Youll Need to Be Super Fit to Thrive in This New Watersport

Torpedo in the goal. This is my only thought as I sink to the bottom of the poo lduring a Deep End Fitness workout in Hawthorne, California. My right hand clutches a ten-ounce camo-colored rubber torpedo. My left hand is free, ready to Heisman anyone trying to keep me from the goal, four yards away.

I swim toward it underwater and get within two yards when Chuck Patterson and Giorgio Gomez, a pair of professional surfers, converge. Chuck comes from the right, and Giorgio guards the goal. I reach the torpedo forward, baiting Chuck. He bites, grabbing my upper arm and pulling me down toward the pool floor. I roll with him, then spin out and stiff-arm Giorgio—and almost score! Damn, there’s Chuck again. I wriggle past him, switching the torpedo to my left hand, and reach. Score!

After my 30 seconds of underwater wrestling, I return to the surface, yet somehow I’m not breathing hard. This is the H2O-fueled Jedi mind trick of underwater torpedo, a fast-growing sport that’s developed a cult West Coast following. The game demands intense cardio and total-body strength—the rules require that players stay underwater as they stave off defenders and score goals. In the process, it teaches economy of motion and efficiency in breathing, two skills that help with your overall fitness on land, especially when you do an activity that leaves you gasping for breath.

It’s aha!-level empowering, and not just for me. With teams in four locations, the Underwater Torpedo League has made a splash in SoCal, it has a new spot in Miami, and it’s scouting venues in Austin and Hawaii. Meanwhile, DeepEnd Fitness, a total-body workout program that teaches the breathing and movement abilities of the UTL, is drawing curious fitness heads like NFL safety Micah Hyde and UFC star Dominick Cruz to workouts in Hawthorne. “We’re seeing a lot of crazy transformations at the pool,” says Prime Hall, who, along with fellow ex–Marine Raider Don Tran, created Deep End Fitness and the UTL. “Someone goes from holding their breath for a minute to holding their breath for three and a half minutes underwater.”

Underwater torpedo is easy to learn but hard to master. Games are divided into three matches. To win a match, you must score five goals; win two out of three matches to win the game. The play resembles that of five-on-five football, with a wrinkle: You can advance the torpedo (by passing it, handing it off to a teammate, or moving with it) only when fully submerged. Have any body part breach the surface while holding the torpedo and you draw a penalty. Yes, that means you must hold your breath underwater whenever you have the torpedo.

Translation: If I’m going to do my team any good, I must learn to live underwater. This, says Hall, forges mental strength.“You can up somebody’s water confidence by playing this game,” he says.

Tran and Hall didn’t invent the sport. Underwater torpedo is based on underwater football, which was created in the 1960s by Dave Murdoch, a University of Manitoba scuba instructor trying to teach divers to stay calm underwater. His solution: push them to remain underwater until they could score a goal.

They initially played wearing fins and snorkels and using a nonbuoyant ball. When the Marines and the Navy adopted the game, they introduced dive bricks, dumbbells, and toy torpedoes.

Tran and Hall started playing underwater football in 2010 as water-survival instructors at Camp Pendleton in southern California. When they left the Marines in 2017, they began organizing their own rec games to stay in shape—and soon those games were well attended. By year’s end, Tran and Hall had launched the UTL. To make it more accessible, they created DeepEnd Fitness, which helps you hone the skills needed to excel at underwater torpedo. It’s a vicious workout in its own right.

To prep for my game, I work through some Deep End drills. I start on land, learning to maximize every breath with burpees. First, I do a single burpee while holding my breath. Then I do two burpees, again holding my breath, and I ladder up to five straight burpees on a single breath (followed by a gasp for air).

Tran says if I can handle the burpees, I’ll be able to “exert the energy underwater.” I don’t feel that confident. Doesn’t matter—I’m in the water and I have to figure it out. In a 13-foot-deep pool, I breathe deeply, blow out the entire breath, then sink to the bottom. Without using my arms, I push back to the surface. (Cue more gasping.) Then I tread water as a stopwatch counts down ten minutes. Advanced players hold dumbbells above the water to increase the challenge.

Next is a 25-meter underwater swim; I make it on the third attempt. Later, Tran hands me a ten-pound rubber brick, which I swim with the whole way. About halfway through, Tran yells, “You’re almost there!” Almost, my ass, I think. I have ten strokes to go. I roll my eyes. I’ve been humbled.

Once we start playing, I’m humbled even more. My first few times with the torpedo, I’m underwater for a combined 30 to 40seconds, struggling too much on a single breath. But with practice, my confidence grows, and it’s me and Chuck and Giorgio. My instincts kick in. After that first goal, I score another—and one more after that. When we all surface, I draw high fives. And I’ve never breathed easier.

Pool Drills for the Underwater Torpedo League

These drills from Deep End Fitness give you greater strength, stamina, and prowess in the water and deliver benefits that flow into any land-based exercise.

Burpee Breath-Hold Ladder

Extend the possibilities of a single breath with this series. Take a deep inhale, then exhale. Follow with a deep inhale, then hold your breath. Do a burpee. Repeat, this time doing 2 burpees. Continue until you’ve done 6 burpees on a single breath. Do 1 set. (Yes, it will be enough.)

Gutter-Ups

Build total-body strength with the pool take on a muscle-up. Face the edge of the pool and place your palms on the surface. Lower your entire body underwater, then explode upward, kicking hard with your legs. Pull your torso upward and straighten your arms; your torso should be out of the water. That’s 1 rep. Do 2 sets of 20.

Power 8

Develop underwater staying power. Find a 25-meter stretch of pool. Swim across
the surface halfway, then dive to the floor. Stay underwater as you swim the rest of the way. Once you reach the edge, repeat the pattern to return to the start. That’s 1 lap. Rest 120 seconds. Do 2 laps.

A version of this story originally appears in the June 2021 issue of Men’s Health, with the title “Build Torpedo Toughness”.

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