Canoe polo at night time. Photo credit Kathryn Haddick
Canoe polo at night time. Photo credit Kathryn Haddick

It has often been suggested that kayakers need balls. Having gained enough balls this year, by paddling waterfalls, falling in to rivers and getting naked (for charity, of course), to build a huge ball pit, STAUCC was facing a pressing ball management crisis. No sooner had this panic come about than was it solved by the announcement of the annual Scottish Student Sport Canoe Polo competition.

Thank goodness, STAUCC would get an opportunity to combine their two favourite things; boats and balls. In the amazing sport of canoe polo! For those of you who are less familiar with this discipline; which you are probably now imagining as some sort of boats-on-horseback, hitting-a-puck type affair; put down your riding crops and hunter wellies. For this game you will need some alternative safety equipment (something floaty for your middle and something to protect your fully memorised rendition of Mr Brightside), a boat, a paddle and a ball. If you have friends, bring them along too, they can form you two teams of between 3 and 6, with up to 10 players on the pitch at any one time. The rules go something similar to netball but with the addition of being able to ‘tackle’ other players by pushing them in – known as ‘binning’.  In theory, you now know how to recreate the brilliant canoe polo experience that STAUCC enjoyed at a dark Pinkston Watersports the weekend before last.

The nine members of STAUCC who left St Andrews enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the way over to Glasgow, with only minor navigational errors. Having tested most of the foodstuffs available in Annie’s food bag, we arrived and were soon ready for some rather chilly polo. Glasgow University Canoe Club (GUCC) are excellent hosts and provided tea, coffee and banging tunes. After untying the boats from the roof with numb fingers, the ‘A’ team were soon on the pitch. The girls’ team followed two matches later but had been assigned a pitch which was a little less floodlit than would have been ideal. At this point, this writer must admit she was not exactly happy about the prospect of playing polo in a pool which resembled a pro-glacial lake, in semi-darkness, especially as she had not brought her drysuit. The warm changing room, however, did much to improve everyone’s mood, and we were soon on the pitch looking like a bunch of power-rangers. Due to the arctic conditions, we agreed a no-binning rule with the other team, and were soon in the middle of a game, in which we played better than expected. Surprisingly, with our opponents Strathclyde Ladies being more accustomed to outdoor conditions associated with rivers, we were on top from the off – many teams, ourselves included, are more accustomed to being in a warm pool. Following the game, therefore, we were presented with the not insignificant challenge of warming chilly fingers and toes, but overall were still feeling pretty warm due to the sheer pace of the game.

Both teams were originally scheduled to have another match in the evening, but as events involving kayakers always manage to run late, the organisers decided to cut the games short and complete proceedings in the morning. We hastened to buy takeaway for dinner, purchase food for tomorrow and get ready for a night in Viper (Glasgow’s top west end club). Our lovely hosts from the University of Glasgow taught us some new games, and we were soon dancing the night away.

Photo Credit Kathryn Haddick
Canoe polo in the day. Photo credit Kathryn Haddick

Morning dawned bright and early. As the sun was out and we were excited for more polo, we had to forgo a bacon breakfast, instead simply packing our things and heading back to Pinkston. It is amazing, though, what a difference sun can make to the feeling of a bunch of students with slightly sore heads. Everyone was dancing and drinking tea before long and feeling well-prepared for the day ahead. Unfortunately the course wasn’t quite ready, being iced over (not surprising considering that the car had said it was minus 6 degrees on the way over). Some of the more hearty members of GUCC were soon using their boats as ice breakers, but it still took a good 2 hours for the ice to thaw enough for the girls’ team to get started with the first match against Stirling.

This game was faster paced than the evening before, and we ended up drawing 1-1, after another top effort. This was quickly followed by another game with Aberdeen, where we conceded an unfortunate goal to lose in the final minutes.

Meanwhile, the ‘A’ team were sitting around eating Doritos (a standard pastime for canoers), supporting the team and generally readying themselves for their two matches. By the time the schedule moved down to them it was around lunch time. Both matches included so excellent ball skills and some harsh binning in to the icy depths. The ‘A’ team had never played together before and gave a mammoth show of strength against most teams, while the girls watched from a prime parking position.

The games included some excellent polo and a few swims (from some very brave people). Before long, we found out that the ‘A’ team had made it in to the semi-finals; their first finalists match involving a large amount of carnage as binning occured all over the place and two of the opposing team being sin-binned, but STAUCC held their own and made it into the plate final against Aberdeen B. In the final, they played excellently, trying their utmost to make it through the defence and scoring 3 goals in total. The match was a tense one, with Aberdeen B ending with 2 goals and the girls on the jetty wondering and praying Aberdeen B would not score again. Ultimately, we held out to win, and some emotional hugging and congratulations followed. After warm showers, the teams were treated to another excellent sunset, before packing the cars up to head back to St Andrews.

Overall, then, it had been an excellent, hugely enjoyable competition, despite the freezing temperatures, in which we had played well and given ourselves a sizeable confidence boost for the upcoming division matches later in the month. A bit of a change from our usual river paddling, admittedly, but with all the same old laughter and team support.

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