Canoe Polo


The comprehensive guide

    Canoe Polo: Air Earth Water Soul

A i r    E a r t h    W a t e r    S o u l

As presented by the Secret Canoe Polo Society
Chronicled and illustrated by Scott Mcleod

s i m p l e

I feel I must first introduce the novice to Canoe Polo. This is not an easy thing as I must take you beyond the depths of conventional history and archaeology. I will go back as far as known civilizations, but you will see clearly that the simplicity of this social practice transcends these proven notations.

Canoe Polo as played in the Mayan EmpireImagine if you will the Mayan Empire, with their citadels of power and wealth. This society placed Religion and its ceremony in high regard. The main entertainment presented at specific ceremonial gatherings was Tlachtli. Tlachtli was sport of tribute, whose athletes paid in flesh and blood. And for this tribute the gods gave strength and skill. Tlachtli was a sport at which only the truly blessed prevailed.

This sport's venue consisted of a long stadium surrounding a playing area with high walls and centralized "goals". These goals were masonry rings designed to allow a hard ball to pass through from either direction. Each team of anointed players would undergo days of ceremonial preparations. Being blessed by the high priests they would play for the gods and the public in a display of physical skill and teamwork rivaling today's NBA.

Pre-Columbian polo ball from the New WorldOr so the hypothesis has been presented. I present this as the first proof of canoe polo's history. The Maya were also renowned for their use of waterways and aqueducts. Their highest religious ceremonies culminated with offertory rituals in which gold, jewels, and humans were sacrificed into the depths of blessed jungle springs.

Knowing this, it is simple to visualize from archeological evidence, not fields of grass but long walled pools of water at the center of the stadium. In this shallow pool, teams of athletes skillfully paddled slender teak or mahogany canoes. Each vessel intricately carved with animal totems and religious symbols. These teams fought violently for possession of the ball. Goals were made with the use of a ceremonial paddle, which is an undisputed shape of weapons, religious objects, and household items widely utilized in ancient culture.

This ancient polo paddle design also symbolizes a leathal weapon.Another of these proofs can be seen in early New Zealand and Hawaii. The Maori peoples are descended from Polynesians and both ancient cultures worshipped the water in its many forms. The ceremonial outrigger canoes are legendary. Enormous dugout canoes that were adorned with palm, shell, bone and feathers and were often sailed from island to island, tribe to tribe, for trade and war. These indigenous peoples were fierce fighters and often cannibalistic. One war ritual came after the conquest. As the bodies of the slain enemy were prepared for the feast their heads were tightly sewn into their own skin. These gruesome bundles were par boiled and then dried into a tight ball. As the ceremony begins the youngest warriors, gather on the beach as the high priest casts the skull balls into the waves.

A Maori head-ball used in one of the more gruesome ancient versions of canoe polo.As tribute to the god of war, the warriors launch their outriggers in a fury and another battle begins. The object of this game was to cast the enemy heads into the opposing canoes before you get one in your own. The first canoe with three heads or more had the task of casting them on the enemy tribe's beach. Many a young warrior did not return from this task.

The last of these illustrations that I will paint for you is of the ancient Japanese coast. The resident peasants were mostly fishermen and farmers. Their daily lives and rituals were simple and purposeful. In this simple environment evolved perhaps the most lasting of representations of the game played today. It was called "plucking clouds from water." The abalone farmers could only improve their prosperity by collecting larger abalone from deeper waters. This required more time under water and these larger prizes were difficult to carry to the surface. Out of this necessity grew the practice of using tanned shark hide floats to carry bundles of abalone to the surface. The farmers did this to prevent themselves from having to rise before their breath gave out.

This Japanese woodblock print depicts the use of the oar to aid in the collection of the Floats circa 1680 AD.On the surface young children and women would collect these bundles with the use of long oars. To mimic and train for these daily tasks, small children would use oars to toss shark hide floats into and out of small flat canoes. No score was kept, but speed and accuracy was certainly rewarded as the most skilled were often hired to work in the abalone beds when they came of age--on which work, in many cases, their very lives depended.

