In some parts of the world, a few die-hard hockey players share their passion, even going so far as to create clubs. From Africa to America, Europe and Asia, we focus on these little-known underwater hockey spots. Seventh episode with the Abu Dhabi Ducks !
It is often when you least expect it that the most surprising things happen. Lewis Cocks can attest to that. After playing hockey during his years at the University of Plymouth (2008-2013), with whom he won several titles, Lewis left the sport to offer his services as a marine biologist to the biggest aquariums in the East. He is now in charge of the construction of the Abu Dhabi aquarium. Far, far away from underwater hockey. “I didn’t plan to get back into hockey, I didn’t really miss it.” Despite this, Lewis always carried a puck and a stick with him. You never know.
After trying out several other sports such as diving and rock climbing, Lewis injured his ankle during a football match. So he looked for another sport to play and discovered the Dubai Underwater Hockey Club, the only one in the United Arab Emirates. Seven years after his last shots with a stick, he is back in the game. “I realised that I was still pretty good.” During this training, Phil Bedford, in charge of the Dubai club, suggested the idea of creating a hockey club in Abu Dhabi. “I told my roommate and my boss about it and said I could show them how to play.” So training began in their neighbourhood in a pool about ten metres long, five metres wide and one and a half metres deep.
Little duckling will grow up
Despite the difficult conditions (their training sessions began in December), the group has continued to grow by word of mouth. Lewis even had to turn away some people who wanted to train with them. “I saw the enthusiasm and thought I’d start a team.” Now a regular coach, Lewis is taking what he liked about the Dubai training sessions and using it in his own. The Dubai club also provided him old sticks to equip the beginners. In addition to this, Lewis was able to get a sponsorship from a local diving club and get twelve pairs of new fins.He also had the support of Liam Watson and Batuhan Ucuzal who got him gloves and sticks.
Although the training sessions in Lewis’ compound swimming pool are free, the conditions for playing hockey are not optimal and, above all, the weather has become warmer. The other residents of the neighbourhood also wanted to use the pool, which made it difficult for Lewis and his players.
Finally, at the end of May and after dozens of messages from Lewis, the Al Jazeera Swimming Club pool with its 25-metre pool opened its doors to what is now called the Abu Dhabi Ducks. A name chosen by Lewis, his roommate and one of the original team members named Dana. “When she tried on her fins, she said she felt like a duck. Since then it has stuck and it sounds pretty good.”
The family is growing !
Six months after the start of training sessions in the tiny compound pool, the ducks have found their own pond. A pool much more suited to hockey practice that has doubled the number of people attending practice. So much so that Lewis, with the help of his boss who has become an assistant coach, now has to run two sessions, one for beginners and the other for more experienced players. Sessions which, when they arrived at the Al Jazeera pool, went on until sunset (the pool was not being officially open, so no light at night !). Lewis also continues to give introductions at his local pool to teach the basics to beginners.
Just when he thought he’d left his hockey life in the South West of England, Lewis is now coaching a growing team. He has never trained as a coach and is now responsible for introducing beginners to the sport he thought was behind him. Now more than motivated, he would like to obtain two slots per week in the Al Jazeera pool in order to be able to train his players as well as possible. Players who must progress, just like him. “I would also like to organise a training camp to teach everyone the rules. To do that, I need to grow as a coach and know all aspects of refereeing.” In just a few months, the club has managed to become structured and competitive, creating a small rivalry with the northern club.
Ducks vs Pirates
Lewis’ ambition is to have his team compete in international tournaments. To prepare them, meetings are being arranged between the two Emirati clubs, the Ducks and the newly named Dubai Pirates. “Before we chose to call ourselves the Ducks, the Dubai team didn’t have a name. Since then, they have chosen the Pirates.” The MVD (Most Valuable Duck) award at matches between the two clubs, and the trophy that goes with it also inspired the Pirates, who have been doing the same ever since. “This rivalry is good because we challenge each other.”
Beatriz and her MVD trophy
If you’re ever in Abu Dhabi and want to play underwater hockey, Lewis will be there to welcome you. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to witness or even participate in a clash between the northern pirates and the well-developed ducks. Choose your side !