5 March 2024

Cooktown Crocs ready to put bite into national underwater hockey championships

| Cape York Weekly
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Cooktown Crocs Underwater Hockey Club members Kristen Slykerman, Emmett Dukes, Sienna Thomason, Josh Slykerman, Caleb Kamholtz, Saxon Furmage and Micah Parkes take time out from training for a photo as the club prepares to compete on the national stage in Cairns next month. Photo: Supplied.

It is a sport that seldom comes up in conversation, but Cooktown is punching well above its weight when it comes to representative underwater hockey.

After being invented by the British Navy in the 1950s as a way to keep its divers fit, the sport arrived in Australia shortly after, before evolving into an international game now played in more than 20 countries.

Unlike their field hockey counterparts, underwater hockey competitors wear large fins, a diving mask and snorkel, and use a 25-centimetre “bat” to flick a puck across the bottom of the pool towards the goal.

The sport has been played in Cooktown for about two decades, with Cooktown Crocs Underwater Hockey Club coach Scott Thomason telling Cape York Weekly it had grown in seriousness to the point many members were now representing their state on a regular basis.

“It’s definitely a bit of a different sort of sport,” he said.

“We’ve been playing it for 20 years up here, but just at a low level.

“The Cairns Crays [Underwater Hockey Club] ran a clinic up here about five years ago, and from there, everyone got real good and were introduced to rep teams and, since 2020, they’ve been picked in national sides.”

It is no exception in 2024, with club members Sam Ryder, Eli Carroll, Sienna Thomason and Rocco Thomason selected to don Queensland colours at the Australian Nationals in Cairns from 11-15 April.

READ ALSO Cooktown takes gold at underwater hockey titles

Mr Thomason said there were two grades in each playing division this year – men’s and women’s elite, under-19 and U15, as well as a masters division.

He added having the national competition so close to home was an added bonus for club members, as it would allow supporters to make the trip from Cooktown to cheer poolside.

“This year, it’s awesome to have it closer, and we have a lot of less experienced kids playing in the U15 development side, and they will be the future of the division next year and the year after, and it means people can come down [to Cairns] and show their support,” he explained.

“In the past, we’ve had to travel to places like Tasmania, Bunbury [in Western Australia] and Sydney.”

Mr Thomason explained the format of the sport allowed family members of different ages to compete side by side, adding he believed teamwork was the most vital skill for players to possess.

“A lot of people don’t know about the sport, but the best thing about it is that it can be played at all ages groups, all shapes and sizes, and it allows you to be really competitive at a really high level alongside your family; there are not many sports you can do that with at a high level,” he said.

“Breath holds are a big part of [being a good player] and a lot of us spearfish, but there’s a lot of skill and teamwork involved.

“You may be the most amazing player in the world, but you’ve got to come up for a breath, so you need your team.”

Underwater hockey is going from strength to strength in Cooktown, with many competitors from the town regularly being selected for representative honours. Photo: Facebook (Cooktown Crocs Underwater Hockey Club).

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