IN THE DEEP END

India Today - - LEISURE - —Moeena Halim

Hockey may be In­dia’s na­tional sport, but Pune-based div­ing en­thu­si­asts Kshi­tij Mit­tal and Ankit Sa­boo plan to push play­ers into the deep end with the in­tro­duc­tion of ‘oc­to­push’, or un­der­wa­ter hockey. At Mum­bai’s firstever Un­der­wa­ter Fes­ti­val (on May 6-7), the 28-year-olds are at­tempt­ing to draw at­ten­tion to the sport that is played in at least 28 coun­tries.

Mit­tal was in­tro­duced to oc­to­push in 2007, as a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of York in the UK. Back home in Pune, he has been play­ing for the past two years with a group of swim­mers he in­tro­duced the sport to. With en­cour­age­ment from the France-based World Un­der­wa­ter Fed­er­a­tion (CMAS), Mit­tal now aims to take oc­to­push to the na­tional level and even­tu­ally have an In­dian team rep­re­sent the coun­try at cham­pi­onships.

The game in­volves swim­mers

(kit­ted in a mask, fins and a snorkel) bat­tling with one-foot hockey sticks to get a two-kilo puck sit­ting at the bot­tom of the pool into the op­po­site team’s goal. The chal­lenge is that the five play­ers on each team syn­chro­nise their div­ing. “When you pass the puck to a team­mate, [they] have to be un­der­wa­ter the in­stant you come up for air,” ex­plains Sa­boo.

Sa­boo and Mit­tal or­gan­ised their first-ever Un­der­wa­ter Fes­ti­val in Pune last year, through which they in­tro­duced 700-800 swim­mers to oc­to­push. The Mum­bai leg is in May, fol­lowed by events in Delhi and Ben­galuru. By 2018, they hope to have oc­to­push teams across the four cities so they can host a na­tional tour­na­ment. “CMAS has recog­nised our firm Fin­kick Ad­ven­tures as a gov­ern­ing body, but to play at an in­ter­na­tional level, we need to host na­tional tour­na­ments and find the best play­ers,” says Mit­tal.

DIVERS BAT­TLE WITH ONE-FOOT HOCKEY STICKS, TRY­ING TO GET A TWO-KILO PUCK INTO THE OTHER TEAM’S GOAL

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