One Wheel, One Love: prepare for impact with Cardiff’s Unicycle Hockey club.

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Ever had a slow puncture? Yes? No doubt then you’ll know just how annoying it is. To make matters worse, imagine you’ve also only got one wheel. Furthermore, that an 11st 10lb male with a maniacal grin on his face and wielding a stick, is headed straight for you. This is hockey. Unicycle hockey. It doesn’t sound like fun, but it is. Still, prepare for impact!

In a city choc full with sporting activities, it’s refreshing to find something a little different. And Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club is just that. Whilst not having to be certified insane to take part, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. After all, in addition to agility and balance, you’ll need a lot of chutzpah, cojones or any other substitute you can think of to constitute ‘outright nerve’. Staying atop a unicycle for any length of time is difficult enough, but guiding a ball towards a goal, steering clear of a determined opposition, and looking to members of your team for your sporting salvation feels like multitasking at its most terrifying. And believe me, it is! The fact that it’s a sport still in a stage of professional development, however, should at least offer some comfort. After all, it’s not like millions of people have taken it up thus producing sporting giants that you’ll find in other fields. There are no Sam Warburtons or Ronda Rousey types here, not yet anyway. In fact, most participants just do it for a bit of fun in their spare time. It’s not a national sport or anything either, though it is played in many countries around the world, the most prevalent being Germany, followed closely by Switzerland. The latter’s best teams even receive state sponsorship. Interestingly enough, it’s also a mixed-sex sport, and though I can’t imagine there’ll be any toddlers going through their ‘terrible twos’ to steer clear of, there’s absolutely no age restriction either. Yes. Really!

One of Cardiff‘s most dedicated and senior players, Ben Tullis, says the club has been meeting and playing together now for about eleven years. Formerly affiliated with No Fit State Circus and utilising one of their practice spaces to train new unicyclists and practice hockey, they now hire the roller rink in Cardiff’s House of Sport in Leckwith every Sunday night between 8-9.30 PM. Before this, however, all activity ceased for a number of years due to No Fit Circus moving out of their John Street premises, leading to much frustration at not having anywhere to play.
‘I felt that ‘this not playing unicycle hockey’ lark had gone on long enough. So, with help from some of our former players, I sought to restart the club and contacted House of Sport,’ says Hastings-born Ben, glad to be back in the game.

Recognising that teaching members of the public to unicycle would ultimately lead to people joining the team, the senior members decided to dedicate the first half of each session to doing just that. The second half, however, is where the fun really heats up. With five players on each side, there are a number of comparisons to be made with its frostier cousin, ice hockey. The goals, for example, are set back from the end of the rink so that players can move around the back. There’s no puck here, though a stray tennis ball still makes a pretty dangerous projectile when speeding towards one’s head. In truth, it’s highly unlikely. Helmets and padding are rarely worn, though the former is down to personal choice. And whilst games in the IUF finals are made up of 2×30 minute halves, being a Sunday night, and the fact that it’s just for fun, Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club goes easy on its members. Still, there’s plenty of time for a beat-down!

In regards to the UK Unicycle Hockey league, Ben says it’s been somewhat lacklustre of late. Yet despite not having enough tournament fixtures to make a year-long competition since 2012, a good number of one-off, friendly tournaments have been organised.

‘I’d love to say Cardiff’s the team to beat in the UK, but history shows we tend to finish third most of the time (though we’re definitely on the ascendance). There’s no other team that’s training new players in the way that we are, so the next generation of unicycle hockey superstars will definitely be Welsh!

So, with plenty of unicycles and hockey sticks to go around, come along to Leckwith’s House of Sport this Sunday at 8pm and help keep this alternative sport clear of the defibrillator. After all, Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club needs you!

Oliver Moore-Howells

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