This Japanese woodblock print depicts the use of the oar to aid in the collection of the Floats circa 1680 AD.


s i m p l e

These simple illustrations of the hidden and secretive origins of canoe polo make you wonder at the multitudes of other inaccuracies in the world's ancient histories. This fact I assure you: Canoe polo is far older than the records may imply, the primitive uses of the paddle and ball shapes in daily tools, weaponry and religious items are far too widespread in the ancient world to ignore.

cloth Mola depicting decorated canoe paddles
This cloth
Mola depicts
canoe paddles
Central America
1870 AD

The root of the game is well branched and seems to have some ties into every early culture known to man. There are four simple but powerful similarities in every branch. These are the representation of the quadrangle of being. These are Air, Earth, Water, and Soul.

Canoe polo exists as a representation of the constant battle between all living things and their environment. Man must find balance between action and reaction. This balance can only be attained through constant struggle with his fellow man. Within the waters of life man must cast his soul above the battle in an attempt to find peace. And with that peace, a miracle may occur. That miracle is the moment in which that man sees himself as one with all.

"Thus a vessel, within a vessel, within the water, within the earth, within the universe."
  —Tibetan Buddhist, Rinpoche - Balcra Shursla Psot

a i r

Reverend Isac Plotts, Founder of the Erie shore sectThe use of balls in games, religion, or weapons does not need any history lesson. Any number of activities come to mind when you hear the word ball. Balls are everywhere.

Canoe polo's ancient roots dictated the use of the ball as both spiritual and practical, And in some cases hygienic. The ball has spiritual reference to the element of Air. As this representation the ball is dictated to be in constant motion, elusive and untouchable.

The reference to the soul is also obvious as the white ball curiously weighs 21grams. This is the precise weight of the human soul according to many scientists.

Several rogue sects of the society have tried to replace the ball with other objects. In the great lakes area the game was attempted with the use of a dead fish. The fish had turned white and was bloated and floating. This deviance was accepted and practiced by this sect for several winter months. But as spring brought light and warmth it also brought the God's wrath. This simple deviance and these peoples willingness to turn from the ancient ways resulted in plague and famine. The Gods supplied ample dead fish for the participants. The shores were piled high, each wave pushing more and more dead fish upon the rocks. The dead fish brought the flies, then the stench, then the scavengers. Large numbers of bears, wolves, badgers and carrion birds. The people were easy prey to these large numbers. None dared work the fields and what little they had grown was left to rot. Without fish and crops to sustain them, famine and disease erupted. In the end many, many had died. Very few of the ideals of this branch are known. Their ways have been considered heretic and most of the early texts were burned.

e a r t h

The Earth is represented in the wood utilized in this ritual.The Earth is represented in the wood utilized in this ritual. Early canoes used in this ritual were dug out or strap. Some were made of hide or bark stretched over a wooden frame.

The paddle has always been wooden. The trees that these ceremonial tools were made from were considered sacred and often only persons of high skill and religious standing were permitted too construct them. As trees are one of the most common representations of earth it is not surprising that even in these modern times wooden paddles are still used.

With the failing efforts to conserve the great sacred forests of the world practitioners were forced into the acceptance of modern canoes. But within the ritual, the connection between all the natural elements is still very strong. Great care is still required to find just the right paddle for the ritual. The correct blend of woods is required to create a decorative yet functional tool. The precise blend of hard woods, soft woods and resins is required to create a light weight yet strong paddle. These versatile paddles are still made today by highly skilled craftsman.


w a t e r   -   s o u l

[Editor's Note: Water and soul can be just as unmoving as earth, as earth, anointed with the passage of time can be every bit as fluid as soul and water. Evidence of this is that at this point in the recording of the chronicles of canoe polo, the representations of water and soul in the current section are quite rocky. So, here, today they appear to be like earth, and yet we know that they are all different! This demonstrates in yet another dimension both the oneness and the diversity that canoe polo brings to our lives. Return here another day to see the ongoing flux and stability of these subjects as they are revealed through the high sport of canoe polo.]

T H E    R I T U A L

The branch of the secret canoe polo society that is chronicled here is found in the southern United States. Every Thursday at 5:00, this group utilizes modern canoes and specially designed paddles to enhance the age old game. The ball is 4.27" in diameter and made of a polypropylene plastic. Simple designs are overlaid on a white ball allowing play to continue into the evenings. Special ceremonial games have been reported on nights of a full moon. New-Age meditative studies have been incorporated into this branch's ritual game to ensure mental awareness and physical endurance. It is common for these games to become so rough that injuries occur.

