Development team competes in African Canoe Polo Champs

Words & Photos: Samantha Braid

The African Canoe Polo Championships, to be held in Windhoek, Namibia, on 22 and 23 September 2013, will see a development team, the Western Cape Under 21 team, take part for the very first time.

Canoe Polo

The African Canoe Polo Championships are the African continental qualification tournament for the World Canoe Polo Championships, in Spain, in 2014.

The tournament takes place every second year, in the year between the World Championships. The previous Africa Championships were held at the V&A Waterfront, in Cape Town, in October 2011.

This year’s tournament will see our South African National teams competing for a slot on the World Championships line-up, as well as in inter-provincial competitions. The team from the development programme will have the opportunity to compete against other teams and gain more first-hand game experience, as well as watch top-level competition canoe polo. The experience will also help prepare the players to compete at the South African National Championships, in KwaZulu-Natal, in March 2014.

Following the Africa Championships in Windhoek, the development team will take part in a fun and social tournament at the Klein Constantia Wine Estate, in October 2013.

Development programme

In 2013, the Western Cape Canoe Polo Club (WCCPC) established its Canoe Polo Development Centre at the Century City canal. The Century City Canoe Polo Development Centre is coordinated, supported, and run by the WCCPC. The youths in the programme are mainly learners from Maitland High School, and the only requirement was that the youths could swim.

Mike Mongo, a development player, river guide, and the province’s top goal scorer in recent competitions, coaches the learners. Volunteers from the WCCPC assist him. The equipment used in the programme has been donated by members or bought by the WCCPC and other companies, such as Wild Thing Adventures, and Gravity Adventures and is stored at the Aurecon Centre.

The Western Cape Department of Sport and Cultural Affairs provided warm paddling clothes for the learners.

Determination + Dedication = Results

Starting with the basics, the majority of the youngsters in the programme had never been in a paddle craft before, “That is something from the movies,” they said. Over the weeks and months, the coaching team has taught the learners various paddling techniques, boat skills, and basic game play. Many of the learners have already shown an aptitude for the sport and confidence in the vuvubats, and some of the learners have even learnt to Eskimo roll their bats. Despite the very wet and cold Cape winter, the learners have demonstrated incredible dedication, determination, and enthusiasm to the development programme, often wanting to paddle and play for another ‘5’ minutes, which usually means another 20 minutes or more.

The aims of the development programme include making the sport more accessible to disadvantaged communities, as well as developing a seriously competitive development team and potential members for future national squads.

A future from sport

The development programme aspires to be more than just access to a sport. The programme aims to provide life skills for the leaners too.

Gravity Adventures has partnered with the Polo Development Centre to identify youths with an aptitude for paddling. These paddlers will be put through a river-guiding course, and once successfully completed, they will receive an NQF accreditation and employment in the tourism industry of river rafting and kayaking. Further opportunities and life-skills training are being investigated and planned in conjunction with the Department of Sports and Recreation.

Road ahead

A Coaching Canoe Polo course, through funding from Lotto and Sports, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, will be held later in the year. The course is aimed at existing sports coaches, to teach them the basics of canoe polo.

The objective is to make more paddling and polo centres available around the country and make this initiative more sustainable.

Future initiatives

The WCCPC would like to establish a development fund, to further assist its development players. This fund will assist with the travel costs for the participation of a development team to the various competitions, such as the Africa Championships in Namibia, the South African National Championships, and the Knysna Festival.

The learners will also have access to coaching courses, swift-water rescue training, and other courses available from the Western Cape Canoe Union, with funding from the Western Cape Department of Sport and Cultural Affairs and the National Lotto Fund.

Another initiative, together with potential sponsors, is to create a bursary programme for UNISA Sports Administration certification.

About Canoe Polo

In the 1920s, paddlers in Germany and France played canoe ball games as an introduction to canoeing and for building river skills. Since then, many variations of the equipment and game evolved throughout Europe and Australia. Quite independently, in 1966, the Borough of Newham in London asked Bert Keeble from the National Schools Sailing Association to design a kayak for teaching in swimming baths. Many pools were built in schools in the sixties and used for teaching children basic paddling and rolling skills. The pools were small, 10 m x 25 m, so small kayaks were needed to make the best use of the available space.

Canoe polo was a part of these sessions and provided an entertaining and practical way to apply the new skills. The new kayak was made from wood, it was short and had a rounded bow and stern to prevent damage to the pool.

Later, Alan Byde, a senior coach with the British Canoe Union (BCU), constructed a similar one from glass-reinforced plastic. He called his boat the Baths Advanced Trainer (BAT). Today canoe polo boats are called polobats, while in South Africa, our bat is known as the vuvubat.

Access to the sport

By its nature, the sports of river canoeing and white-water kayaking are only accessible to those that can travel to the rivers, provided there is sufficient water in the rivers. This limits the opportunities for training, learning, and practising one’s paddling skills, making it difficult to attract new paddlers to the sport and limits spectator appeal. Whereas canoe polo brings paddling closer to the people and makes these paddling sports more accessible because the sport teaches participants the wide range of paddling skills without needing to be on the river to learn or practice. It is a challenging, social, spectator friendly, a team sport and can be played close to home.

The sport is accessible to varying paddling abilities. It can be played by fun and social teams on the one end, to the highly competitive teams vying for a spot in the National teams on the other end. Canoe polo is played by both men and women, and teams can be mixed. There are three competition age categories, that of Under 21 (16 to 20 years), Senior (21 years and older) and Masters (30 years and older) categories. The sport can also be played by disabled persons, including lower limb amputees.

More information about canoe polo, such as player safety and how the game is played, can be found in the 'Canoe polo makes waves' article published in August 2013.


For more information about canoe polo, visit

Canoe Polo Clubs around the country:
Cape Town -
Durban -
Johannesburg -
Knsyna - (Nelson)
Pietermaritzburg -