By Ron Brear
For those of you who are out of the loop, ODEX is the Oceania Dive Travel and Water sports Expo.
I arrived early on Saturday morning to stall 41, it was a barren bit of steel and black velcro standing empty on the pool deck overlooking the tranquil waters of the main competition pool at Homebush Aquatic centre. As I stood at the stall and looked to the left and right, there were people from an array of watery backgrounds beginning to fill their equivalently empty stalls with colour and paraphernalia to send the senses running.
Stewart Parkinson soon appeared with the skills learnt from a father in the political game, he knew what was required to sell a sport. With his advisers, Andrew Dunlop and Ben Stepkovitch close at hand, the stall quickly began to outclass those of the big travel diving companies. Before I knew it, I was looking at a sleek plasma screen playing DVD’s of underwater hockey, next to it an array of hockey paraphernalia ready to be picked up and touched, however the most eye catching of all was the new banner designed by Jason Beck from Newcastle. It could be seen from just about anywhere in the exhibition. It was an eye catching beacon to anybody remotely interested in the sport.
I assisted with the setup of the stall, but soon became bored of Stewart’s incessant Underwater Hockey talk, and quietly snuck away. I wandered the stalls of exhibition, entering any competition I could find to win fantastic prizes. There were people promoting all sorts of gear, trips and organisations, and it was great to see the passion that is out there for the oceans and water sports. I soon stumbled across a stall offering trials of equipment. I had always wanted to try a monofin, and I finally got my chance at being a merman. I jumped in the pool, slipped my soapy feet into the foot pockets of an oversized fibreglass monofin, and was off with incredible speed and power.
As I dried off after my swim, I wandered back to the stall to find a merry crew of devoted underwater hockey volunteers selling the great sport. Over the course of the weekend I counted over a dozen volunteers from around Australia, but predominantly people from Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle giving their free time. Once changed it was my turn to sell the sport to passing patrons. With a friendly 'g’day' and a quick off the cuff intro, I managed to get the details of a couple of possible future stars.
Rees (the National Representative of Underwater Hockey) made an appearance at lunchtime. The poor fellow looked like he’d just been recaptured after making an escape from a life sentence in prison. With his tired eyes, sombre expression, and gnarly beard he was locked up for the day in a marathon AUF general meeting. The time put into the event by Stewart, Rees and other AUF members in the organising of stalls was greatly appreciated by all involved.
The finale of the weekend was the exhibition match. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the game on the big screen, and given it was in the 3m pool it was tough for new players to get involved. However, it was fantastic when a couple of Underwater Rugby players jumped in and gave it an authentic crack.
Over the course of the weekend, over 40 people’s contact details ended up on the email list, eager for more information on upcoming events. The sport was sold to hundreds more passers by, who are sure to go home and tell their friends and families about this strange and intriguing new sport they heard about.
Underwater Hockey Australia and the NSW Underwater Hockey Commission would like to thank the following people for giving their time to the sport over the weekend.
Stewart Parkinson, Ben Stepkovitch, Rees Quilford, Andrew Dunlop, Billy Hodgetts, Jane Gilligan, Catalina Chica, Ron Brear, Molly Martin, Connar Martin, Giulia Risorto, Phil Ackerman, Julia Foulkes, Kerrie Hammond, Edwin Kwan, Hannah Robert-Tissot and Nick Martin.