Dan Rountree, inventor of Dan-ball, entering a religious fervor.The members of this society believe that the religious fervor protects them from any grave harm. The truth in this is undisputed as some reports of head bludgeoning, high speed testicular impacts, facial and abdominal contusions are common. Yet these injuries go unnoticed within the ritual. These injuries present no lingering effects nor is there evidence that they have occurred at the conclusion of the rituals. As with many unorthodox religions this group is very secretive, meeting in differing places in the early evening. Often far from the prying eyes of outsiders.

The ritual is simple. Each man paddles to the remote ritual site in the early evening of the appointed day. One man presents the ball to the wind, and as the ball hits the water the ritual battle begins, heart and soul. The battle for possession of the ball from the canoe is made more difficult by the fact that no one is permitted to handle the ball while it is in play. The ball may be retrieved from the water and manipulated using only the paddle. It is common to create minor eruptions of water from the splashing.

David Greenbaum rolling the ball up and down the shaft of his paddleOnce in possession of the ball, the player must toss or hit the ball into another man's canoe. Common terminology for the methods used for this are Slap-shots, slams, and back shots. At this time the play momentarily stops until the ball is tossed or hit into the air, thus continuing the ritual. In recent years this branch has elected to design more difficulties into their ritual. The first of which was the design of "Dan-Ball." Dan Rountree deduced from his observation of the ritual that "The evolution of canoe polo is inevitable, just as the ebb and flow of the waters it is played on, the guidelines governing the practice must evolve." Dan's variation forces the players to form opposing teams and the ball must be passed to another player on your team before the shot can be taken against an opponent.

In this version the level of difficulty is more pronounced, and the dimension of the penance given in play is much more geared to the fanatical practitioners. The methods for passing the ball include drop ball, taps, fades, straight passes, pop-ups, and hand-offs. New Rules: No reaching over the center-line of your opponents canoe, after scoring a point the ball may not be considered in play until it hits the water, no interference with the opponent's boat, person, or paddle if the ball is in their possession.

c a n o e   p o l o   i m p o s t o r s

It seems barely worth mentioning, but to erase any confusion, A European version of canoe polo evolved in Britain's frantic race for world recognition. The canoe in Europe is in fact a misnamed kayak. The publicity and arrogance involved in the European propaganda about their world superiority came into its height in the mid Twentieth Century. The manipulation of world media coverage surrounding the 1940 Olympics, showed a fanaticized and bastardized version of the secretive and ritualized religion of canoe polo. Luckily the International Olympic Committee recognized this presentation as the freak show that it was and pulled the "game" from the Olympic roster. Unfortunately it did however receive world attention and took some small foot-hold on the European nations. Today this other so-called canoe polo, however, is actually played from modern kayaks. The players are dressed, helmeted, and padded as if in a football game—yes the real football not the European version. Only from the confusion of modern Europe, where this impostor game was "invented," and where kayaks are called canoes can this apparent misnomer be understood. Aside from the fact that a ball and little boats are involved, this canoe polo impostor bears little resemblance to canoe polo passed down through the ages. Its heretical permissiveness, for example, not only allows but actually requires players to catch and pass the ball with their hands! This ungainly practice makes the players continuously release their paddles in order to handle the ball, breaking the unity of man, boat, paddle and water as well as disrupting their proper relationship with the ball. A true canoe polo player would sooner release or crush his soul than to incorporate such a crude practice into the canoe polo ritual. The impostors are also required to wear such garments as helmets to protect themselves from flailing paddles and to dull their blades rather than to sharpen them. It's unclear whether they do this because they have strayed so far from the blessed ritual as to receive no aid from the Gods or whether it simply reflects their ineptitude in handling their paddles—which would bring ready harm to their companions due to the clumsiness of their play. Perhaps it's simply because they have lost their Way and no religion is employed here. Members of the Secret Canoe Polo Society are very tolerant, however, and understand that this impostor game may seem to suit many people in these modern times, but given the size and weight of the balls they employ, alone, it is clear that its players must have very heavy souls.

k e e p   t h e   s e c r e t

Thanks for visiting the Secret Canoe Polo Society's website. This page is a first draft of what is to come, so return again soon to learn more about the timeless and soul-enriching, earth-moving, one-fourth-wet sport of canoe polo that is a breath of fresh air. And learn how you can own for yourself such artifacts of the sport as official garments and the soon-to-be award-winning video, Every Thursday At Five.

air earth water soul

email: info@secretcanoepolosociety.com


Updated: 2/26/2004
First Web publication: 2/21/2004