When 13-year-old Kaden Babich talks to his friends about his favourite sport, they think he is referring to an ordinary game of field hockey. 

What they do not realise is that he excels at the game underwater.

"My friends think when I play underwater hockey it's a bit crazy and their main question is, 'How do you stay underwater?'," he said.

"They think I play with a normal hockey stick and we run around with a ball but it's nothing like that."

A young man stands in front of a pool with a mask and snorkel on his head
Kaden Babich, 13, followed in his father's footsteps and started playing the sport at a young age.(ABC South West WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Kaden has been playing underwater hockey in his home town of Bunbury, Western Australia, since he was six years old.

He took part in the 2023 Australian Underwater Hockey Championships in January, which brought teams from all over the country to Bunbury for a week.

"In the water it gets a bit competitive, but out of the water everyone is nice and friendly," Kaden said.

"You've just got to know your position, know your role, and think about getting the puck forward and off the goals.

"Before a game, I worked out I can hold my breath for two minutes, but in a game probably 30 seconds is the maximum because you're going as hard as you can."

A group of swimmers stand in a pool wearing masks and goggles
The 2023 Australian Underwater Hockey Championships were held in Bunbury.(ABC South West WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Tiles allow for fast movement

Underwater hockey games run for 30 minutes, with two 15-minute halves and a short interval.

Players swim along the bottom of the pool trying to push a puck into the goals, and they cannot interfere with another player with their free hand.

There are only a handful of swimming pools in Australia with purpose-built underwater hockey courts, with the gloss tiles at Bunbury's South West Sport Centre allowing for fast movement of the puck.

A girl holds a small hockey stick, swimming mask, fins and a glove.
A small stick, mask, fins and glove are standard equipment for an underwater hockey game.(ABC South West WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Bunbury Underwater Hockey Club president Shane Blackham said the sport had a strong following in WA.

"If you don't have those gloss tiles, the game is a lot slower and a lot a lot less dynamic and can't be played at such a high level," he said.

"International size courts are 25 metres by 15 metres wide, and usually two metres deep, and that's played with a team of 10 with substitutes on the fly.

"You wear fins, a mask, a glove to protect your hand and a short stick … and it's a game of three dimensions where you can be tackled from above, which makes it pretty unique."

Breathing 'is overrated'

When it comes to training for this unusual sport, lung capacity is critical.

"It's like swim training and water polo training; there are set drills and you're doing them on the clock," Mr Blackham said.

"We play the sport all year round and this game is tactical. You have to think under duress.

"I've played AFL and rugby union, and it's probably the most physically demanding sport I've ever played in my life.

"You get addicted to the competitive nature of it and we've got a thing we say in this sport — breathing is overrated."

A middle aged man stands in front of a large swimming pool.
Shane Blackham has been involved in the sport since about 2007.(ABC South West WA: Ellie Honeybone)

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