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The Journal tests two of the area’s newest hobbies. Tom Hagues dives into the world of Underwater Rugby, while Jennifer Mason floats above it all (just about) as she tries Stand Up Paddleboarding
Underwater Rugby
PURE Underwater Rugby Club is the first of its kind in
the country. Recently, PURE won an award from the
MARS Milk Play Fund, so I paid them a visit to see why the
international brand has sponsored such an unusual sport.
As I stood at the poolside with my fins, snorkel and goggles, founding
member Roy Sherwin, a keen diver and snorkelling instructor from
Teddington Sub Aqua Club, turned to me and said: ‘You know how to
pressurise, don’t you? This pool is deep.’ I chuckled, until I realised
he was being serious. What I had interpreted as sarcasm was actually a
warning; I was in danger of rupturing an eardrum if I didn’t pressurise
as I descended into the now seemingly-endless pit of water.
In the pool, I was given a lesson in the underwater rugby game from
Robert Bonnar (club co-founder and treasurer), a man who can
hold his breath for an almost superhuman length of time. I learned
the best way to pass the ball, how to tackle and even how to swim the
underwater-rugby way, using the dolphin kick. It’s a technique only
really possible with fins on, and it propels you through the water with
a fierce rapidity. To do it, you have to use every part of your body as
one long, fluid entity. Rob demonstrated for me and took off like an
enormous, goggle-wearing fish, gliding through the water with ease.
The rules of the game are simple; no attacking of opponents’
heads or necks, no lifting the ball out of the water – and no drowning.
The aim is to dunk the weighted ball into the opposing team’s basket,
located at the bottom of the four-metre-deep pool. The starting cue
sounded, and chaos ensued. If I was thirsty before I began playing,
I certainly wasn’t afterwards. Amidst the confusion, I simply forgot
where I was and inhaled a lungful of pool water. Coughing and
spluttering, I dived back in and miraculously got hold of the ball.
Unfortunately, this made me very desirable in the eyes of the others,
and I was soon engulfed in a shoal of underwater-rugby players.
Quickly running out of breath, I released the ball and shimmied up
for air. As my head broke the surface between flailing limbs, I decided
it was time to become more of an observer.
The formidable clump of wrestling players moved on, leaving behind
a single fin gently floating to the floor of the pool. There was also an
abandoned snorkel twirling around and what I think might have been
a handful of someone’s hair. Each team began racking up the points
and, after a while, a winner was announced. Hands were shaken,
congratulations were given as I heaved my water-balloon-like body out
of the water, I decided that I would actually love to give underwater
rugby another go. n
PURE Underwater Rugby Club trains on Thursdays 9pm - 10.30pm at
Putney Leisure Centre, Dryburgh Road, SW15 1BL. First session free,
then £5 per session pool fees, plus £18 per year for British Sub-Aqua
Club membership. Over 18s only. (
The Eel Pie Island Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) Club
has just moved into its new home at the Twickenham Rowing
Club. I went down to check out the new digs and give the
sport a try.
I’ve come to meet instructor Sophy Aykroyd, on whose shoulders
rests the task of teaching me to paddle my way up the Thames, ideally
without falling in. After wriggling into the prerequisite Lycra, rubber
surfing boots and an extremely padded buoyancy aid, I screw up my
courage and head for the end of the slipway, where Sophy is waiting
in the company of two boards and a dozen honking Canada geese.
Sophy explains the basics: how to hold the paddle and where to place
my knees or feet, and soon I’m off for a practice turn on my knees.
Having survived a few sticky moments caught in the current, I’m
facing the correct way again, and Sophy and I depart from the safety
of the sheltered Eel Pie Island stretch into the main flow of the river.
It’s one of those beautiful summer days and the sun’s rays are
glistening off the calm water, soothing my nerves as we paddle. After a
few minutes, I’m ready to try and stand up, which involves getting up
a bit of speed, bracing the paddle and my hands against the flat of the
board and springing gently to my feet. It’s not unlike the motions for
surfing, but luckily for me, it’s a much more stable endeavour. My first
few minutes upright are somewhat hair-raising (wobbly doesn’t begin
to cover it), but I soon find my balance and start to enjoy myself.
Sophy informs me that paddleboarding is excellent exercise, working
all kinds of muscles – especially the abs – and burning hundreds of
calories per hour. I’m surprised, because even paddling against the
current it hardly feels like work. In fact, I challenge anyone to find
a more relaxing form of exercise. The only time I felt my heart race
this morning is when a boat motors past us, and I have to brace myself
(mentally and physically) to remain on top of, rather than under, my
paddleboard as the waves rush past us.
On our return journey I’m feeling brave enough to wave to the boat
folk as they pass. This really is a wonderful way to see and appreciate
the Thames; on our journey we’ve passed fishermen, playful dogs
frolicking in the shallow waters and even a couple of gents in an
old-fashioned wooden rowing boat. Although I know full well we’re
only a short journey from the City, I feel as though we’re enjoying the
bucolic delights of the British countryside at its best. As we approach
the slipway, dodge the now-flapping geese (who seem to be hosting
their own anserine version of Fight Club) and pull our boards ashore, I
find that I’m actually rather disappointed to be back on dry land. n
Look out for the club taster sessions takingt place on 17 August at the
Eel Pie Island SUP Club at Twickenham Rowing Club, Eel Pie Island,
TW1 3DY. For lesson prices, board hire costs and other information
email: (
Stand Up Paddleboarding
Adrenaline: 7/10
There is an element of real
hazard involved.
Social: 10/10
I have never before met such a
welcoming, friendly bunch
of people!
Workout: 8/10
It’s so physical and uses every
muscle imaginable.
Enjoyment: 9/10
It’s not taken too seriously
– it’s just a bit of fun.
Total: 34/40
Adrenaline: 5/10
Mostly for the first five minutes when you’re
as unsteady as a new-born foal, or any time a
boat goes past.
Social: 9/10
Floating down the river having
a chat? Sounds pretty
good to me.
Workout: 8/10
Exercises a lot of
different muscles, and I
can imagine that if you’re
really going for it, it would
be very hard work.
Enjoyment: 9/10
Seriously addictive
stuff. Same time,
next week?
Total: 31/40