All the pun is intended in saying it was like puck to the pool when Liam Watson first saw underwater hockey as a boy growing up in Wellington.

"I took a lot of other sports but I pretty much dropped them after I started playing underwater hockey," says Watson who flirted with the likes of cricket, football, athletics, orienteering and karate.

But the allure and passion for the aquatic sport falls into perspective when the now 40-year-old reveals he won his third CMAS World Underwater Hockey Championship with the New Zealand men's team, under the tutelage of former player Benson Taylor, of Wellington, in Canada late last month.

The women's team, who claimed the bragging rights in 2013, pipped Great Britain in the final in Quebec City to emulate the feat of the blokes who overwhelmed France, 3-0, in the two-week championship.

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The Kiwi sides were undefeated despite having to adapt to deeper pool depths than what they're accustomed to at home.

Watson was the last man in his side's line up, gravitating between the position of fullback and goalkeeper, in game where teams travel from one end of the pool to the other in basketball fashion.

A robust Kiwi contingent of fans got behind the New Zealand men and women at the championship which was televised with underwater cameras relaying footage to big screens at the poolside.

Watson, of Wellington, a former national captain, moved to Hastings in August last year for a better lifestyle for his family. His sister, Melua Watson, also lives here.

Three years ago, he and his wife established a small business, Hydro Underwater Hockey, manufacturing and selling the code's gear, internationally, hydrouwh.com. Ninety per cent of the 12-member each men and women's team wear the equipment.

"It was a risk at the start to take on something which a minority sport but it's working fine," he says.

Ten players comprise a team with six taking to the pool during a game while the others form a rolling bench.

The men's side have won world titles in 2004 and 2006 in an event staged every two years since the inaugural one in 1980.

"It's the third one for me and I good one to finish off because 2006 is a long time ago now and we were trying to replicate that for a long time," he says.

He was 11 years in 1992 when underwater hockey at a world championship took his fancy.

"I was at the pool and there were big screens so it just kind of happened and looked interesting," he says, responding to a flyer on the school noticeboard one day.

Liam Watson (right) celebrates his third world championship title with good friend and coach Benson Taylor. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin
Liam Watson (right) celebrates his third world championship title with good friend and coach Benson Taylor. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin

The three-dimensional aspect of the game appealed to him, enabling athletes to go up and down as well rather than just left and right.

Lungs and puck-handling technical skills boost enjoyment in the non-contact sport for athletes who don expansive fins, mask and snorkel, dense gloves to launch themselves off the pool floor and a bat to sweep the 1.5kg lead puck over opponents in a bid to plant into a 3m-long tray.

"You don't really need big lungs but you just need to make yourself stay down as mental thing, more than anything else," says Watson who has played just about every position but ended up as a defender as he got older.

The sport was born in the 1950s to help scuba divers attain a level of fitness over winter.
Games are played in two 15-minute halves.

The aim is to get the 1.5kg lead puck into the opposition's three-metre long goal tray. A non-contact sport relies on skill, speed, manoeuvreability and good breath hold.

Not a competitive swimmer, although other teammates are, Watson isn't fast without fins.

The intangible attributes, he stresses, are no different to any other sport. Lifting the physicality stakes and having high-twitch fibre muscles can give an individual an edge.

What Watson lacks in agility he makes up for as an adroit reader of the game from the back.

"I was a bit worried that being a little older this time I might need more speed than I realised but it was no problem, actually."

The New Zealand women's underwater hockey team celebrate gold at the CMAS World Underwater Hockey Championship in Quebec City, Canada. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin
The New Zealand women's underwater hockey team celebrate gold at the CMAS World Underwater Hockey Championship in Quebec City, Canada. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin

He suspects this was his last world champs because it was a big effort from his family so he has some catching up to do. Players pay their own way to events.

Watson is considering assuming the mantle of coaching and the Hawke's Bay Gannets team, based in Napier for many years, have already benefited from his efforts to boost the code's profile here.

They play at the Onekawa pool every Tuesday from 7.30pm.

His two decades of competitive nous has been instrumental in helping establish an elite grade here.

So what does the third title mean to him?

"As a young fellow you have a burning desire to prove yourself against the best players in your sport so ... after we managed it once everyone was turning around to say, 'You can't be a flash in the pan. You've got to do it twice'."

That desire led to a yearning for not just winning but winning in a good way, not just conservatively but to open the game up.

Under the water, Watson says there's always a drive to garner more exposure for the sport which was in its fledgling state when they first won in 2006.

He salutes the coaches of both teams, especially Taylor, for their commitment and time.

The New Zealand men's team huddle to discuss tactics. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin
The New Zealand men's team huddle to discuss tactics. Photo/Nikki Chamberlin