By Rfn Yalambar Rai
2 RGR have made big waves in the Army sporting community by not only competing in, but by winning the Army Canoe Polo Championships in 2012 and again in 2013! Whilst Elephant and even Bicycle Polo are popular, I believe Canoe Polo is a first in the history of the Royal Gurkhas Rifles and indeed the Brigade of Gurkhas. This may also be the first time Parbate readers have heard about canoe polo and so, if water sports float your boat, read on to find out more about the fastest growing team contact sport (well fastest growing team sport in 2RGR anyway)!
Canoe polo is a very dynamic and aggressive sport that requires adept kayaking skills, good ball control, strong team play and spatial awareness, incredible aerobic and anaerobic fitness and exceptional discipline. A canoe polo squad is made up of ten paddlers, eight in the pool per match, five paddlers in play and three rolling substitutes. The aim of the five paddlers is to get the ball to the other end of an Olympic sized pool and throw the ball into the opposition’s goal which is suspended three meters in the air. You cannot paddle or move with the ball but must throw the ball, within five seconds, to a team mate or a few meters away and then paddle the kayak to retrieve the ball. Players can make a tackle on any opponent within three meters of the ball. To tackle, a player can either ram his kayak against the opponents’ kayak, known as a kayak tackle or push the opponent upside down, this is known as a player tackle. A kayak tackle can be as hard as the player can paddle but cannot be between an angle of 80 – 100°, this is to prevent broken ribs or damaged kidneys, common injuries in canoe polo. Player tackles must be a one handed push below the neck. If the opponent capsizes, and attempts to Eskimo roll the tackler must allow him to get his head and one shoulder out of the water before pushing him back under water. In defence, the aim is to kayak tackle the attacking team to drive them away from your goal, and player tackle anyone near the ball.
So how did 2RGR paddle its way into Army canoeing and regimental history? Since the return to regimental duty of Major Hellier, Officer Commanding C (Tamandu) Company, 2RGR Canoe Club has been reborn. On return from a particularly arduous and challenging deep jungle exercise, even by C Coy’s extremely high standards, news of the Army Canoe Polo Championships at the end of November 2012 reached 2RGR Canoe Club. After a week intensive training twice a day, two teams flew to UK to brave horrendous winter winds and floods to compete, luckily indoors. The competition was sponsored by the Royal Navy and held at the RN Sports Lottery funded gym complex, HMS Temeraire.
The 2012 Army championships saw paddlers come from across the army including the RLC (2005 and 2007 Army Champions), Royal Signals, Int Corps, AGC and even the RAMC. 2RGR B Team nearly caused an upset when following the Qualities of a Sportsman to the letter, in particular ‘plays the game for the game’s sake and plays for his side and not for himself’ were beating 2RGR A Team which would have ensured a RLC victory. Luckily two last minute goals in quick succession by Major Hellier pushed 2 RGR A Team into the final with 2 RGR B Team drifting into third place. The final was equally close with the RLC two one up at half time. 2 RGR A Team showed incredible composure under pressure coming back to win the final three goals to two. With 2 RGR in first and third place, although the RLC had come agonizingly close, 2 RGR were triumphant and crowned the Army Champions. We returned to Brunei and rested before Christmas leave.
Due to other Royal Navy commitments the Army and Inter-Services Canoe Polo Championships were moved from November to February: 2 RGR had weeks before we had to defend our new title, during which another arduous jungle exercise (Ex Ulu Sikhari) stood in our way. Canoe training had to wait as the battalion deployed into the Labi. Following intense training of two one and a half hour training sessions a day for ten days we returned to ‘Pompi’ to compete in the Army Canoe Polo Championships 2013. This time it was the REME (2011 Army Champions) who stood in the way of a RGR rollover. (We knew the REME had a good team and good financial support as our old and damaged boats we train on, are their ‘hand-me-downs’). I am proud to announce that not only did 2 RGR A team beat the REME six goals to four, but that 2RGR B team also beat them to secure first and second place in the Army Canoe Polo Championships 2013.
Following both Army Championships 2 RGR paddlers then remained for the Inter-Services Championships. Most of the 2 RGR paddlers were selected to paddle in the Army Canoe Polo squad and got the opportunity to paddle with and against ex-Olympic paddlers and a couple of GBR Canoe Polo players. The standard of the Inter-Services compared to the Army Championships was like going from the Championship to the Premiership. It has given 2 RGR Canoe Club a taster and an aiming mark in terms of standard of kayaking as well as the game, and hopefully not an unrealistic aspiration as to the quality of kit and equipment we could expect if we are to compete at a higher level. The Inter-Services provided extremely valuable experience and has lifted the standard of 2 RGR canoe polo. Following the Championships, Maj Hellier has received contact from the Combined Services Team, GBR Canoe Polo Team and an invitation for the Gurkhas to compete in a Canoe Polo competition in Italy in July 2014.
From a personal perspective the whole experience, both on and off the water was incredible. When not competing we visited the Gurkha Museum and our gratitude goes to the curator who gave us a bespoke tour. We also visited HMS Warrior 1860, one of the world’s most significant historic warships. She was built to counter French developments in naval shipbuilding and when she was launched she was the largest, fastest and most powerful (in terms of firepower and armour) warship in the world. So powerful in fact that none of Britain’s enemies ever dared take her on in battle. She retired twenty-two years later having never fired a shot in anger! She did however revolutionise naval warships and was the prelude to the Dreadnought. The Dreadnought contributed significantly to the arms race which in turn contributed to the start of the First World War. I thoroughly enjoyed both the Gurkha Museum and my first time onboard a warship and took a lot away from the visits. I also gained much from meeting and interacting with members from across the Army and indeed the other Services. Thanks should go to both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force who were extremely kind and supportive to the Gurkhas, as were the staff of HMS Warrior.
On the water I feel I have developed my personal skills, improved my paddling fitness and now have a far better understanding of the game and the tactics. I learnt that in canoe polo you must control your aggression, any cheating is counter-productive with two referees and the game is very strict which in turn teaches self discipline. Being unable to paddle or move with the ball makes canoe polo a true team sport, regardless of personal ability. If you have the ball you have five seconds to use it or lose it which makes it a fast thinking and action game. If you are within three meters of the ball the opposition are trying to ram you at full speed or capsize you so you must think under pressure, be situationally aware, be decisive, operate as a team, have excellent personal skills and be extremely fit. It is a contact sport and being rammed at full speed by an opponent certainly takes its toll so you need to be physically and mentally fit. Skills that are useful on operations as much as there are on the water. That is why 2 RGR won the Army Canoe Polo Championships.
Jai 2 RGR