By Dave Johnson
The Welland Tribune
"It's a fast-paced game … people are coming at each other with a bit of speed. The game is very short, and it's exciting to watch," said tournament organizer Liam Hendrick, of Greater Toronto Canoe Polo.
Hendrick wasn't exaggerating about the pace, speed and excitement.
As the whistle blew at the start of each of the two periods of the game, five players on either side of the 35-metre-by-23-metre pitch furiously paddled for the ball in the middle. The ball sat on a ring — to keep it from moving — controlled by officials on shore who would pull it out of the way just as players reached it.
Kayaks, specifically designed to be lighter and faster than typical kayaks, would crash into and sometimes ride up on each other as players battled to get control of the ball.
The kayaks, said Hendrick, are designed with bumpers on the nose and tail to prevent injury. Players are required to wear body protection, helmets and face-guards to ensure they don't injure each other.
Polo paddle blades also have thick, rounded edges to protect players, and are designed to be lightweight and give both good ball control and pulling power in the water.
Hendrick, a member of Canada's national team, said there aren't many injuries in the sport.
With nets at each end suspended about two metres above the water, players threw the ball by hand or flicked it with their paddle to a teammate or to take a shot on goal. Defending players used their paddles to block goal attempts and pushed over players on offence, During Saturday's games, Hendrick said the weather was perfect and said the pitch looked spectacular.
"Everyone that was involved in Welland did really well, it looks great," he said.
The pitch was set up City of Welland staff and the docks that make it up were built by students at Niagara Catholic District School Board's Launch Centre earlier this year.
While only one pitch was set up for the weekend, there will be four in total when the worlds — they run July 31 to Aug. 5 — come to Welland.
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