After practicing at the Contra Costa College Pool, several members of the Treasure Island Divers underwater hockey club talked at Denny's diner about an upcoming tournament. That was back in 1987.
Due to closure, the Treasure Island Divers no longer play at Treasure Island pool - in fact, several of their teammates have never played there.
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They concurred that their club was in need of a name change and, inspired by "Club Med" and a teammate's swim team jacket, they crowned their group "Club Puck."
Over the years, Club Puck played at several Bay Area pools, eventually settling at San Jose State University's aquatic center, where it grew to become today's largest underwater hockey club in the United States.
"[We're] probably the top team in the nation," said Joe Grandov, who has been playing the game since 1973 and is one of the original Treasure Island Divers. "Everybody who really wants to learn how to play hockey, they come out to play with us."
Originally called "octopush" by the British, underwater hockey was invented in 1954 as a way to keep divers involved in their aqua club during the cold months. The 52-year-old sport is now played in
countries all over the globe and is still evolving and growing.
Two teams of six play the game in a pool about eight feet deep. Game play ensues underwater where a plastic-coated puck slides on the pool bottom and points are scored by hitting the puck into a goal trough located at the bottom of either side of the pool.
Players communicate by hooting, making whale sounds, or tapping on the pool bottom; seasoned teammates can tell who is who by how the noise is made, said 22-year player Mike Grimm.
Each player wears a mask, snorkel, fins, a protective hand glove, headgear, and carries a foot-long wood or plastic hockey stick.
Over the years, the equipment has gone from homemade to ready-to-order. Gloves were once made with layers of hot glue and pucks were made with lead, empty tuna cans and duct tape. While some pieces of gear are still customized at home — like chopping off the top of a snorkel in order to be more aerodynamic — it now must meet certain requirements or dimensions.
Uniformity in equipment will help underwater hockey advance from holding world championship games to becoming a C-level Olympic sport, according Grandov, who once attended SF State.
Because the game relies heavily on passing and teamwork, and is non-contact, many players compare the game to basketball or rugby.
"But then you have the added element that you have to stop breathing freely for a while when you want to do something and you're going torun out of that ability — you're going to have to come up and get air and then do it again," said Doug Roth, Club Puck member and men's elite U.S. national team coach.
Roth, a swimmer since childhood and who once was on SF State's swim team, was introduced to the sport when he was paid to lifeguard at the Treasure Island pool during the underwater hockey
games that he thought looked "ridiculous."
He was concurrently taking a scuba class from one of the Treasure Island Divers.
After missing the free ocean dive, the instructor told Roth that he'd write-off the requirement if he played two games of hockey. Roth said he was hooked after the first game and has been playing for 20 years.
"I got tricked into playing a sport I thought was just the stupidest thing in the world," he said.
Now, the Club Puck athletes are helping others stumble onto underwater hockey.
According to Grandov, unlike more popular sports, novices are always welcomed and high-caliber players are excited to share their knowledge because they want their sport to grow. Water acts as a
neutralizer, he added, making every person virtually weightless, which means big, small, young, old, male
and female can all play together.
"Underwater hockey accepts all types of people," said U.S. National Director and Club Puck member Gregory Appling. "Your background doesn't matter, your race doesn't matter … Anyone that wants to get in the water and play is more than welcome in this sport."