New England Canoe Polo

Frequently Asked Questions

(or, Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Kayak Polo)

Below is a list of questions people commonly ask us about our club or the sport of kayak polo. Click on a question to see the answer.

Do you have a question that isn’t answered here? Email us!

Kayak polo or canoe polo? Which is it?

Both! Canoe polo originated in Great Britain, where the term “canoe” is used to describe all types of small watercraft, including both canoes and kayaks. The official name of the sport is canoe polo, but the game is played solely in kayaks.

Yes, it confuses us, too.

Many people, especially in the US, call the sport kayak polo because it’s more descriptive of how the game is played.

What is the game like?

If you combined kayaking, water polo, soccer, and basketball, you might end up with something like kayak polo.

There are two teams with 5 players each on a court (“pitch”) at once. Games officially last for 20 minutes (with 10-minute halves), although we often play longer games during practice.

The idea of the game is to outscore your opponent as in soccer or basketball by shooting at a goal suspended about 6 feet over the water. We play with a standard water polo ball.

Paddlers move the ball by throwing it, dribbling it, passing it to a team member, or shooting it at the opposing team’s goal. You can block passes and shots with a paddle, and a goalie usually sits below the net and uses their paddle to block shots on goal.

When a player is in possession of the ball, an opposing player may push him or her over with a hand to the shoulder or upper arm, or kayak- tackle (ram) their boat to upset balance. The object is to force the player in possession to lose control of the ball.

Strategies such as zone defense, full court press, and fast break are typical in kayak polo. The result is a game that’s fast-paced, exciting, and highly strategic. It’s also great exercise!

Ramming boats, slashing paddles, capsized boats…um, isn’t it kind of dangerous?

Kayak polo has a very extensive and strict set of safety rules that we take very seriously. We use special padded boats and gear for added protection. You’re more likely to be seriously injured driving your car than playing kayak polo.

That being said, polo is a contact sport. Capsizing other players and “tackling” (or ramming) their boats is all part of the fun. A spirit of friendly aggression is helpful. If you’re new, though, we won’t flip you over deliberately until you know how to roll and/or tell us you’re comfortable with it.

Strained muscles, bruises, and wounded pride are the most common injuries you see on the pitch.

What gear do I need? Can I use my own gear?

Kayak polo uses specialized boats, paddles, PFDs (life vests) and helmets, both for safety and performance reasons.

The club has boats and other gear available for new players to borrow. Please email us if you’re interested in playing so that we can arrange gear and instruction for you.

If you have your own paddle, sprayskirt, and/or PFD, please bring them with you. You can make your whitewater or touring paddle more polo-friendly by covering the edges of the blade with duct tape.

Once you decide to play regularly, we ask that you invest in your own gear as soon as you can so that the club equipment continues to be available for new players.

Can I use my whitewater/touring boat for polo?

Usually, no. Many of our members paddle fiberglass or carbon-kevlar boats that could be damaged by boats without bumpers; also, paddling a whitewater boat when everyone else is in boats optimized for polo just isn’t that much fun.

We’re happy to supply you with a club polo boat and other gear for our practices, though. Just email us!

We have allowed whitewater boats in the past if none of our club boats are a good fit. In this case we’ll ask you to add padding to the front and back of the boat and inspect it before your first practice. A river runner or creek boat is your best bet (you’ll be happier in a boat that likes to go reasonably fast in a reasonably straight line).

How much previous kayaking experience do I need?

None! Previous experience with whitewater, touring, sprint or slalom kayaking makes the learning curve faster, but is not necessary. We’re happy to teach you what you need to know.

If you’re a new player, please contact us before coming so that we can set up an introductory session for you and/or have someone available to teach you. We can also supply gear if necessary.

Capsizing (and occasionally swimming) are part of the sport, so you do need to know how to swim, and it is helpful if you’re relatively comfortable in the water. However, we generally play with a no-pushing rule for new players, and we’ll help you out if you do flip by accident.

Do I need to be able to roll?

