Friday, February 22, 2013

Aussie Sports: or, Creative New Ways to Kill Yourself

So before we left for Australia, I had grand dreams of how I would spend my time. In one vision, I would put on the running shoes last discarded after a particularly mediocre season of junior high cross country and transform myself into a runner worthy of a Nike commercial. I saw myself effortlessly logging mile after beautifully tanned mile in front of iconic Sydney backdrops--the opera house, perhaps, or maybe Bondi beach. In a later iteration of this same fantasy I would cross-train as a swimmer, executing perfect flip turns that I learned in 4th-grade swim class. I would sculpt my arms until Michelle Obama became jealous. The Aussies might even invite me to join their olympic team.

In actuality, my weekly exercise routine has involved running one kilometer, once a week, and then furiously patting myself on the back for enduring the immense effort that it required (I'm sure all of my friends back home training for marathons are immensely impressed). Today I upped the ante further by deciding to make my aquatic dreams come true. Now, Australia does fit one of its stereotypes in that everyone here seems to be an amazing swimmer, and pools occupy some of the choicest real estate in the city. There are lane pools by the ocean, should you choose to practice some saltwater swimming. The gorgeous facilities from the Sydney Olympics are open to the public. Even our neighborhood pool is stunning, surrounded by a lush park complete with lily pads and wild cockatoos. I bought goggles, just to feel official about it. Now, I recall being a fairly strong swimmer when I was ten years old, even if I never could execute the butterfly stroke properly. At 28, it seems, my lung capacity is no longer what it was, and I called it good at one and one-half laps. "Good start," I told myself. "It's only up from here!" After a final cool down of more furious back-patting, I stretched out in the grass with a good novel.

So failed exercise program aside, I thought this would be an appropriate time as any to unveil all the crazy sports we've discovered in Australia.

Sports we have encountered thus far:

1) UNDERWATER HOCKEY. Dear readers, our grand reveal is finally here! Nod put together a fantastic video from some of the games we watched at the Australian National Underwater Hockey Competition, so I'll let you take a look-see first.

Hobart: National Underwater Hockey Championships from Nodair Razi on Vimeo.

So as best we understand, here is how it works: 2 teams, 6 players each. The puck is a piece of rubber coated lead that weighs 2-3 pounds. The two teams push it back and forth on the bottom of the pool using short sticks like field hockey players, holding their breath as long as they can and only coming up to breathe through a short snorkel when they can afford to slip away from the play. Crazy fact: most of the really good players we talked to can hold their breath for up to 3 minutes at rest. In play, most only last about 30-45 seconds because it's so brutal to be doing that kind of activity in an anaerobic state. We had mad respect for their skills after spending a week with them.

In order to watch the sport, you really need to climb in the pool with them. A few players let Nod, Huub, and I borrow a few pairs of snorkels and fins so we could get in on the action.

2. On a related note, we also discovered that there is underwater rugby, underwater american football , and underwater wrestling ("Water polo is for suckers," our fearless leader told us, using a more anatomically graphic term. "I mean, you can breathe. Where's the challenge in that?") By the way, returning to Underwater Hockey again for just a moment, the public schools in Tasmania actually have underwater hockey as a class. This is a serious commitment to the art of pushing around a hockey puck while holding your breath for insane amounts of time.

3. For the pescatarians, there's spear fishing (on Sunday saw a group of spear fishers walking back from the beach with harpoons in hand, like it's no big deal) and rock fishing, which turns out to be the deadliest of all Australian sports (seriously, I'm giving you all youtube gold here). Rock fishing, just to clarify, involves standing on rocks near the ocean and casting a line with a hook, just like it sounds. Nothing that seems to scary, only it's that the fishermen basically let themselves get pounded with waves and just hope that they won't get swept out to sea and dashed against the rocks.

Huub, Nod and I went exploring around some rocks at Coogee Beach where we met some rock fishermen. As we were chatting with them, a huge wave crashed over the rocks and soaked Huub--that was before we realized what kind of sport rock fishing is like.

On Sunday we were actually at the same spot where that video of rock fishing was taken, albeit at a much lower tide. Two fishermen were there and caught a small shark (again, no big deal for the Aussies--just a small shark. whatever.)

4. For those who like to keep their food and water sports separated, you can always choose to row in a surf boat instead. Surf boats, the story goes, were used by lifeguards to rescue ocean swimmers in a time before inflatable rafts and motorized rescue boats were around. Crews of up to four men would get into this narrow canoe and barrel into the waves head on, off to save the swimmer in distress. Now, they do it just for fun. One of Nod's co-workers competes in surf boat, and was the first to show us videos of how the waves can crush the boats or launch all the rowers sky-high. His favorite seat is in the front of the boat, he says, because that's where you get the most air when you get catapulted from your seat.

5. Actually, it turns out that lifeguards have invented all sorts of different sports for themselves--which is a great idea, if you think about it. But so in addition to surf boat, there's an entire sport called "Surf Lifesaving." It's sort of a lifesaver's olympics, involving beach sprints, inflatable boat races, first aid competitions, a sort of piggy-back race called "the Chariot", and relay swims. For the future lifeguards, kids can join training teams where they become "nippers." Nod and I happened to plan a Saturday beach outing to Curl Curl Beach (Sydney definitely wins for the coolest place names of any city I've been to) a few weeks ago, only to discover that the nippers had taken over the entire beach for a day of their lifesaver's olympics. They were pretty adorable. And each of them could totally destroy me in any sort of swim competition.

6. For those who don't prefer the water, there are always equestrian sports. We've already talked about polocrosse before, where riders and horses charge at one another with lacrosse nets. It turns out that dressage is also popular, whereas I first heard about it when Mitt Romney's horse Rafalca competed in dressage in the olympics, much to Stephen Colbert's amusement. and mine.

7. But the greatest sport that we've found here is also the most gentle, true to our soft-underbelly Wazi natures. Revered by geriatrics and inebriated picnic goers alike, we bring you: lawn bowling! Yes, yes, I know many of you have discovered it before. Nod and I have only ever played it once with some friends at park near our house in Washington, DC, at which time Nod famously declared that this game was "for the birds," as our bocce balls ricocheted in unpredictable directions  from unseen lumps and divots in the ground. But the true glorious nature of this game was revealed to us when we first eyed the Lawn Bowling Club of Clovelly Beach. This humble club, full of old Italian and Greek men in sky-blue trousers with elastic bands, is sitting on what is easily a nine quadrillion dollar property. Cliffs on three sides. The pacific ocean, in all its glory. Waves crashing beneath us. Perfectly manicured turf. All the lawn bowling you could squeeze into 3 hours for a mere $12. Drinks were $6. Long story short: we'll be there every Wednesday from now until someone drags us away in April.

Super Focus Face is required for this sport.

Nod beat us all, of course. If you look closely, you can see that the bowling lawn is on top of seaside cliffs. Spectacular.


  1. So, it sounds like all Australians are badasses. I was dying about the one and a half lap! I can relate. Why am I not surprised Nod got uber competitive with lawn bowling. Did he get shifty eyes? Did he get really quiet? I'm loving this blog and your writing, Alissa, is fantastic perfection! BTW, awesome video, Nodbod! Love you guys, Mikel.

  2. Hmmm... I do recall Bocce 'being for the birds' was due to Mr. Razi's poor skill level.... Glad it's improved and we can play when you're back in DC!