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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.


#3 Guest 2009-11-07 23:20
:) grande articolo!
venite questo weekend per il torneo a praga?
a presto
#2 the deacon 2009-11-07 23:19
In return for your compliments, I would like to add that it was a pleasure to have my article published on the best canoe polo wesite on the WWW today!
Sincerely, I would not have chosen any other!
#1 TheMasterG 2009-11-07 23:18
Wow, I just got through reading this properly from start to finish, excellent!
Great job Reza :thumbup:

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