Underwater hockey is growing in popularity throughout New Zealand and Rotorua is quickly becoming the place to be if you want to see high level competition.

Last week the Rotorua Aquatic Centre hosted 40 teams in the 34th New Zealand Secondary School Underwater Hockey Championships. On October 5 and 6 the venue is hosting the New Zealand Club Championships and on October 7 to 10 an under-18 transtasman series.

Underwater hockey is a limited-contact sport in which two teams of six compete to manoeuvre a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool into the opposing team's goal by propelling it with a hockey stick. All players wear snorkels, masks and fins.

At present New Zealand's men's and women's underwater hockey teams are the world champions, having gone through their respective campaigns unbeaten earlier this year.

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Underwater Hockey New Zealand president Tony Colquhoun said it was a sport suited to swimmers, but the fins and snorkels meant people from a range of backgrounds could play and enjoy the sport.

"The freedom you've got - the three dimensional way you can go up, down, left, right, forward, back - it's great."

John Paul College junior girls' underwater hockey players have a team talk during the recent secondary school nationals. Photo / Supplied
John Paul College junior girls' underwater hockey players have a team talk during the recent secondary school nationals. Photo / Supplied

Of the 34 secondary school tournaments to be held so far, Rotorua had hosted about 10 of them.

"It's a great location. Rotorua is a favourite location for underwater hockey, it's proximity to Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga and of course the home teams here. It's a great pool and the staff here are absolutely fantastic.

"The town itself has all the accommodation, it's easily accessible, and it has all the food and entertainment as well."

Colquhoun said the level of competition at the secondary school championships was "outstanding". Both Rotorua Boys' High School and John Paul College had teams qualify for nationals for the first time.

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"The skill level of these kids blows us away every year, it just gets better and better. It actually improves throughout the tournament as well. We have four schools here who haven't played for a while, and one here for the first time, and they've grown throughout the regional tournaments and this tournament. Just watching them play and how much they've improved is amazing."

The upcoming club nationals and transtasman series would be an opportunity to see some elite level underwater hockey.

"The club nationals attracts about 25 teams from all over New Zealand, so that's about 250 players. After that we have three teams coming from Australia for the transtasman series. That's a great development for the under-18 players, it gives them a taste of competing at an international level."

Rotorua Boys' High School coach Anton Williams said underwater hockey gave people who loved the water an opportunity to try a different sport.

"You see a lot of people, who aren't your typical athletes, take to it and really enjoy it. But, then at the elite level, they are just extreme athletes, it takes a lot of fitness.

"This is the first time in probably 20 years that we've had a Rotorua Boys' team qualify for nationals. The last time Rotorua Boys' had a team at nationals was when the current New Zealand men's coach Benson Taylor was at the school."

The Rotorua Boys' team finished last in the junior boys' grade, but Williams said they were already looking forward to next year.

"This year we celebrated four new schools attending nationals. That does mean some schools have dropped away, but it also means there is an increase in competition as the new schools come in and fight for spots with the incumbents. There are about 800 school players around the country.

"Secondary schools was hugely successful. The atmosphere around the pool was great - seeing the school kids and so many families in support really getting into it. Our boys are all first-year players, so the fact they went up to Auckland and qualified for nationals was a big success.

"We were found out in terms of our inexperience at nationals, but it was a huge learning experience."

Anyone interested in giving underwater hockey a go can head to the Rotorua Aquatic Centre from 6pm on Wednesdays where East Bay Underwater Club captain Mandy Shields runs weekly sessions.