During the summer of 1998 and entering her senior year at the University of Illinois, Carolyn Erdman worked as a lifeguard. While assigned to an underwater hockey game, Erdman was “talked into trying it.”
She has yet to come up for air and has become an enthusiastic spokeswoman for the sport.
An accomplished equestrian competitor at the time, Erdman, a strong swimmer, switched her athletic allegiance to underwater hockey, attracted by the camaraderie of the aquatic game.
Two opposing teams have 10 competitors on each side, with six submerged at one time. Precision teamwork is crucial as players swim to the surface for air. The noncontact game is played in flat-bottomed pools 4-8 feet deep, with each team battling to shoot the puck into the opposing goal.
“It’s a very relaxing sport, a very quiet one because of the water,” Erdman said. “Everything is about learning your players’ body language, reading the play based on how things look.”
With no verbal communication between teammates — and no trash-talk exchanges with opponents for that matter — strategy is paramount. Different formations are dependent on players’ skill sets and how well they work together.
The 34-year-old Erdman has played at the highest levels of the sport. She was a member of the U.S. world team in 2004 and 2006 and still laments last summer’s narrow 2-1 loss to host Colombia in the World Cup final.
Erdman is equally happy playing with her San Francisco Sea Lion teammates, numbering more than 40 players at present. The youngest Sea Lion is 7, and the oldest are a couple of 60-something men that have each played the sport for 30 years. The team practices three nights a week in two San Francisco pools.
Erdman, a resident of the Excelsior district, moved from Davis to San Francisco in 2008 to work for the UCSF Psychiatry department where she conducts genetic research on humans and dogs.
She and her three border collies miss the sheepherding that they were fond of in Davis, but Erdman is happy with the access to underwater hockey that she enjoys in San Francisco.
Teaching the game is also a passion of Erdman’s.
“As long as you can swim you can play; tall, short, whatever your body size,” said Erdman, the Sea Lions’ co-coach. “All you have to do is show up and a slew of people will come and help you.”
EQUIPMENT: Fins, masks, snorkels, headgear, gloves, 1-foot hockey sticks
PASSING: The game has evolved in its 50-year history from a shuffleboard-like push of the puck to a flick of the wrist
3-D SPORT: Must be aware of what’s going on around you, above you and below you.
DEFENSE: There is no goalie as the defensive strategy is “last man back”
INFO: (415) 894-2834 or www.sfuwh.org