Sports

No river? No problem! Desert canoe polo players turn to the pool

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It is the Australian equivalent of the Jamaican bob-sled team, a canoe club in the middle of the desert.

Alice Springs is one of the driest places in the world and the only permanent body of water in the iconic outback town is the local pool.

But that has not stopped a determined group of canoe polo players from making a splash in the sport. They are now gearing up to enter a national competition for the first time.

Central Desert Canoe Club president Benjamin Erin said people were often surprised to hear Alice Springs had an active canoe polo team.

"I think it's testament to Alice Springs, we find our own fun here," he said

Canoe polo players go head-to-head in the Alice Springs pool.

"We're playing on the pool but the skills you learn you can take out to the rivers, you can take out to white water.

"So it's a great way for people who miss the water, living in the desert, to stay involved with it."

Alice Springs is a transient town, filled with shift workers and people who work remotely.

The club tries to accommodate that by having a very relaxed approach to training.

And in typical Territory style, the rules and style of play are a little different to the eastern states.

A sign for the canoe polo event in Alice Springs, while players train in the background.

"In Alice Springs we probably play a unique version of the game: we don't have a referee, we don't keep track of the goals, normally it's the last goal wins," Mr Erin said.

"We're very inclusive, we have people from all different ages and backgrounds and experience levels and that's something that we really value."

The club has been around in Alice Springs since the early 1980s — about the same time the sport took off nationally — and was considered an early adopter of the game.

Some 30 years later, the team is hoping to enter the national competition for the first time.

Canoe polo coaches stand by the side of the Alice Springs pool, watching their players train.

Club secretary Cheryl Baker first became involved with the club nine years ago because she wanted to go paddling in Antarctica.

While that experience could not be more different to paddling in the red centre, she said she loved coming along every week.

"We can be a bit loose with the rules and that encourages the social aspect," she said.

"But when we thought about going to the nationals, we thought well we don't really know the rules, we don't really know how people play.

"So the best thing we can do is get a little bit more in tune with how it's played."

A canoe polo coach talks to players from the side of the Alice Springs pool.

New Zealand Paddle Ferns player and world champion Erin Moore travelled to Alice Springs this weekend to help the club better understand the rules, develop their skills and train six new coaches.

"I first got told that there were crocodiles out here, so I didn't want to come out here and coach on the river and then have everyone disappear and have one player left because we'd all been taken by crocs," she said.

"But then got told by another friend that this person was just yanking my chain and there's no crocs out here and we'd be in a pool.

"It's so good for remote communities having something that players from every different walk of life come together and they're all the same on the water."

A tree in the dry Todd River in Alice Springs

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