Rolling is the process of righting your capsized boat without exiting, generally with the aid of the paddle and/or hands. A roll is an “Eskimo roll” when done deliberately, and a “combat roll” if you do it after flipping by accident.

You don’t need to know how to roll to start playing polo, but please let us know if you don’t have a roll (we generally don’t deliberately flip players who can’t roll).

Although a roll is not necessary to play, being able to roll will improve your confidence and enjoyment of the game. We teach occasional club rolling sessions, and club members are often happy to teach you. There are also many kayaking organizations in the Boston area that teach rolling.

Even if you already have a paddle roll, you will probably want to learn a hand roll, since it is inevitable that you’ll eventually flip without your paddle. Many people actually find it easier to learn to hand roll than paddle roll.

Polo boats are relatively easy to roll compared to whitewater or sea kayaks, so polo is a great way to learn to roll. And polo is great combat rolling practice!

Will polo help my whitewater/touring/sprint kayaking?

Definitely! Polo builds skills in boat handling, speed, balance, bracing, maneuvering, rolling, and general paddling technique that will help in any other type of paddling. And you’ll have a lot of fun doing it!

Many of us also do other types of paddling: we have sprint kayakers, whitewater enthusiasts, dragon boaters, and sea kayakers, among others. We also have people who had never been in a kayak before their first polo practice, though!

How much does it cost?

All players must have a current membership with the American Canoe Association (ACA) to be covered under our club insurance. We ask members to pay a $40 annual fee to help cover the club’s costs, usually collected during the summer season.

There is no additional cost to play at the outdoor sessions (usually May-October). During the winter members pay a per-session fee to cover the cost of pool rental.

Please see Where & When for current costs.

How often do you compete? Can I compete in tournaments? Do I have to?

NECP usually competes in a number of tournaments a year, including the US Nationals. Because polo is a relatively young sport in the US, polo is one of the few sports where you can begin competing at a high level right away. Everyone in our club has the opportunity to play in tournaments, new members as well as experienced players.

You don’t have to play in tournaments if you don’t want to, but tournaments are a great way to get to know the team and the fastest way to improve. Local tournaments are usually very relaxed and are a great way to get to know the other clubs and get comfortable with the game in a casual setting.

US Nationals are held once a year. We usually field teams in the A (most competitive) and Women’s divisions, and often a mixed club team that plays in the less competitive B division as well.

There are also US national men’s and women’s teams that compete in the Panamerican and World competitions, held every two years. These are open to anyone through a nationwide selection process. NECP has had several members play in and/or coach the national teams.

When and where do you play?

We play outdoors in the spring, summer and fall (usually roughly May – October). We play once a week in an indoor pool during the winter months.

See our Where & When page for more information.

I’m visiting Boston. Can I come play with you?

Absolutely! We’d love to have you.

See our Where & When page for details on our practice schedule and location.

Please email us before you come so we confirm dates and times and arrange gear for you (if necessary).

I’m not sure if I’ll like it. What do I do now?

You can start by dropping us an email. We’re happy to answer any questions or concerns.

If you want to just see what the sport is like, feel free to drop by during any of our practices and watch. See Where & When for information on our practice schedule.

We encourage you to come try the sport and see if you like it. During the summer we encourage new players to start with an introductory session for a smooth introduction to the sport. During the winter new players generally come to our regular practices, usually with instruction from one or more of our players. Please email us if you’re interested.

You should also check out our information for new players for more detailed information.

You may also want to watch some of the videos on our Photos & Video page to get a sense of what the sport is like. A quick YouTube search for “kayak polo” or “canoe polo” will turn up many additional videos.

Like any other sport, polo has a bit of a learning curve. But after a few sessions even brand new paddlers develop the skills to play in games with confidence.

I’m sold. Who do I see? Where do I sign? How do I join?

Great! Please email us so we can arrange for instruction and gear if necessary. We’re also happy to answer any other questions you have.

So, how do you fit the horse inside the boat?

Very funny. We’ve never heard that one before.

But, you’ll fit right in. Bring your polo pony and come to a practice!