I officially retired from playing kayak polo after the world championships back in '06. Since then I have played occasionally - random tournaments or visits back down to LA where my old club still plays. But those occasions have been getting less frequent and I honestly don't remember the last time I played hard polo with a group of experienced players. But yesterday the guys in the San Francisco club were having a one-day training camp to get ready for Nationals next month. They needed some extra bodies to scrimmage against and they asked me to drive down for the day to play with them. While not my club, there is no other club that I have spent more time with in the polo world - from playing against them for years in local comps or playing with most of them on the national team. So I rinsed the cobwebs out of my boat, patched up one of my broken paddles and headed out for a long day of polo in the sun.
The good news is that I can still play. I wasn't as sharp as I used to be - my aim was a little off, my reactions a little slow - but I felt like I kept up with the guys just fine. The not so good news is that fitness is a very specific thing. I've mostly been paddling rivers lately, with the one exception being my Lost Coast trip, and I've been biking and working out. So I feel quite strong. But polo is a different beast - it involves lots of quick sprints, constant maneuvering and fighting hard for position. During the warm up I hurt my elbow blocking a shot on goal - just a super stiff paddle transferring the shock of impact to my joint. Before long my forearms were pumped from gripping the paddle so hard (a light, easy grip doesn't work in this sport). By the end of the day most of my body was sore and I barely stayed awake for the lat night drive home.
But the day was really fun. I do miss the camaraderie of playing on a team. With the SF guys it's like an old family out there - everyone knows each other a little too well; there's lots of jokes at each others' expense and there's some bickering and complaining, but mostly we just get on with it. Kayaking is largely an indiviualistic sport even if you don't normally do it alone. But when you're part of a team it completely changes the dynamic of you and your boat. It's something more paddlers should experience.
No pictures or video from the day - we didn't have any extra bodies to shoot it. But here's a clip the Nationals a couple years back for those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about: