Underwater Rugby: Yes, It Exists

Add to the list of Sports You’ve Never Heard of underwater rugby, even though this unique pastime has been around since 1961, when it was invented in Germany.

Played in a pool with a plastic ball filled with salt water, a.k.a. a “negatively buoyant” ball, the sport requires snorkeling gear and a good degree of respiratory fitness, as players are compelled to hold their breath and dive during gameplay.

Goals the diameter of basketball hoops are placed on the bottom of each side of the pool, and the aim is for each team of six players to put the ball in them, like a fully submerged version of water polo. Contact is allowed only with the player carrying the ball. Substitute players replace exhausted team members on the fly, as in hockey.

The teams start at each end of the pool with one hand on the wall. The ball is in the middle of the pool, on the bottom. When the referee sounds the buzzer both teams race to get possession of the ball.

The playing area is officially meant to be between 3.5 and 5 meters deep (approximately 10 to 15 feet) and 12 to 18 meters long (about 40 to 60 feet) by 8 to 12 meters wide (26 to 40 feet). The game is played in 15-minute halves with a five-minute halftime break. Each team is allowed to take one 60-second timeout per game.

The ball, which is about 10 inches in circumference, is generally passed toward the opposing goal in a leap frogging manner. To score, the ball must be completely below the basket rim, and must never be played totally above the water. The goalie defends the goal but may not hold onto it or put their body into the basket.

As in hockey, penalties are assessed for a variety of fouls, with the offending player usually required to spend two minutes out of the water while the team plays short. As a contact sport, a player can attack another player if they have the ball, but kicks, hits or playing above the surface are penalized. You may not attack or attempt to remove an opponent’s fins, diving mask or snorkel.

In addition to temporarily removing an offending player, free throws may be granted or even goals awarded against the penalized team if it is determined that a penalty prevented an almost-sure goal from being scored.

There are different team configurations, but generally a team has one center and one right forward, two backs, a left wing and a goalkeeper.

The ball may be passed in any direction but, as noted, it must not leave the water. It generally sails underwater for about two or three meters before slowing due to water resistance. Strength, speed, agility and breath control are all equally important, as is a sense of positioning yourself tactically to make and receive passes.

Underwater rugby is gaining in popularity in the U.S. It offers a fun, strenuous workout perfect for summer. To find an underwater rugby club in your area, see this list of U.S. clubs: https://usauwr.wordpress.com/organization/usa-clubs/.

CMAS, 2016, Underwater Rugby, http://www.cmas.org/underwater-rugby/about-2012032626

UWR Player, Aug. 2014, “Why  is underwater rugby the new generation of water sports, and where should you try it?” http://underwaterrugby.kinja.com/why-is-underwater-rugby-the-new-generation-of-water-spo-1628807685

Underwater Society of America, 2015, Underwater Rugby, http://www.underwater-society.org/uwrugby.html

USA Underwater Rugby, 2016, USA Clubs, https://usauwr.wordpress.com/organization/usa-clubs/

(return to front page)