Gay water polo in London
Gareth Johnson of gay water polo club London Orca explains the appeal of sport in Speedos
'New year, new you' needn't mean joining a gym. There are other ways of keeping fit - swimming for instance, or taking up water polo. London's lesbian and swimming club Out To Swim will be 20 this year. Inspired by the swimming teams at the Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990, the club has gone from strength to strength, regularly competing at national and international competitions and expanding to include a synchronized swimming team as well as regularly competing in open water events. And they have their own water polo club, London Orca. Established in 2002, they compete in local London league and international competitions, and are currently looking to recruit new members. Gareth Johnson is the club's Finance Officer and goal keeper, and has been a member for the past eighteen months.
How big is the club?
'We have an active squad of 60. Of course some are more active than others. We train twice a week and attendance ranges from 20 to 30 at each session. At the heart of the squad is our “A Team”, who are the players that compete in our London league matches. They run the training sessions and provide the coaching and development support for anyone new to the game. But at every training session we have players with a range of skills and experience, from first timers learning the ropes to experienced players that have been playing since school.'
Water polo has quite a posh image - is that reflected in your membership?
'I've never really thought of water polo as being “posh”! I guess in the UK there aren't many schools with the facilities to support a water polo team, but internationally it's a really popular sport that's open to everyone. What's interesting is that our squad is very international. We've got members from the US, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, South Africa, Ireland, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Germany, Bahamas and Spain, as well as people from all different walks of life and professions. The diversity of the club is one of the things I really love about it. You're meeting and becoming friends with people that you wouldn't normally have any connection with.'
What can a beginner expect?
'When I first started I was petrified. I hadn't swum for a while and suddenly I was jumping in the pool with a bunch of people who seemed to be speaking a different language. But what was great was how welcoming everyone was - taking time out to show me the basics and talk through the rules of the game. Our normal training sessions usually start with some swimming sprints to warm up, then we'll focus on some of the key skills of the game like passing or shooting at goal. Then we'll use the remainder of the session to play some practice matches. We offer five free training sessions for anyone interested in giving water polo a try, and it took me the full five sessions before I felt confident enough that I wasn't wasting my time!'
What are the benefits?
'Water polo players come in all shapes and sizes, but it will definitely help you improve your fitness. Players can swim from 500 to 1500 metres in a match - but it's all short sprints with quick recovery, so it's like intensive interval training which can help with weight-loss. It's the social side of things that has been the biggest surprise for me. It's not compulsory, but after training there's always a group of people heading out for something to eat or drink, and trips away to competitions are always great fun. There's been the odd romance within the team, but generally we're all too exhausted to contemplate anything more than a quick shower and a pizza!'
What are your plans for 2011?
'2011 is a big year for us. As well as looking to improve our performance in the local London League, we've got two international competitions in Rotterdam and Copenhagen, plus a major training camp with the team from Manchester. Recruitment also remains important for us. If you're a young kid who's just moved to London or you're new on the scene, your options can look fairly limited. Sport can play a really empowering role in building your confidence and exposing you to a range of different experiences and points of view. One of our resolutions for 2011 is to give as many people as possible the chance to try something new, pull on a pair of Speedos on and jump in at the deep end!'
Membership is £45 per month or there's a pay-as-you-go option also available.
Visit http://outtoswim.org or call Gareth on 07841 495363.