Canoe Polo 2001

Kristian Cooper reminisces about the year Orkney entered a scratch Canoe Polo team in the Scottish Open Championship

In 2001 Graham Summers returned to Orkney from Napier University after competing in and winning the Scottish Division one Canoe Polo league. His team won the university cup that year as well.


Keen to continue in his new found sport he started coaching a few of the Kirkwall Kayak Club members. When Graham arrived at the swimming pool with safety helmets and foam padding taped to the bow and stern of the kayaks, we quickly realised this is not a game for the faint hearted!

Canoe polo is played 5-a-side using a 25 metre pool with a 1 metre square goal suspended roughly 2 metres above the water. The ball is not to be carried on deck or held for more than 3 seconds, this makes for a high paced, passing style game. The ball can be 'dribbled' as long it is thrown more than a metre away each time. Competitors can also play the ball with the paddle as long as no one has a hand near the ball. My personal favourite rule is that when a player has the ball in his possession the opposition is permitted to capsize him with a shove to the shoulder!

 Polo is a fast, furious and quite often dangerous game hence the full face guards used!  After a few weeks training and a couple of games amongst ourselves we got a hunger for some competition.  Due to the complicated travelling it was not possible to enter the Scottish leagues, this meant that our best hope was the Scottish Open Championship, which takes place over a single weekend.

Old friends at Napier Kayak Club came to the rescue with the loan of 5 polo boats, helmets and buoyancy aids.  After picking all this gear up from Edinburgh, Kenneth Gee, Graham Summers, Colin Rendall and Kristian Cooper travelled west to the small village of Lochwinnoch.  There we met up with paddler mates of Graham including Tom Haywood, Brendan Emery and Paul Hamilton.  Paul and Brendan completed the Team Orkney line up!!

Understandably nervous we took to the water.  The competition was out on the loch.  We were playing against league competition so were up against it from the start and subsequently lost our first two games. After a bit of organising and further coaching from Paul, Graham and Brendan, we went on to win the final game with a good score.  Feeling a little less down beat we downed a few refreshments to reflect on the day’s excitement!

Afterwards there was a Ceilidh laid on for the competitors.  Being a two day event we were sure that we were knocked out and had no more games the next day.  Lulled into a false sense of security we relaxed with a few more beers and drams.  We were later approached by the organiser who somehow knew we were Orcadian and were informed that we were first on in the morning and had a shield to play for!  This caused a PANIC in the squad and we needed a couple more drams to calm the nerves.

Next morning we crawled out of our tents and packed up.  Getting on the water early seemed like a daunting prospect, although we soon shook of the cobwebs and got into play mode.

The teams we played and the scores are all lost in a distant memory but we made it through to the final of the shield.

To this day I am not sure what got this novice team so far in this prestigious event.  Perhaps beginners luck or perhaps it was Kenny’s MONKEY war cry across the lake that scared our opponents.  We actually went on to win the shield. One of the memorable moments of the game was Colin Rendall’s yellow card for 'foul language towards an official!!’

I am sure that everyone will agree that this was a great achievement for a novice team in their first competition.   Although we never did manage to get a team together again we hope in the near future to play canoe polo in the county once more, and with so many competent paddlers, both young and old, I hold every hope for more silverware!

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