Washington is home to the longest continuously operating LGBT water polo team in the United States. Founded in 1985, the Washington Wetskins have represented the D.C. area in numerous national and international competitions.
Over the years, the Wetskins have traveled to such varied places as New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam and Reykjavic, Iceland.
The Wetskins current active roster consists of about 20 women and 20 men. Practice is held on Monday and Wednesday nights at the Tacoma Recreation Center.
The team is self supported with annual dues ranging up to $300. Financial assistance can be offered to those unable to meet the dues structure.
They are members of the USA Water Polo Association as well the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) organization.
While it helps to be a strong swimmer, the Wetskins accept newcomers of all levels. They have even been known to teach people how to swim with practices that include drills and skills clinics.
Water polo, like many other sports only seems to appear every four year at the Olympics. It is actually played competitively year round and men’s water polo was among the first team sports introduced at the modern Olympic Games in 1900.
When water polo shows up on television during the Olympics, I often hear friends asking questions about the player’s gear. The caps are worn to identify the two teams and also to protect the ears from being injured.
As for the swimsuits, small and tight fitting are the best options. For both men and women, this style diminishes the chances of the opponent being able to grab onto the suit. Women especially need their swimsuit straps to be tight so their opponents have no chance of pulling on them.
In terms of rules, water polo is most similar to team handball and also shares some similar rules with ice hockey. As for action in the water, there are similarities to open water swimming and even wrestling.
As a former water polo player myself, the sport can be as grueling as it is exciting. During the course of a competitive match, the players will endure constant movement in the water for up to an hour with a few very short breaks.
Water polo players need incredible stamina because of the constant underwater holding, pushing, elbowing, kicking and even scratching that occurs during the game. All of which are technically illegal, but a constant factor in advanced competitions.
According to longtime Wetskins member, Tom Woodruff, “If the referee can’t see it, the referee can’t call it.”
And in many cases, the referee just ignores it.
In 2008, the Wetskins hosted the water polo portion of the IGLA World Championships in D.C. I was lucky enough to attend the championship match in College Park.
The match was really intense and the skill level was incredible. It felt like both teams were out for blood. Afterwards, I rode the shuttle bus back to D.C. with the players. Some of the players were sporting black eyes, gash marks and Band-Aids, yet both teams were joking and laughing.
“That isn’t surprising,” says Woodruff. “The LGBT water polo community is small and everyone knows each other. They can fight ferociously in the water and then be friendly out of the water.”
Coming up for the Wetskins are the 2013 IGLA world Championships in Seattle and the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.
The team can be found on the web at wetskins.org.