Nelson underwater hockey star Greta Clark at Riverside Pool. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Underwater hockey star to play for NZ

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The way Greta Clark plays hockey will take your breath away.

Unlike its land-based cousin, underwater hockey takes oxygen out of the equation.

“It’s quite a mental game, you have to convince yourself to stay under.”

The 16-year-old says, when her lungs are bursting, she remembers the words of her coach, ‘five seconds more even if you feel like you’re dying.’

“It’s all in your head, we can hold our breath for a lot longer than we think we can.”

Greta was recently included in the New Zealand U18 underwater hockey team to compete against Australia in the biennial Trans-Tasman competition, in Rotorua from October 8-12.

The Nelson College for Girls student says her selection is a dream more than seven years in the making. “Since year one, I wanted to get in the New Zealand team.”

Greta is the sole Nelson representative in the team and is also continuing a proud family tradition.

Her sister, Hannah Clark, is also a former New Zealand rep and made the team at the same age as Greta.

“She has helped my game a lot and I look up to her, but we are very competitive, and I want to beat her,” Greta laughed.

New Zealand are currently ranked the best underwater hockey team in the world, having won both the elite men’s and women’s world titles in Canada in June.

“We are at the top at the moment, it’s a lot to live up to, you don’t want to disappoint your country.”

She says there are a lot of misconceptions about the sport which began as a way for divers to stay fit during the off season.

“We use pucks that weigh about 1.5 kg and our sticks are about a ruler length. A lot of people think we run along with big long sticks, but we swim horizontally, flat along the bottom and we don’t have tanks, you have to go up for air.”

Greta says lung capacity is a major component of the sport.

She can comfortably knock out two lengths or 60 metres underwater, a far cry from when she first started.

“I couldn’t even swim one length, I have also thrown up in my snorkel which was pretty gross.”

She says the game can be ‘magical’ when the team clicks. “When you’re training, it can be very peaceful sometimes and you forget you are holding your breath.”

She says she has been lucky to have an incredible run of coaches, including her current mentor Alex Coombs-King.

Greta and her sister took up the game after a coin flip.

“I came down from Auckland as a 10-year-old where there was no such thing as water polo and we were looking for a quirky sport.”

She says it came down to canoe polo or underwater hockey.

“We chose underwater hockey and haven’t looked back, I just have so much love for the sport.”

Greta hopes to return to the side next year and is targeting the World Championships, in England next year.