At first glance, competitive underwater leg wrestling seems, well, like a joke. Or a glorified game of footsie played in the pool. Or just a really effective way of getting kicked in the balls.
But Christopher Meadows, who invented underwater leg wrestling while swimming with his son one day in the summer of 2009, isn't laughing. He's well aware of people's first thoughts when it comes to the sport. But he says underwater leg wrestling is quickly growing into a legion of dedicated participants who swear by the intense workout it gives you, as well as its exhilarating competitiveness -- once you get over those initial giggles. Plus, you can give yourself a kickass nickname like "The Waterspider."
We talked to Meadows (AKA "The Waterspider") about underwater leg wrestling, its growing popularity, the possibility of it one day being an Olympic competition, and why you need to quit being such a contrarian pansy and try it for yourself.
Cultist: Can you give us a quick history on underwater leg wresting? When did it start?
Christopher Meadows: What began as an attempt to sneak-attack my son without getting so close that he could grab or splash me with his hands quickly evolved into a family pastime that was shared with only a few close friends at first. After a few years, and some rather organic development, the four pillar rules, which the sport was founded on, seemed solid enough to withstand more serious competition and scrutiny. So, it was demo-ed for a group of lifeguards and water polo players who were immediately impressed by it. A draft detailing the sport, which had already been outlined prior to the demo, was now made public. Measures were taken to protect it as intellectual property and the rest is history.
For those who might scoff at the sport, tell us why underwater leg wrestling is such a good workout.
Most people laugh at first when they hear the name underwater leg wrestling. I'm still not sure why. But it's something I've come to expect -- especially after you tell them that you've created a sport that you intend to see contested in the Olympics. I quickly inform those brave enough to consider entering the water to fight, that the giggling stops when the gasping starts. You are compelled to fight like you are fighting for your life, because that is what it feels like when you are being held underwater as the last pearls of life trickle from your airway up towards the water's surface. Most rounds -- and there are three -- don't last more than 45 seconds, which seem longer due to intermittent periods of apnea. During each round your core is engaged constantly. Your arms, back, and chest are working non-stop to maintain your position in the water. And when you come together with your opponent, your leg muscles contract feverishly to gain control over the other fighter, often times to the point of failure due to cramping.
Unlike boxing or MMA, there are no breaks between rounds, and there are no draws based on subjective judging. Each round is contested until someone is subdued. After three matches back to back, you feel like you've spent an entire day at the gym. The resistance of the water provides a full body workout, improving one's strength and conditioning in a virtually weightless environment.
Are there levels? Starter, expert, that kind of thing?
Technically there are no levels. However, in scored competition, fighters are placed in groups based on points earned. Prior to grouping, fighters are matched based on approximate size, though body fat percentage will be of greater concern in the future. There is also a rating system put in place to assess a fighter's level of aggression, technical skill, endurance, speed, and agility.
How has the sport's popularity grown since it started?
Last year we had a core group of 12 active fighters and less than 40 Facebook "likes." This year we are nearing the hundred "likes" mark, gained over the winter, and we're currently reassessing the number of active fighters.
Is there an official league and do you award medals?
The league, albeit small, is official. Forming a national association and then becoming international federated is high on the to-do list. The USOC [United States Olympic Committee] is on speed dial. We are planning to offer prizes in future tournaments. In scored competition, your points and the satisfaction of having out-performed your rivals is your reward, not to mention the honor of having competed in a future Olympic sport.
Why should people want to participate in underwater leg wrestling?
For the pure challenge and thrill. You don't just win, you survive. It has proven to be a fine metaphor for life in many ways. While it may not be for everyone, anyone can do it. It's intense yet totally family-friendly. My 6-year-old started last year. It's easy to learn, a challenge to master, and tons of fun. A battle for dominance... and your next breath.
You say you want this to become an Olympic sport. If that happens, how do you think the U.S. would do?
I'm staking my reputation on underwater leg wrestling becoming an Olympic sport. And the U.S. has the ball and the home court advantage. Look for Italy, France, Russia and Brazil to be very tough competitors for the top honors as well.
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What would your advice be for someone who wants to take up underwater leg wrestling?
Fight like your life depends on it. Never quit. And remember that measured aggression is your friend.
The next underwater leg wrestling event goes down sometime at the end of May (date and time TBA). For further info contact Underwater Leg Wresting at 305-244-6028 or email them here. Visit their Facebook page.