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Alternative sports: The good and the odd

Lesser-known sports are alive and well in the SCV thanks to local players and clubs

Posted: August 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Tyler Dobelbower, top, goes out for a pass from Bill Walker, lower-right, during an underwater hockey game at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center. The sport has been played in the Santa Clarita Valley for more than two decades. The game involves 10 total players, with six at once in the water.

 

The Santa Clarita Valley is renowned for its football and baseball history. Other sports, like basketball and volleyball, are becoming more popular each year.

But there are plenty of non-mainstream sports that have followings in the area. Whether they’re leagues, clubs or regular pick-up games, people meet to take part in these unusual athletic endeavors.

Now, we introduce you to them.

Underwater hockey

Many people might not know that underwater hockey goes on in the Santa Clarita Valley. That’s OK, there doesn’t seem to be much going on on the surface of the pool during games.

Underneath the water, however, there’s a lot going on.

“It’s not really a spectator sport,” says Chris Laidig, the tournament director for underwater hockey’s U.S. Nationals and one of the officials with the Los Angeles Underwater Hockey club.

But it certainly requires ability.

Six people play at one time, with two subs per team in the substitute box above the water. Participants wear a mask, snorkel, protective glove, fins and swimming cap with ear protection.

They wield a stick and push a three-pound puck toward a goal under the water, periodically coming up for air over two 15-minute halves.

Laidig, an avid diver and former water polo player, says underwater hockey is a surprisingly physical sport, which he enjoys.

“When I first heard about it, it was something different,” Laidig says. “It’s extremely competitive. You’re competing. There’s a team aspect to it.”

Every Tuesday night, players get together to play pick-up underwater hockey games at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center. The games are open to kids as well as adults, no matter how much experience they have.

Some of the participants are members of Los Angeles Underwater Hockey, which Laidig says has about 50-60 members, including around 20 from the Santa Clarita area.

Some members of LAUH even compete for the United States national team, which finished second behind Colombia at the 2010 World Underwater Hockey Championship in Medellin, Colombia, about a year ago.

Laidig says the sport has actually been in Santa Clarita and Southern California for almost two decades.

“It was started by a bunch of free divers that wanted to stay in shape,” he says.

The sport has grown in popularity, and while it’s not quite mainstream, Laidig and others enjoy it just fine.

“It’s obscure in the fact that people don’t know about it, but once you get involved in it, it’s a lot of fun,” he says. “To us, it’s not obscure.”

Lawn bowling

At first glance, it looks like bocce, the sport in which you roll a ball and try to get it as close as possible to a smaller ball.
But there’s a difference in lawn bowling.

“The ball’s not round like a bowling ball or a bocce ball,” says Keno Shaw, a Friendly Valley neighborhood resident and regular participant in lawn bowling at the Senior Center. “When you roll it straight, it’s not going to go straight. It’ll curve to the left or the right.”

The ball’s tendency to do so is known as its “bias.”

Ever since last January, Shaw’s bias has been toward lawn bowling, along with two dozen members of the Friendly Valley Lawn Bowling Club.

When he started playing the sport, the 53-year-old Shaw immediately fell in love with it. Lawn bowling starts with the smaller ball, or the “jack,” being rolled out onto the green. Players then try to roll their balls as close as possible to the jack, or try to knock others’ balls further away. For each ball a player has closest to the jack, they receive one point.

But there are variations. Women bowl smaller balls than men, and not every green is the same.

“Our green at Friendly Valley is a thick green,” Shaw says. “It rolls very slowly. But if you go down to (a course in) Laguna Beach, their greens run fast. You have to adjust the speed of your arm and figure out the angle of your bowl, the speed of your bowl.”

Games take place at Friendly Valley on Saturday afternoons and during the evening in the summer, and Shaw and several other members play in the Southwest Division of the United States Lawn Bowls Association.

Shaw says he’s played in 14 tournaments this year, and tournaments can pay up to $1,500 depending on the event. He plans on playing in the U.S. Open of Lawn Bowling, which will take place from Sept. 17-23 in Newport Harbor.

While elderly people are the main participants, the game is starting to attract younger players.

“Once they play it once, they’re hooked,” Shaw says. “Not only are you trying to better yourself and your own score, you’re trying to beat someone else.”
   
Fishing

For years, former Saugus High co-athletic director Kevin Miner oversaw sports at the school.

Now, he’s trying to bring a new one to it — and to all the other schools in the area.

“I’ve been tournament fishing for probably five or six years,” says Miner, who is part of the Castaic Bass Club. “I started talking with a fellow member who works with Damiki Fishing Tackle. We talked about getting a club started down here.”

Miner says that some of the high schools in Northern California already have club teams, and a California High School Bass Fishing Championship is held in October.

“We’d like to get a couple teams up there and give them a chance to fish and get some experience,” Miner says.

Miner adds that Valencia High School student Chad Valenzuela is already a member of the Castaic Bass Club, making him a prime candidate for the club team.

There are extra incentives for kids to compete, too. The teams can compete in tournaments and work their way up toward the High School Fishing National Championships, which features $5,000 of college scholarship money, according to Miner.

“It’s not just something to do recreationally,” he says. “It’s something that kids could do for scholarships.”

Some members of the local community are already chipping in to support. Miner says that Tackle Express in Canyon Country is offering discounts to kids in the club. The store sells basic fishing supplies like hooks, lines, sinkers, rods, baits, traps and tackle boxes.

Although it’s not a CIF-sanctioned sport, Miner believes fishing can gain a bigger local following.

“I would love to see this turn into something like the high school hockey out here,” he says. “It was more local clubs at first. Last I saw, there were Burbank schools and some others from out of the area and some others that were part of that.”

Anyone interested in joining the club can contact Miner at kminer@hartdistrict.org.

Cricket

Ramesh Jayakumar and his friends used to have to drive all the way to the San Fernando Valley to play cricket.

“That was quite a drive for us,” says Jayakumar, the chairman of the club. “We wanted a satellite place where we could play cricket and not have it be so far away.”

So Jayakumar, along with president Bala Krishnapillai and team captain Syed Ahmed, started the Santa Clarita Cricket Club, which features around 15 people and practices during the summer months. The club still has to travel to Burbank, Cerritos, Norwalk and other places to play away games, but it practices locally.

Cricket is a bat-and-ball game featuring two teams of 11 players on a field shaped like an oval. One team takes the field to play defense in an inning, while the other has two batsmen in the center of the field.

One of the batsmen tries to hit a ball bowled to him by the other team, and if he does so, then the two batsmen can try and score runs for the offense. An inning lasts until 10 of the 11 total members of the batting team are dismissed (similar to outs in baseball).

Cricket may be a non-mainstream sport in the United States, but for some of the club members, it’s the No. 1 sport where they come from.

“In India and Australia, cricket is the sport,” says Jayakumar, who’s originally from India. “We have a genetic attachment to cricket. We wanted to bring the sport here and play it here.”

The club benefits from the existence of the Southern California Cricket Association, which is run out of Van Nuys and features “very good” domestic-level facilities, according to Jayakumar.

The Santa Clarita Cricket Club doesn’t have a regular practice or game schedule because it isn’t part of a league, opting to play independently instead.

Anyone interested in joining the club can call (818) 584-6489 and leave a message expressing their interest.

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