water.

Underwater hockey is hardly a spectator sport. Above the water, all you can see is a flurry of thrashing flippers and bobbing heads. All you can hear are the gurgles of players coming up for air and the splashes on the water’s surface. Down below is where all the action is. But keep in mind, you’ll find no body-checking here, this is a no-contact sport.

“It’s so unique, there’s no sport like it,” said junior information technology major Nick Pongallo, “You can’t breathe until you come up… . . . there’s a lot of strategy involved, and I love swimming, but just swimming laps is boring, so [it adds] a little excitement.”

Photo Courtesy of GMU Underwater Hockey

The sport basically reads like hockey—except that it’s underwater. Players use sticks no longer than 14 inches to maneuver the weighted puck back and forth on the pool floor to score. Aside from sticks, you’ll also need fins, a snorkel, a diving mask, a hat with earguards, and a glove.

“I’ve been a swimmer for, like, 10 years, and then I played roller hockey for my high school,” said Pongallo, “Then I came here, and found the two things that meet in the middle, and it was underwater hockey. I’ve been playing since I was freshman.”

Mason also offers a 1-credit, introductory class in Underwater Hockey (PHED 158), held in conjunction with the club’s practice time, where interested students learn the basics of the sport. The club has been playing year-round since they formed in 2003. Graduate student of public policy Phil Magness remarked that there is a “really strong team this year.”

“We actually had the first round of U.S. Men’s [Underwater Hockey] tryouts at [Mason] over the summer, which we had about three3 or four [Mason] students try for. None of them made it, but a lot of them were up there. A few more years and a bunch more could probably make it on there,” said Pongallo.

The team recently had a few of their players compete in the Pacific Coast Championships took place in Victoria, Canada at the end of last month.

“We’re hoping to go down to Charleston, N.C. in November, and that’ll probably be the last one this semester. Then next semester, there’s [tournaments at] University of Illinois, Michigan State, and then we even go up to Guelph, Canada, which is [close to] Niagara Falls,” said Pongallo.

For more information about underwater hockey at Mason, visit www.gmu.edu/org/uwhockey.