What: OPEN WATER Water Polo Exhibition Event.
Where: Kits Beach, Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC.
Who: Masters Open Water Polo Tournament (Age 18+)
Water Polo Photo Gallery
Water polo players have a ball kicking it on Pacific (Ocean) time
Making a big splash this weekend at Kits Beach
Photograph by: Steve Bosch
VANCOUVER — You might be forgiven if you do a double take when you see heads with blue and white caps bobbing in the water at Kits Beach this weekend along with two nets that look like they somehow became unmoored from a kids’ hockey game and blew into the sea.
Given that this is likely the first time a water polo tournament has been held in the ocean in Western Canada, it’s sure to form an unusual spectacle at the seventh annual KitsFest, an outdoor smorgasbord of sports with a heavy emphasis on basketball, tennis and volleyball.
Every year, it seems two-time basketball Olympian Howard Kelsey, the driving force behind the big beach party, comes up with a new twist to what has become a rite of summer. This year, water polo — a swimming-pool sport — is making the biggest splash.
He has brought on Robert Barton, former water polo coach at Simon Fraser University, to organize the competition that will be held just west of Kits pool on Vancouver’s west side.
Lest anyone thinks this sport is a casual dunk in the water, a practice run one evening in advance of the festival proved otherwise. It is fiercely competitive, with players thrashing like egg beaters around in the water as they try to score on each other’s net.
Every now and then, just as the spectator’s mind was drifting lazily off to the stunning North Shore mountains in the background, the shrill sound of a whistle pierced the clean ocean breezes, bringing the focus back to the intense game at hand.
The sport is anything but genteel. “It’s fierce. There is a lot of grabbing, there is a lot of kicking, there is a lot of pulling. There is a lot of everything,” said Barton. He added with a laugh, “I’ve been explored.”
You might think that playing water polo in the ocean is a bit of a stretch, but given the requirement for a depth of seven feet and the lack of pool space in the Vancouver area that reaches that deep, it is really a slam dunk in Barton’s books.
Fortunately, the tides are just right this year and the water is just the right depth west of the pool, so “this is just the perfect storm for us.”
Nevertheless, the setting poses particular challenges.
“There is a little bit of wind, there is a little bit of tide and a lot of sun,” said Barton, who emerged from the water to do an interview on shore.
All of that adds up to greater unpredictability in the ball’s movements although he quickly added that that’s part of the fun.
He expects about half a dozen teams competing with players coming as far away as California. There are about 11 members per team, including a few women on coed teams, with five players and a goalie in the water at any one time.
In keeping with the spirit of KitsFest, which is part competition and part a celebration of summer in one of the world’s most spectacular outdoor settings, no one is expecting the water polo event to set the world on fire.
For Barton, the sport is all about having fun, staying fit and seeing old friends who show up at masters tournaments around the world.
“We just hope that everyone leaves with a smile on their face.”
Kitsfest runs from Friday until Sunday at Kits Beach.