The sport of canoe polo is one of a number of Canoe/Kayak sports which will be part of the World Masters Games 2017 programme. We speak to New Zealand Canoe Polo Chair Cameron Butler to find out more about the game.
Can you explain the genesis of the game of canoe polo?
CB: It started in mainland Europe as a way for white water kayakers to keep up their skills in the winter and canoe polo first arrived in New Zealand about 30 to 35 years ago. The sport is akin to water polo and basketball played in kayaks, which can be played indoors or outdoors in a pool. It is a worldwide sport played on every continent. In New Zealand it is a growing sport with around 2200 players nationally. It is one of the largest kayak disciplines in New Zealand but flies under the radar because it is a non-Olympic sport. New Zealand was the third ranked team at the last World Championships in 2014.
What is the aim of the game?
CB: The game is played between two teams of five players plus subs on the water. The aim is to try and pass or block the ball to score into a suspended goal. It is suited to people who like rough and aggressive games and players are allowed to ram into each other’s kayaks. The ball can be blocked or flicked with the paddle, but by in large the ball is usually picked up and thrown. People assume that it is a kayaking sport, but it is a ball sport with kayaking thrown in. If you are from a ball sport background you have a good chance of doing well as long as you learn the kayaking skills.
Where are the main hubs for the game in New Zealand?
CB: The sport’s origins began in Masterton and our main nursery is Hawkes Bay where about 1100 players play the game including many primary school kids. Other areas where the sport is very strong include; Auckland, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
Is masters canoe polo a vibrant area of the sport?
CB: It is very much a growth area. As the sport is maturing we are getting more and more players who have played the game for 15-20 years. Every two years we have an Inter-Regional competition between the top five regions in New Zealand and we have a veteran section +30. It is a mixed event (men and women) and each region brings a team.
What are your expectations for World Masters Games 2017?
CB: We hope to see up to 40 teams playing and I hope there is a large New Zealand contingent because we won the men’s and women’s +30 events at the 2009 World Masters Games in Australia and it would be great to win those titles again. We’ve got two courts at Lake Pupuke, which we could expand to four courts if numbers allow. It will be a fantastic spectacle to have four courts playing at the same time.