Vero Beach — Exotic and extreme sports have grabbed headlines for years. Sand boarding, base jumping, free running, and in-line skating are indeed unorthodox, but none are as obscure as the sport that takes place on Monday nights at Leisure square. Underwater hockey is here in Vero Beach, and it’s got people interested.
“Some of our players have been doing it for 15 years,” said John Checchi of Vero Beach. At 16, Checchi is the youngest of the regular players. “I saw it in a recreation magazine and thought it looked interesting.” A non-contact sport, underwater hockey is a very fast-moving game that quickly builds swimming and free diving abilities. It is played on the bottom of a swimming pool by two teams of six. Players wear fins, mask, snorkel, a silicon protective glove, and headgear. The stick is short, (one foot), the puck is heavy (3 pounds ) and the goal is long (9 feet).
Underwater hockey was invented by a British diving club in 1954 under the unassuming name “Octopush.” Over time, both the rules and the name evolved, and the sport eventually spread to dozens of countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The father and son duo of Randall and AJ Flinchum are two of the most seasoned players in Vero Beach. Randall, 48, is a 15-year veteran of the sport. He’s in fantastic shape, and some of that is due to the exercise he gets from underwater hockey. AJ, 20, has played since he was 14. “It’s a great source of exercise, and it’s a big reason why I play,” said AJ.
The elder Flinchum not only plays, but acts as the unofficial coach for new players who come to play these pick-up games. Often taking time to coach less experienced teammates during games, Flinchum welcomes new players with open arms. “We’ve got new guys coming in to play every few weeks. The games are open to whoever comes out to play.”
Underwater hockey goes from 7:30 – 9 p.m. every Monday at Leisure Square. Call Randall Flinchum for more information at (772) 473-4033.