Canoe believe it? Kayak polo champs face off in McCarren Park Pool

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Canoe believe this?: A kayak polo player hurls a ball at the 2016 U.S. Kayak Polo Nationals at the McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint on Sept. 17.
Oar-some: Kayak polo players score goals by throwing the ball into an elevated net.
Kay-yak it up: Kayak polo is like basketball on water, players say.
Marco...: Players “dribble” the ball by throwing it in front of their kayaks, and have to stay upright — which is tough, because this is a contact sport.

This tournament was oar-some!

Kayak polo players — yes, kayak polo players — from around the country and beyond paddled into McCarren Park Pool over the weekend to compete in the U.S. Kayak Polo Nationals, giving local contenders a chance to show their friends and family what in the heck they actually do.

“My parents don’t really know what I’m talking about so it was fun for them to see — it’s such a bizarre and wonderful sport to watch,” said Greenpoint resident Lydia Thein, a member of the U.S. women’s kayak polo team.

The peculiar athletic endeavor is like basketball played in kayaks, Thein said — players “dribble” the ball by throwing it in front of them in the water, and score by hurling it into an elevated net.

Most people who get involved in the sport are sea, sprint, or whitewater kayakers — rather than polo players of the aquatic or horse variety — Thein said. That’s probably just as well, as opponents are allowed to push each other around and it takes a lot of skill to stay upright in the tiny vessels.

Plus, those who fall out of their boats have to do a swim of shame to the goal line hauling all their equipment, she said.

“It’s definitely a contact sport,” Thein said. “If you do not roll back up on your boat and you have to do an emergency exit, you have to swim you, your gear, and your boat to your goal line before another player can come in.”

During the weekend-long Brooklyn tournament, local kayak polo teams battled it out against squads from Boston, Texas, California, and Canada. Thein’s team came second in the women’s division to some Canucks, but there was no shame in losing a U.S. tournament to foreigners, she said, as the Great White North is known for producing top-notch kayak polo athletes.

“They’re amazing, so we’re just happy we got to play with them,” she said.

Thein also runs a kayak polo program in Brooklyn Bridge Park, organizing free games for players of all ages and experience levels every Sunday afternoon during summer.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at or by calling (718) 260–8309. Follow her at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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