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Why I Play: Underwater rugby player Dawn Ng

“Why I Play” is a fortnightly column showcasing the stories of people who enjoy playing sports. Want to see your sport featured? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter.

Previously a basketball player and judo exponent, a bad injury forced Dawn Ng out of high impact sports and she found herself trying out water sports while undergoing rehabilitation. After being introduced to underwater rugby by a work colleague in 2017, she has never looked back.

Played in a tri-dimensional arena in the form of a 4.5-metre deep pool, underwater rugby sees two six-a-side teams tussle for a ball, which is filled with saltwater so it would sink. The players will try to drop it into the opponent’s goal basket at the bottom of the pool. Players are allowed to grab one another for possession, as long as contact is made below the neck and above the ankle.

Dawn plays for Singapore’s First Asian Team Underwater Rugby (FATUWR), which trains at Queenstown Swimming Complex. She has represented the club internationally at the Champions Cup 2018.

Dawn Ng was introduced to underwater rugby in 2017, and has not looked back since. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Dawn Ng was introduced to underwater rugby in 2017, and has not looked back since. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)

Q: How did you get involved in underwater rugby?

A: I was introduced to this sport by a friend. Prior to that, I had a strong preference for water sports since I suffered a knee injury from practising judo previously. That was when I was in junior college, so that’s like about 10 years ago. I was training for competitions, and for some freak reason, my knee twisted and my soft bone just completely went out of place during one of my training sessions.

I didn’t get a surgery because the doctor was like, “You’re still young and can recover.” But I couldn’t do high-impact sports anymore, especially jogging or basketball, which I used to play as well. So I started having a strong preference for water sports instead. I started swimming a lot because it was part of the physiotherapy that I had to go through, and I also picked up scuba diving and water skiing.

Which muscle groups are most involved in this sport? Which parts of your body ache the most after a training session or match and why?

Core and leg muscles are most involved in this sport due to the dolphin kicks required during the game. Finning with control of speed, bursts and direction are important for the sport. Usually my core muscles ache the most after a training session, but as matches are played at a higher intensity, my whole body tends to ache after matches.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have of this sport? Have you received any not-so-nice remarks for pursuing this sport?

It has been very interesting, like when we go around telling people, “Eh, you know, we are playing underwater rugby”, everyone is just like, “What on earth is that?”

People think that it’s like water polo, so they are like, “Oh, underwater rugby, is it like water polo? Like you all just scrum on the surface?” No, we play it in a 4.5m pool in Singapore.

Dawn Ng plays underwater rugby for Singapore’s First Asian Team Underwater Rugby, which trains at Queenstown Swimming Complex. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Dawn Ng plays underwater rugby for Singapore’s First Asian Team Underwater Rugby, which trains at Queenstown Swimming Complex. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)

That is when the other extreme comes out. They’ll be like, “How the hell do you even go down?” And when we say we have things like fin, mask and snorkel, some people get a little more like, “Oh okay, that doesn’t sound that hard.” But still, people who are not that confident in the water or they feel that they are not strong swimmers, they would still be like, “I’m not really comfortable. I don’t think I want to try the sport.”

It’s the general misconception that it is really hard, that you’ve got to really hold your breath like some mermaid or merman, that you’ve got to be like really physically strong to be able to hassle people underwater. But that’s not true, because underwater, everyone is near weightless. We are all lighter underwater. So, a petite lady can easily take on a bigger guy during a game, and there’s no problem with that, because agility plays a part, not just brute strength.

Do you have a rough gauge of how long you have to keep your breath underwater?

It’s a team sport, it’s not like free-diving whereby you are out to set records, right? In a team sport, the most ideal situation is that we try to play hard, we try to play fast. So you don’t tire yourself out by staying too long underwater. Usually we stay about 20 to a maximum of 45 seconds. Obviously, 45 seconds, it’s like only in dire situations.

Contrary to popular notion, Dawn Ng says that underwater rugby players do not stay underwater for more than 45 seconds.(PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Contrary to popular notion, Dawn Ng says that underwater rugby players do not stay underwater for more than 45 seconds.(PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)

How much of the sport has affected your life?

Because we have our trainings on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and we usually go out for meals after as a team, those days have been blocked out on my calendar completely.

I can’t imagine not going for trainings anymore, or not meeting any of my teammates anymore, because we’ve bonded quite a fair bit during the Champions Cup. We’ve become pretty much involved in one another’s personal lives. There have been a lot of weddings, so it was like, “Yay, party time for the club.”

I’ve also met my other half through the sport, so it’s definitely been a very integral part of my life, which I don’t see myself coming out of anytime soon.

In playing this sport, what has been your most memorable experience?

Representing the club FATUWR and, unofficially, Singapore at Champions Cup 2018 (equivalent of football’s Champions League) in Berlin.

We received a couple of positive comments from our opponents. They were surprised that we had quite strong basics, because to them we are still thought of as a developmental team. They were surprised that we could hold our own against them pretty well.

Dawn Ng’s most memorable underwater rugby experience was when she was representing her club at the Champions Cup 2018 in Berlin. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Dawn Ng’s most memorable underwater rugby experience was when she was representing her club at the Champions Cup 2018 in Berlin. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)

Especially the ladies team, we actually improved throughout the whole tournament. We played five or six games and each game we did better, and most of the opponents could actually tell. There was a lot of encouragement from the overseas community.

Your most heartbreaking experience?

Losing two matches that were very, very close fights during Champions Cup 2018. We gave our all and emotions were high after the defeats.

We started off by playing against the team eventually came in third in the Champions Cup, and we were thrashed, I think it was 12-0 or 10-0. And then as the tournament went on, the scorelines got closer, and when we met this Spanish team called the Piranhas, it was one of the closest matches that we had.

We actually scored once in that game, and we managed to hold them off from scoring in the first half. There were a lot of chances for us to equalise at 2-2, but we didn’t manage to convert. So that was quite sad. And we went into the game thinking that it was a game we could have drawn. So yeah, it was a really close fight in the water.

Share an inspiring story you have of a tournament or an experience with teammates that made you love this sport even more.

Going through the whole journey to Champions Cup with the team – from training, to travelling there, supporting one another during our matches, cheering, encouraging and consoling one another. It’s the whole journey we had together as a team that make me love underwater rugby so much.

Dawn Ng credits the camaraderie among her teammates as a big reason why she continues to be inspired by the sport. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Dawn Ng credits the camaraderie among her teammates as a big reason why she continues to be inspired by the sport. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)

Was there a time you felt like walking away from the sport? What made you stay?

Nope, I’ve not felt like walking away from the sport.

What was the worst injury you’ve experienced?

A sprained ankle from finning a little too enthusiastically.

What life lesson has this sport taught you?

What goes up, must come down. Or in the case of underwater rugby, what goes down, must go up (for breaths)!

How can people get involved if they’re interested in this sport?

Do drop us a message on Instagram or Facebook. We train at Queenstown Pool every Thursday, 7 to 9pm; Saturday, 9 to 11am and Sunday, 8 to 10am.

We always tag a senior player to orientate first timers, to help them get a feel of the sport and its basic requirements. It’s really open for anyone.

Can you tell me in one sentence why you love this sport?

Underwater rugby is like Quidditch, it’s tri-dimensional and fast-paced, and this is why I play.

Why I Play: Underwater rugby player Dawn Ng. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)
Why I Play: Underwater rugby player Dawn Ng. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian)